What is exposure in photography? This is a common question many people ask when getting to know their camera gear. Understanding exposure and mastering its usage can help you improve your photography skills in many different
Over time, no lighting situation will be too bright or too dark for you to manipulate to your own ends using the right angle, additional lighting equipment or the features on your camera.
When editing your photos for social media, you might have come across app settings that determine how light or dark the photo appears. Sometimes simply clicking the “auto” function corrects any lighting issues with the photo.
What these features do is correct or otherwise, change the exposure in the photo.
An overexposed photo tends to look too bright, which can make the colours look faded or distorted. Note that sometimes people use too much or too little exposure on purpose to create artistic effects, but you must learn the rules
before you can break them.
So far, it might appear that lighting from the sun or other sources fully determine the exposure of your photos. However, as alluded to before, your camera itself plays a role. The three settings responsible for this are as
These three features create what is known as the ‘exposure triangle’. Understanding what each setting contributes to the final effect is the first step in artfully manipulating exposure. Keeping a balance between the three
settings is essential to capturing your subject exactly as you require. For instance if you want to capture sharp frozen movements of a dancer on a dark stage, they may be moving too fast for a slow shutter speed, but you want to
ensure their entire body fits within your depth of field, requiring a narrower aperture - so a high ISO might be the only way you can capture the subject as you intend. This could easily be reversed if you instead wanted to
feature the motion blur in your images - thus allowing the use of a slower shutter speed. It's all about assessing the situation and making a call based on what you're looking to capture and how.
An under-exposed photo features so many shadows and dark spots that it becomes more difficult to discern shapes and faces. This might become undesirable in many cases, but there are some applications where it works beautifully. A
play on shadows can create beautiful silhouettes and deepen some colours.
Here are some common examples where underexposure is utilised:
Have you ever seen photos of waterfalls where the water appears unbelievably smooth and beautifully blurred? There are several ways to achieve this, but the most common option is to use a long exposure.
This creates what is known as a motion blur. It works even with people. If you took a long exposure photo and someone walked through it, you would see a ghostly blur in human form.
To create long exposure photography, professionals slow down the shutter speed. How much you need to slow your shutter speed is debatable. Use speeds below one second. Keep in mind that the slower the shutter speed, the more
complex the shooting process becomes. You'll also be limited by the amount of light available, on a bright sunny day you'll most likely be unable to shoot with a very slow shutter speed - even with a narrow aperture and low ISO
speed. This is where specialised filters like ND filters become useful - basically giving you another way to control exposure beyond the traditional 'triangle'
Think back to the days of photography when you needed to manually develop film to get access to your photos. If you ever accidentally — or deliberately — reused film, then you know what it’s like for two photos to become one. You
might have even created this effect digitally via photomanipulation.
Photographers can do this prior to the editing process and overlay two photos to create one artistic effect. When the final product involves more than two photos, then this is known as multi exposure and follows the same premise.
Using this method might allow you to create photos that are unique and carry symbolic meaning. Some people also use it to show the movement of one object at multiple different points in the same frame without blurring them in the
way that a long exposure does.
C.R. Kennedy is one of Australia’s leading distributors of cameras and photographic equipment. We offer a wide range of DSLR, mirrorless, full-frame and action cameras.
If you need more information on different camera models and options, check out more articles on the C.R. Kennedy blog.
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