Peace and Pandemonium

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Some Answers

Holly-girl asks...
How do you meter for your photos? I'm always trying to ascertain what will be the best way for me so I figure that getting a wide range of opinions will help! Would love to hear your take on it! "

Metering is a great question. I don't know if I'm doing it the right way or not. I don't have a light meter to get official readings from so I use a technique called "nulling out" the meter. Basically, I use the light meter inside my camera to make the exposure mark in the viewfinder sit in the center of the +/- exposure graph. I fine tune from there depending on what the particular lighting I'm working with requires. I'll snap a picture and look at it in my LCD screen. If I need more or less light I'll will adjust accordingly. Different cameras expose differently so with practice you may discover that you need to shoot one notch to the right or the left of center in order to get the exposure that you want. This technique serves only as a guideline, not as an absolute. I also really like to use the other metering tools that my camera offers. Depending on the lighting I will use my evaluative, spot, or center weighted metering.

For example, when the light comes from over your shoulder onto the scene you are photographing or when there is a fairly even distribution of light and dark throughout the scene, use your evaluative setting. This takes light readings from different areas around the viewfinder and calculates the different values of brightness and then balances the information out and comes up with the proper exposure. This is great to use 80% of the time.

Then there are those occasions when the lighting is more dramatic and you want to emphasize the drama of the light more than you want to expose the whole scene. This is when spot metering comes into play. To meter for this setting you switch to spot metering and use your center focus point and place it over the brightest area of your subject (being sure to include some of the darker light too). This will give you a correct exposure on the highlighted part of your picture. The rest of the scene will fall off into shadows and thus not detract from your dramatic light. This setting may require some exposure compensation but that depends on what you want your final outcome to be.

The third metering mode I like to use is called center weighted mode. This is used when there is bright light that dominates a portion of the frame but not necessarily your main subject. For example, back lighting or highly directional light coming in from the sides. The light is read from all parts of the viewfinder, with 70% of the light reading coming from the center of the frame and 30% of the calculation from the edges of the frame. The camera reads the various brightness levels and then averages them into middle gray.

A really important thing to remember when metering your light in any situation is to know where the point your camera when making the reading. Use your center focal point. You can recompose your image after your exposure is set. You'll also want to control overexposing your image and you can do this by always including the brighter areas within the center circle of your frame when you make your reading.

Aja writes...
"I have a question about lighting. I hate to use the flash on my baby's eyes, but the picture comes out too dark otherwise. I have put her in direct sunlight and that will either cause her to squint or it washes her out and creates weird shadows. How the heck do you get great lighting without all the problems. Apparently I'm doing something wrong.
Note: I'm working with a Sony Cyber-shot at this point."

Well Aja, I'm not super familiar with the Sony Cyber-shot but I do know that you shouldn't have to forfeit nice pictures just because you use a point and shoot. I also know that in order to get great lighting you'll want to avoid your flash and direct light! When you're taking pictures of your baby, place her in a bright room and face her toward a window that has natural light streaming through. If she is facing the natural light you should be able to see the catch light in her eyes. The catch light is the reflection of the window or light source in her eye. If you are outdoors and you want to take a nice picture without placing her in direct light I would suggest taking her into the shade and once again face her toward the light source. When the light is coming over your shoulder you're going to have the best chance of catching her in the best light. You also may want to read your owners manual and learn how to use your manual settings. Just because you have a point and shoot doesn't mean you cant make manual exposures. I would recommend learning how to make those adjustments and then come back to me and I'll help you make a manual exposure that will be sure to make a huge difference. :)

jpearson wrote...
"When I recently took some photos of my daughter and son-in-law (it was about 2 p.m. on a very overcast, gray day, and they were wearing dark clothing, if that makes a difference) their faces were often blown out (over-exposed). What should I have done to correct this? I shoot in manual and tried exposing for their faces, but still struggled."

First off props to you for using manual! When I first started using manual I too struggled with getting my settings just right. I still struggle from time to time if I'm being perfectly honest. There is so much to remember...ISO setting, shutter speed, aperture. The most important thing though, is beginning to understand the relationship between the three.

