Metering for the correct exposure is one of the most important aspects when taking a photograph. Metering mistakes when using film makes for a costly oversight. On the other hand, digital photography allows you to see right away whether your exposure is correct, making it easy to learn from your mistakes. Manual mode is the best way to have complete control of your photographs. Manual mode can be intimidating for those new to photography but with patience and practice it becomes second nature when taking a photo.
When looking in the view finder of your camera, you will see a small minus sign, dashes, and a plus sign. It looks similar to this -2..1..’..1..+2 (some cameras don’t have the numbers). This is the light meter. The light meter tells you if too much or not enough light is coming in. If there are multiple dashes towards the minus sign, not enough light is being let in resulting in a dark photo. If multiple dashes are extended towards the plus sign, too much light is coming in resulting in a blown out photo. To get the ‘correct’ exposure, you want to line the dashes up in the center. There are multiple steps to getting the correct exposure. You must set the ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed which I will discuss below.
ISO is equivalent to film speed sensitivity. ISO 100 is used in very bright locations, like the beach on a sunny afternoon. Higher ISOs (1600+) are used for very low lighting situations. Higher ISO settings are good when you are taking pictures indoors or at night. The higher the ISO, the more grain and noise you will get. When shooting, especially portraits, I try to use the lowest ISO possible to get clear images without unnecessary noise.
Once I set my ISO based on the lighting, I then set my aperture (also known as the f-stop). The aperture is the opening in a lens in which light travels through. The wider the aperture, the more light allowed in. Smaller aperture numbers equate to wider aperture openings. (This always confused me when I was learning.) For example, f1.4 is a wider aperture than f22. I am a visual learner, so I put together a chart below to show the relation between f-stops.
An important note, the aperture controls the depth of field of a photograph. I am not going to go into detail on this today but I included it in the chart for you to see. I will do a separate blog post for depth of field.
The shutter speed is the length of time that the shutter is open. The shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of a second. The bigger the denominator the faster the shutter speed. Very fast shutter speeds, such as 1/5000, are good for action shots. This allows for movement to be captured without motion blur. The slowest shutter speed to use with out a tripod is 1/250th second or close to it. Once you get past 1/250th of a second, it becomes difficult to hold the camera steady enough to get a perfectly sharp image. For very low light situations, when using a slower shutter speed, a steady tripod is necessary. If you don’t have a tripod available, try setting your ISO higher or opening your aperture wider to let in more light.
These are just the basics and are by no means rules. In my opinion, the best part of photography is breaking the rules and trying new things. When shooting bridal portraits, I often let in more light than my meter advises. This allows for an etherial, radiant quality of light. When shooting a sunset portrait session in Puerto Rico, I enjoy overexposing photographs to create silhouettes while capturing details in the sky.
Austin Texas Wedding Photographer.