Manual Exposure Epiphany & A Sunday Walk
I’ve had a “Daily” folder of photographs since 2009. The first were portraits of a contractor’s kids that came with Dad to see the finished addition he’d built us. Next were thunder clouds & a plane on approach to RDU, made from a parking lot in Morrisville. I was starting to look around and see. My Epiphany was taking control by using manual exposure to make the images I saw, instead of hoping the camera’s programmers knew what I was thinking.
My gateway to Manual Exposure was reading Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure” and reading The Ultimate Exposure Computer until I knew it. Bought the first at Barnes & Noble, the other is a free download. I’m not affiliated with Amazon, just wanted to show the book.
Understanding exposure is very straight forward but it takes some effort to learn a few ideas and then, practice to get used to them. If you learned it with film, you still got it. Like riding a bicycle. That doesn’t mean you’ll qualify for the Tour de Paris but you can probably get where you want to go.
So yesterday, like a lot of days since, I took along a camera and it wasn’t a paid shoot. It’s the practice thing. It’s the “how” part and the muscle memory and seeing which all need to be used or they atrophy. It partly explains why I’ve been using the same brand and series of cameras since 2007. I can and do use them in the dark, by feel. The benefit from frequent camera use is getting rid of the self consciousness and preoccupation while out with the “really nice camera”. It’s simply a tool, use it. That enables the good part, which brings us back to yesterdays walk.
What could be better on a beautiful Sunday afternoon before dinner than a walk?
Image 1 is “Buddy” who is a rescue dog and skittish about strangers and a regular on our walks. While his owner does yard chores, he surveys his realm. Each time we’ve met, he has allowed us closer. On this visit with his owner, he didn’t run away. He briefly ignored me when I knelt down to his nose level because my wife spoke to him. I set exposure before I knelt, knowing he wasn’t staying put. It was “Sunny 16” except for the patch of shade on him. I got one frame before he moved away. The good news is, his owner asked for my card and wants to have a family portrait made. Which is another reason to go walkabout with a camera. I don’t take the trash out without a business card. Trust me, you’ll need it when you don’t have it.
- Buddy: Top Lit, hard sun & patches of shade, medium key, f8, 1/320, ISO 400.
The next two images are two different mailboxes and two different exposures.
2. Blue Clematis: Top lit, low key, shaft of sun light coming through trees like a spotlight, surrounded by shade. Lit like a studio setup by Mother Nature, saw this walking down the street. F8, 1/400 and ISO 100 so Sunny 16 except I swapped two stops of aperture for two stops of shutter speed in my exposure budget.
3. Blue Clematis: Top lit with the soft diffuse light of heavy shade and some bits of hazy sun. Medium key, f2.8, 1/800, ISO 400 so Sunny 16 minus 4 stops. A week ago, there was only one blossom. Had to back up as my lens had a MFD ( Minimum Focus Distance) of 3 ft. I used the maximum aperture of f2.8 to emphasize the flat single plane of the blossoms in sharper focus from the rest of the background. Shutter speed of 1/800 for wind picking up.
4. Hybrid Encore Azalea: These are still blooming and just like them. Back Light, hard direct sun, high contrast, low key. F8 to keep the whole blossom sharp and I maxed my shutter to 1/8000 to make the background go dark, bumped ISO to 800 which is still pretty noise free.
Image 5 is actually is two frames side by side to show the difference when you move a little with the same exposure but different backgrounds. This is a flower box on our deck rail. On the left image, I crouched down so the background was the dark tree canopy. On the right, I stood up an swiveled a bit so the bright Tulip Poplar trunk was the background.
5. Two Exposures of a violet flower: Top front light, hard sun, low and medium key respectively. F2.8, 1/2500, ISO 200 or just about Sunny 16 except 2.8 to isolate the blossom from the background, almost 4 1/2 stops of shutter speed to offset the wide aperture and the wind and ISO 200 for a little bump in sensitivity.
I could have made all these images with Program, or Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority Modes but they wouldn’t have looked like I wanted. Also and importantly, I could make one exposure decision and then frame with the zoom without having to recalculate for variable aperture. All my lenses are constant aperture.
None of these will win awards but I have to make them to have a chance.
Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax 50-135/2.8 lens.
Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro