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What is exposure?

From: Foundations of Photography: Exposure

Video: What is exposure?

When you are shooting, it is very easy to focus all of your attention on your subject, and how you want to frame it. After all, your subject is what makes your photo, right? Only partly. People often ask me, what do you like to shoot? For a while this question really confused me, until I realized that the answer for me is light. I like to shoot nice light. It doesn't even necessarily matter what that light is bouncing off of. Light creates texture. Light and shadow together can create a sense of depth in your scene, or allow you to control the viewer's eye, and controlling the viewer's eye is the essence of composition.

What is exposure?

When you are shooting, it is very easy to focus all of your attention on your subject, and how you want to frame it. After all, your subject is what makes your photo, right? Only partly. People often ask me, what do you like to shoot? For a while this question really confused me, until I realized that the answer for me is light. I like to shoot nice light. It doesn't even necessarily matter what that light is bouncing off of. Light creates texture. Light and shadow together can create a sense of depth in your scene, or allow you to control the viewer's eye, and controlling the viewer's eye is the essence of composition.

There is no photography without light, and the secret to controlling light is to understand exposure. Even if you are not well-versed in the history of photography, you have probably seen a lot of movies. Think about the strong shadows in a great film noire movie--so named because the images had lots of war or black in them. Or think of the rich colors and the dramatic lighting as the hero rides off into the sunset in the classic western. These are all moods and atmospheres that are created through lighting and exposure.

Movies are a photographic process, after all, and cinematographers have to know the same exposure theory that we photographers do. So what exactly is exposure? Let's go outside for a minute. You have probably experienced this. Ah! You step outside, and it's too bright until your eyes adjust. Now you probably also experienced this. I step into a dark room, and I can't see anything until my eyes adjust. That's exposure.

The pupil in my eyes, the black part, is an iris that can open and close to let in more or less light. That takes a certain amount of light for me to be able to see. So when I am in a dark room, my pupils are opened very wide to let in enough light for me to see. When I stepped outside, my pupils were still opened very wide, so wide that I couldn't see, because my vision was overexposed. All I could see was white. Now, when that happens to you, you may not think of it as seeing white, probably because you are more focused on the pain as the nerves in your eyes gets overloaded.

But to sum up, when I am in one situation, my eyes need a particular setting. When I take those same eyes into a very different lighting situation, that setting is no longer correct, and I can't see. That may sound familiar to you, not just because you have eyes, but because that's how your camera works. It needs different exposure settings, depending on how bright or dark the light in your scene is. Like your eye, inside your camera's lens there is an iris, or aperture, that can be opened or closed to let in more or less light. But your camera has an additional mechanism for controlling light, in the form of a shutter.

It's a little curtain that can be opened and closed quickly or slowly to let in more or less light. And that's all exposure is, controlling the amount of light that gets to the image sensor in your camera. Too much light, and your image will be overexposed. It will be too bright. Highlight details will be lost to complete white. Colors will be washed out. Too little light, and your image will be underexposed. It will be too dark. Shadow details will be lost to complete black. Tone and color will be dull and dingy. Now, you might be wondering why your camera has two mechanisms for controlling light when your eye can get away with just one.

The answer to that is complicated, and we will explore it in detail throughout this course. Right now, know that the practical upshot of having two controls in your camera, and the reason that you want to learn more about them, is that they provide you a tremendous creative possibilities. So we learn exposure theory not just to ensure that our images are neither too bright nor too dark, but to expand the creative palette that we have at our disposal when we are shooting. We are going to be learning a lot of numbers, and concepts, and terms in this course, but in the end your eye and your lens are both optical devices, so a lot of what we are going to learn is going to feel familiar to you, because you already have a lot of experience with a pair of lenses and apertures that you use every single day.

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Foundations of Photography: Exposure

64 video lessons · 90551 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 8m 45s
    1. Welcome
      1m 57s
    2. What is exposure?
      4m 8s
    3. A word about camera brands
      2m 40s
  2. 9m 31s
    1. What is a camera?
      2m 52s
    2. The shutter
      3m 53s
    3. The aperture
      1m 33s
    4. Exposure defined
      1m 13s
  3. 13m 50s
    1. Modes
      2m 7s
    2. Pressing the shutter button
      2m 54s
    3. Autofocus
      5m 22s
    4. Light metering
      2m 3s
    5. White balance
      1m 24s
  4. 29m 26s
    1. Shooting sharp images
      1m 58s
    2. Noting shutter speed
      4m 3s
    3. Taking control of shutter speed
      1m 30s
    4. Stop defined
      2m 50s
    5. Shutter priority mode
      4m 34s
    6. Exercise: Shutter speed
      40s
    7. Reciprocity
      3m 13s
    8. Controlling motion
      7m 8s
    9. Shutter speed increments
      2m 21s
    10. Exercise: Go work with shutter speed
      1m 9s
  5. 26m 2s
    1. Depth of field
      1m 53s
    2. How aperture is measured
      2m 42s
    3. Aperture priority mode
      4m 57s
    4. Lens speed
      53s
    5. Shooting deep depth of field
      3m 53s
    6. Shooting shallow depth of field
      2m 50s
    7. The depth-of-field preview button
      4m 24s
    8. How shallow should you be?
      2m 47s
    9. Exercise: Go work with aperture
      1m 43s
  6. 16m 26s
    1. ISO: The third exposure parameter
      6m 27s
    2. Assessing your camera's high ISO
      5m 32s
    3. Shooting in low light
      3m 32s
    4. Exercise: Shooting in low light
      55s
  7. 14m 30s
    1. White balance controls
      5m 37s
    2. Adjusting white balance manually
      4m 25s
    3. Shooting raw
      4m 28s
  8. 6m 3s
    1. How light meters work
      1m 47s
    2. Why are there different modes?
      4m 16s
  9. 33m 58s
    1. Exposure compensation
      4m 0s
    2. Intentional overexposure
      2m 40s
    3. Intentional underexposure
      1m 42s
    4. Controlling tone
      2m 31s
    5. The histogram
      10m 4s
    6. Real-world histograms
      5m 49s
    7. Tone and color
      2m 16s
    8. Auto exposure bracketing
      3m 57s
    9. Exercise: Go work with exposure compensation
      59s
  10. 12m 56s
    1. Dynamic range
      2m 24s
    2. Exposing for highlights
      4m 15s
    3. Fill flash
      3m 11s
    4. Three solutions to the same problem
      3m 6s
  11. 12m 26s
    1. Manual mode
      2m 6s
    2. Manual mode and light meters
      4m 52s
    3. Manual exposure exercise
      5m 28s
  12. 12m 1s
    1. Custom modes and A-DEP
      1m 39s
    2. Program shift
      3m 52s
    3. Exposure compensation with program shift
      1m 58s
    4. An exercise in reciprocity
      53s
    5. Scene modes and in-camera processing
      3m 39s
  13. 8m 15s
    1. Shooting with post production in mind
      3m 45s
    2. Exposure strategy
      3m 51s
    3. Goodbye
      39s

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