DSLRs are designed to be smart. Getting a nicely exposed image is far easier than in the film era. However, you still need some practise on mastering exposure. Professional photographers are using aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes most of the time.
What you are going to learn
- Steps to capture a nicely exposed image
- Three manual control modes
- Three different metering modes
- How to fine tune exposure by exposure compensation
After learning the exposure triangle in the last post, it is the time for you to play around with it. Knowing how to combine aperture, shutter speed and ISO is the key to capturing a correctly exposed image.
I have to admit that I seldom use full manual mode unless I am working with flash or doing HDR photography. Shutter priority or aperture priority are great for an ordinary shooting job. Below are the steps that I use for every single shoot.
In a DSLR, there are three modes where you will have more manual control. They are shutter priority, aperture priority and full manual mode. In this step, you need to select which method you are going to use.
Aperture Priority (A / Av)
- Takes control of aperture
- Camera metering will only change the shutter speed
- Faster to set
- Great for shooting something still
Shutter Priority (S / Tv)
- Takes control of shutter speed
- Camera metering will only change aperture
- Faster to set
- Great for shooting moving subject
- Takes control of both aperture and shutter speed
- Camera will not adjust anything
- Needs more time to set
- Required for an advanced technique
- Great for shooting in the same environment
If you are shooting landscapes, portraits, or stills, A mode will be the best choice for you. You can control the f-number to achieve the depth of field you want.
When you are shooting animals, sports, or other moving objects, you need to choose S mode. Taking control of shutter speed can result in less motion blurring.
M mode lets you have full control on both aperture and shutter speed. The downside is that you need more time to discover a good setting. When you are shooting in an environment that doesn’t change, such as an indoor event, it is good to spend some time setting up in M mode.
Also, when you are attempting an advanced technique, such as HDR, panorama or adding ND filters, M mode is the perfect choice.
When you are shooting in A mode or S mode, you need to fix the perimeter that you want to control.
When using A mode, you can set f8 or f11 to achieve a deeper depth of field when shooting landscapes. On the other hand, you can set to f2.8 or even f2 (if you have such a lens :P) to get a nice blurry background when shooting a portrait. You can see I have used f2.5 to achieve a lovely blurry background in the rose photo.
When shooting in S mode, set a faster shutter speed if you want to freeze the subject. Furthermore, if you wish to shoot some motion blur, you can set the shutter speed to a relatively slow one, such as 1/2 sec when shooting people, or 1/200 when shooting birds. You may need some trial and error to find the shutter speed that works best for you.
You will want the image quality as high as possible, and that’s why you should set the ISO to the lowest possible setting.
However, most of the time the environment won’t allow you to use the lowest ISO because there’s not enough light.
In those cases, you need to bump up the ISO to a higher value in order to get a sharp image.
The good news is that most of the DSLR’s have pretty good noise control on high ISO.
After setting up the ISO, you need to tell the camera how to meter the scene. There are primarily three different metering modes in most DSLR’s.
- Meters the average value of the whole scene
- Works great on average contrast
- Causes wrong metering on high contrast, such as facing the sun or a spotlight
Center Weighted Metering
- Gives more weighting to the central part when metering
- Can control the radius of the center
- Works great in most scenes
- Causes problems if the subject is not in the center
- Only meters a small area of the scene
- Can control which part to meter
- Works great for creative exposure or small subjects
- May need to also use AE-L function
When you press down the shutter half way, the camera will do both the metering and the focusing.
When the setting is complete, half press shutter to meter and focus and then take a test shot. This should be the easiest step 🙂
AE Lock Function
AE lock function lets you fix the metering value while recomposing your image. When you are using spot metering, most of the time, you will need to use this feature as well.
When you switch to spot metering, you should be able to control a spot in the viewfinder. That spot, which is called focus point, is where the camera will meter.
A higher level, or newer DSLR, will have more points to choose from. Obviously, it is not covering the whole scene. If your subject is located where there are no focus points, you can’t meter that area. This is how the AE lock function can help.
After you have taken a test shot, review it immediately. If it is all good, then congrats! But most of the time there are frequent issues; too bright, too dark, handshake, motion blur of subject, etc.
If the image appears too bright or too dark, adjust the exposure compensation. Positive value will make the image brighter, and a negative value makes it darker.
If you have a blurry image, try to increase the shutter speed by using a larger aperture or increasing the ISO.
Pro Tip: When you acquire more experience, you will learn that you need to set the exposure compensation to a particular value for certain scenes.
These steps are just how I adjust camera and you can do it in another way. Like BigLensFastShutter in this post said:
Every photographer is different and there’s no right answer. Keep experimenting, practising and have fun!
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