When I'm going to make an exposure I always start with my ISO first. I always want the lowest ISO setting possible so that I can avoid unnecessary grain. The next thing I think about when making an exposure is aperture. When shooting portraits I like to use a wide open aperture. However, if you stop down one or two stops your chances of getting a more crisp photo increases without losing the bokeh effect. For example, if you are using a 50mm 1.8 you can shoot at 1.8 and that's fine but if you shoot at 2.8 instead, you'll probably get sharper results and still maintain the desired look. Once again, not necessary, just an option if focusing wide open is a problem. (If you're taking a picture of a group of people, you'll need to narrow your aperture! This will assist in making sure that people on different focal planes will still be in focus.) Once I have set my aperture where it needs to be I will balance my shutter speed in order to null out my meter to my liking. As far as shutter speed goes, you need to be careful, especially if you are photographing kids, a moving subject, or if you've had too much caffeine and you are shaky. :) I personally like to stay above 1/125 to ensure a crisp focus. 1/500 if my subject is moving (like in jumping pictures). If I have to go below 1/125 I will try to support my camera as steadily as I can by anchoring my elbow on something steady and though this may sound stupid, I always hold my breath when I click the shutter. You can always use a tripod in low light situations or just hand hold and risk a soft picture. Sometimes the mood of a picture is enhanced by a softer focus in my personal opinion. So play around and experiment. Don't get caught up with rules.

In order to avoid blowing out your images, shoot a little on the dark side. In reality it probably wont be too dark if your tendency is to over expose and if, on the off chance, it is a little too dark, you can always brighten it up in post processing by using levels or curves. The other benefit to shooting a little to the dark side is that you will retain more detail. Remember, when I say the dark side I only mean one or two stops darker. Not Darth Vader dark side. (My son is obsessed with Star Wars.)

Rachel Mae asks...
"I understand that in when in A mode, for example, I'm in control of aperture, while the camera will automatically adjust shutter speed. And vice-versa in S mode. So my question is basically why both of those modes exist. In other words, is it just a preference? Like some people just prefer setting exposure via aperture and some via shutter speed? Or do different situations call for one to be manipulated over the other? Like is it easier to calculate that you need a certain shutter speed if you're taking a photo of a moving object, whereas if you're in a low-light setting, aperture is easier to adjust for? I don't know if this question even makes sense.
I have another one too--how do you make sure that two faces on the same plane are in focus? And where should I lock focus when I'm taking a photo of two or more people?

You pretty much already answered your own question when you were writing it. AV is aperture priority. It's basically and auto mode for the photographer who only wants to worry about depth of field and nothing else. Low light is also a good reason to use AV mode. You set the aperture (and ISO) and the camera nulls out the meter for you. Vice versa with the TV (or S) mode in which you set the shutter speed and your camera chooses the aperture that balances that speed with the available light. This is helpful if you have a moving subject or you want to freeze action. It's basically one less thing to worry about when you're shooting. I don't ever use these because I feel that it makes me lazy and I don't like giving up my creative control when taking my pictures. Sometimes I don't like what the camera "thinks" the best exposure is. I prefer to keep the control in my hands. With that being said, its ok to use these modes. Especially when you are just learning. Just don't use them as a crutch. Once you kind of know whats going on, switch to manual.

Your second question is the one I had to research. I talked to a Canon technician a couple months back about this same topic but once you asked the question I realized that I had forgotten. I called Canon again and asked them directly. This is what I re-learned. When focusing on large groups, focus on the person in the back of the group. The people in forward focusing planes will be in focus whereas anything behind the focus point will begin to lose focus. Thanks for asking that Rachel, I needed that refresher!

Callie wrote among other things...
"I would love to take a photo of my kids where they are in focus and the background is not."

