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Try These Quick Go-to Settings for Multiple Lighting Conditions

Photography is all about light and mastering your camera is all about getting the right light, at the right time, in the right quantity every time. Yes there are things like composition, blur, right time of the day/night and what not but this blog is just about exposure and managing lighting conditions while learning more about your camera. So let’s talk about a few good tips on how to quickly go to the settings that get you a great picture with the right light getting on the sensor.

Camera and exposure meter

Basically as we understand, exposure is all about Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Flash fills, artificial lights and using natural reflective surfaces and angles are just other techniques that you must know as well (after you get the basics right), Here we talk about setting your camera for the best exposure. So let’s start with the exposure triangle and we will then move to generic camera functions that enable you to manipulate aperture, shutter and ISO settings quickly. There are many ways to get shooting but I will explain to you about how to do it based on the objective at hand, we will be using Priority modes that all cameras have. Depending on the situation you can keep shutter & aperture priority to get the best results.

Quick jump to Exposure compensation: Judge the light and the camera histogram to see if your scene is too dark or too light, a histogram slammed to right or left is when you should press the Quick exposure compensation button, dial the multi function wheel (command dial for me on Nikon) and rotate it in the desired position till you get the histogram right. Once done, you can continue with the settings below. They used to have dedicated light meter but now as its built into the camera with a nice histogram, you can judge if the camera is automatically reading the right light or if you need to adjust the exposure compensation option. It is mostly done in cases you are shooting a scene with non-uniform lighting or harsh lights directly pointed at your lens.

AE lock and camera focus points: Continuous focus, focus on button press or manual, all allow you to lock not just the focus but exposure. But what if the subject you want to shoot should have a different exposure, say due to surrounding objects. In that case you put your camera focus to the area with right exposure, press exposure lock and while pressing it move back to composing the scene and shoot! This prevents the camera from recalculating the exposure and locks it’s exposure to the other area you just locked the AE on.

Quick jump to Metering mode: Select betweenspot, centre-weightedaverage, or multi-zone metering modes depending on your subject or scene. For example spot is done in case of portraits but in case there is heavy contrast say a very fair lady with dark black hair filling the frame, you can use average mode. If further in the frame, you can use spot in the same situation.

Auto-Focus, Auto-Exposure Lock Dial And Movie Record Button On Digital Camera

Use Aperture priority mode: The aperture or retina of your camera lets you get the amount of light you need by opening the hole between your lens and camera from popping big (Low F stop) to super small (high f stop). While a larger aperture, again a lower F number will let you get more light in, it also blurs the elements not in focus. The blur or bokeh is proportional to how big the aperture is, a lower number (or bigger aperture) makes things more blurry and a higher number brings more elements in focus. So it affects your DOF or depth of field. For landscapes, you ideally use a higher number around f8 for most lenses while portraits are best done around f2. Switch your dial to aperture priority mode, then turn the multi function wheel of your camera to reduce or increase aperture based on the scene. This action keeps the aperture fixed by your choice, while manipulating the shutter speed and ISO to compensate.

Quick jump to Shutter priority: While aperture mode is great for keeping a steady DOF of your choice, Shutter priority mode helps you freeze a moment or give the shot a time flow effect (like a foamy smooth waterfall you see in many mesmerising images). Keeping the shutter longer captures motion as the subject may have moved while the shutter was open. Ideal situations examples like a waterfall, movement of stars in the sky, night life on a street, moving cars looking like light streaks on the road, or a humming bird wings in motion, or a helicopter with blades standing still in the air. So a fast shutter to freeze it, slow to show the motion. In this mode the camera would manipulate ISO and aperture to achieve the desired exposure.

Quick Jump to Manual modes: Manual modes allow you to manipulate more than 1 element of exposure, so you can keep shutter and aperture fixed and then set ISO to desired levels and achieve the result, maybe with a little noise in such cases. This mode enables a pro to keep total control in unique situations like a night football game, where they want to capture the freeze of a kick and have the referee in a distance still showing his expressions. This for example is done while keeping the aperture small, shutter fast, and ISO high to get the perfect exposure. You can save your manual settings and in most cameras they stay where you left them, so there is an M1 for one setting, M2 for another set of settings etc. Some cameras would have it say “P” for programmable.

Modes of magic (a Note on entry level DSLRs): While more expensive cameras take the same quality of shot and it really matters how good the photographer is, they allow quicker access to key settings. You can still access those settings in most budget DSLRs but it requires you to go deep into the menus as they miss most of the direct hardware buttons. The strength of entry DSLRs is their quick scene modes. These modes like snow, portrait, fireworks etc are very easy to use and you just have to jump to the relevant scenario and take a shot. They are quite effective because they are designed to give you great exposure balance along with relevant shutter speed, relevant DOF and quick focus for the situation. The software also determines the mode of exposure as well.

Filling with flash: Quickly fill your subject with a fill flash technique, even in daylight. using daytime flash gives you great portraits due to the flash light filling up the dark areas where there is shade.

I have used a basic hands on learning approach to teach oneself some basics with a focus on exposure & also learning the camera modes. If you have some quick tips to share I will be delighted to read the comments. Happy shooting!

Photo credits: Radub85, Hiroshi Tanaka.

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