I struggled with proper exposure of my photos for a LONG time in the beginning. I didn’t understand the reason why all of my photos seemed to be underexposed. I would spend hours and hours after my shoots editing the photos just to make it look right. So instead of out there shooting and booking clients; I am spending my time in front of a computer. Doesn’t make much sense, right? It wasn’t until I learned by trial and error what proper exposure is, and how it effects my ‘brand’, or style.
This post is by no way a tutorial, but just sharing how I meter and expose for my photos. So here we go!
First of all, there are two things I do 100% of the time. I use ‘back-focus’ technique and I always use spot metering. Now if you aren’t familiar with what back-focus means, do a quick google search and there are a ton of great articles out there on it. Maybe one day I will do a post on it. But essentially instead of pushing the shutter down half way to focus, you separate out the focus button from the shutter button. What I have found is that this gives me a great control of focusing. This is especially critical since I usually shoot around F1.6 (on 50mm F1.2 prime), a slight shift in focus will make the picture appear too soft.
According to Canon’s official website, spot metering “gets exposure information only from the single exposure zone in the center of the frame (approximately 3% of the total picture area).” Since I back-focus, I always set my AF point in the center of my sensor where it’s most sensitive. I focus on where I want my viewers to focus first, (typically the eyes if I am doing portraits), then recompose by using rule of 3rds or negative space..
Now, here’s the tricky part. What I have found is that onboard metering is actually quite deceiving. It tends to underexpose if you dial the meter right in the middle. The metering is show in the red square in the above photo. I always over-expose the photos purposely to about +1.5, sometimes to +2. Then I will verify what’s on my LCD screen to make sure, on very rare occasions I will also look at the histogram. Stylistically speaking, I like my photos to be just slightly over-exposed. I think it gives it more airy, fresh, and clean look. There are many photographers out there that like the dark dramatic look, but that’s just not me.
Now here’s an example from my last engagement session for Kerry & John at Union Station & Griffith Observatory. The picture on the left simulates what a ‘properly exposed’ photo would look like, according to your in-camera metering. And the middle is my SOOC version, and the far right is the final output. All I did between my SOOC and final output is that I upped the color temperature just a tad, dodged John’s face so it’s not so contrasty to Kerry’s skin tone, and pumped up fill light. Note that even though I “overexposed” according to the incamera meter, I didn’t lose any of the highlights in Kerry’s dress. You can still see the intricate details.
Don’t trust your in-camera metering! Always look at the LCD to make sure. Once I learned the proper way to expose, I was able to further develop my own style and it has helped me to differentiate my images from others. Well, that and I have cuter couples as clients.
If you have any other questions leave me a comment below and I will do my best to answer. If you love what I shared, please hit the “like” button on the bottom so I know I am putting out relevant information and share it with your friends.