Callie, I hope that your other basic questions have been answered already in the above answers. In order to get a picture of your kids where they are in focus and the background is not try using your AV mode. Take your aperture to the smallest number your camera will allow. (ie...1.8, 2.8, 3.5 etc.) I don't know what lens you are using or what camera you have but if you are using the lens that came with your camera you may find it hard to achieve the desired look. Most kit lenses are 3.5 to 5.6. In order to get really great bokeh you would do well to purchase a 50mm 1.8. If you have a Canon camera this lens is a mere $80 and is worth every penny. I think the Nikon version is similarly priced though I'm not sure. With a 1.8 aperture you can get beautifully blurred backgrounds just by setting your camera to 1.8 and locking focus on your kiddies. If you want a one on one lesson I would be more than happy to make time for that. Send me an email and we can arrange a date and time. We can go over your camera in full and really get you acquainted with your settings and how to use them to get the images you are imagining. :)

Ok, that's all the questions that were asked. I hope I answered them in a way that is helpful and gave some insight. If you have follow up questions to ask please feel free to ask them.
If you missed out but have a question to ask, ask it! I'll answer as best I can.
It also seems that there may be some who would benefit from a one on one. I would love to spend some time with you training you in a more tailored and detailed way. Email me if you think this would be helpful.

Great questions and answers. I was especially happy to be reminded about metering. I sometimes just get stuck using one kind of metering and then check my LCD screen and adjusting from there. So much better to just take pictures using the right metering mode in the first place.
Thanks so much, Kiera. All of the answers were helpful. I will put my camera on M and start experimenting there. If you ever have time for some one-on-one, I would love to do that, if only for a few minutes. I feel like I've absorbed what I can from reading at this point and it would be nice to talk about and/or be shown some of these things.
thanks kiera. you said you focus on the person in the back when photographing a group, but who do you focus on when photographing several people on the same plane. i learned you don't focus on the middle person, but who then? this is something i struggle with. it seems everyone has a different answer, so i was curious how you do it.
Great answers, Kiera! I always love hearing how other people 'work it out'. I have one more question for you ... when you focus on your subject, do you focus, push the lock focus button & recompose? It seems my subject isn't quite as sharp when I do this compared to when I can get their eye right on the set focal point, but of course that's not always where I need it to be! :-) Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences. I appreciate that you are a photographer that nurtures the collaborative nature of photography!
It was great to see you, too! Thanks for these questions & answers. When I have a bigger block of time available I'm going to pull up this post and go through all the answers and try to figure out how I can use them with my camera. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
kelli beat me to my questions! we were talking about what an amazing job you did on that picture of the family spread out and jumping and were dying to know how you got the whole scene crystal clear!!!

I don't exactly know the "right" answer to your question. I'm not sure there is one. I think in the picture of the family jumping I focused on the mom and dad because they seemed to be the focal point of the picture. Plus there were three of them, dad and dog. Once again though, I was at 4.5 aperture and 1/500 shutter speed so I think that helped keep the whole scene in focus. Next time you're on a shoot, try taking the picture over and over again but move your focal point around for each shot and see what happens.


I have done the lock focus and recompose thing before and I end up disappointed every time. Now I always move my focal point to the desired location and shoot that way. If my desired focal point is out of range of my in camera focus points, I will on occasion lock and recompose but I try keep it to a minimum by using the closest focal point. I also try to keep the recompose movement to a minimum if I can help it. This is a tricky thing. I think Canon needs to improve their focusing system by including more focus points...
I often look at your blog but I don't think I have ever commented. Thank you thank you and thank you for answering these questions, they have helped a lot!
Thanks again for sharing, Kiera!!!
You are full of great information and I'm glad you're willing to share your knowledge. I look forward to my next trip to Utah to have a little one on one time with you, until then I will experiment and see what I can learn. By the way I asked a photographer a question while I was in Utah this last time and his advice was just keep it on Auto and you'll do fine. So thanks for allowing my simple questions and encouraging all to use manual. =)
I appreciate so much your willingness to answer questions. How generous of you to take the time! One more question: I had never heard before that you should put the center focus point on your subject first to meter for exposure and then recompose. (And I have done a lot of reading!) The whole process of using manual, particularly when photographing people, is a slow one for me as it is (!) and adding this extra step every time will slow me down just a bit more. I am very curious as to the reason for doing it the way you described! Thanks so much for your help.
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