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Exposing to the right

From: Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

Video: Exposing to the right

There's a certain amount of light in this room right now that's illuminating me this much. If we double the amount of light, if we bring them twice as many of the exact same kind of lights and turn them all on, our eyes will not actually register a doubling of illumination. Our senses don't work that way. All of our senses are that way. If I hand you a bowling ball and then hand you another bowling ball, you don't actually perceive a doubling in weight. Our senses are nonlinear; they actually look on a logarithmic scale. Film is the same way. If you double the amount of light in a scene, you don't get a doubling of illumination when you're shooting film.

Exposing to the right

There's a certain amount of light in this room right now that's illuminating me this much. If we double the amount of light, if we bring them twice as many of the exact same kind of lights and turn them all on, our eyes will not actually register a doubling of illumination. Our senses don't work that way. All of our senses are that way. If I hand you a bowling ball and then hand you another bowling ball, you don't actually perceive a doubling in weight. Our senses are nonlinear; they actually look on a logarithmic scale. Film is the same way. If you double the amount of light in a scene, you don't get a doubling of illumination when you're shooting film.

Your digital camera, though, is different; it employs a linear capture system. What that means, practically, is that when you're working in low light there is an exposure strategy that you can employ that may help you keep noise down. Here is how it works. There are a certain number of levels of brightness that your camera can capture. Say it can capture 4000 levels of brightness. Half of those levels go into representing the brightest stop in your scene. In other words 2000 of those 4000 available shades of gray that it has go into just the brightest stop.

Half of what's left over from that remaining 2000 go into the next brightest stop, half of what's left over from that into the next, and so on and so forth. What that means is when you get down to the darkest tones in your image, they may only be represented by four or eight shades of gray, or four or eight tones or values. So in other words, your camera is really good at capturing bright things but not so good at capturing dark things. Most of the time this doesn't matter. Most of the time your RAW converter does a fine job of equalizing everything and evening everything out.

If you're working in low light though, underexposing or capturing lots of dark stuff, it means you're putting all of your data into those lower stops where the camera simply doesn't store that much information. You're not really playing to the camera strengths. Very often, therefore, when you're working in extremely low light, if you overexpose your image--not overexposed to the point of blowing your highlights out beyond recovery, but exposing so that all of the data in your image is more to the right of the histogram--then you've got a really data-rich area that you can push down into the shadow areas.

In other words, you can darken your image in post-processing, push all of that data down into the shadow areas, and end up with shadows that are possibly less noisy than if you had exposed normally. Let me give you an example. I can't show you the full noise response here because it's very difficult to represent that on a small screen, but here's a case where I did come in and change my exposure strategy. This was my initial exposure as I calculated it, based on the camera's metering, and you can see all of my tones are clustered here at the left end of the histogram, but the really value-rich tones would be over here on the your right end of the histogram.

By cranking up my exposure, I can capture data into the brighter areas of the histogram, and here you can see, I went up to here. Now really, to have done this right, I should have exposed even more, cranked up my exposure more, so that more tones come all the way over here. But I'll be honest with you, it was really cold there and I wanted to go home. Now I'm always running the threat of overexposing bright highlights in my image, but if I remember that I've got highlight recovery capability built into my RAW conversion, I can push all the way over into having a little bit of spike over here and be able to recover that and really darken my data back down into those shadow areas and greatly reduce noise.

This means that out of the camera, my images are going to look awful. They are all going to look way too bright, they're going to be overexposed, possibly have lost some highlight detail, but once I start processing them, they're going to really firm up and possibly exhibit much cleaner shadows. We're going to be exposing this way on some of our shots so you're going to get a little more experience with how this works and how to use the histogram on the back of your camera to keep track of this while you're working. Later, we'll process some of these images.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light
Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

55 video lessons · 36743 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 2m 27s
    1. Welcome
      2m 27s
  2. 6m 20s
    1. What can you shoot in low light?
      2m 17s
    2. What you need for this course
      4m 3s
  3. 28m 54s
    1. Working with exposure parameters in low light
      1m 13s
    2. Working with image sensors in low light
      4m 35s
    3. Working with shutter speed in low light
      3m 3s
    4. Considering motion blur
      1m 14s
    5. Working with ISO in low light
      2m 29s
    6. Assessing your camera's high ISO capability
      4m 52s
    7. Working with in-camera noise reduction
      2m 4s
    8. Working with aperture in low light
      2m 10s
    9. Understanding dynamic range
      2m 2s
    10. Working with color temperature and white balance
      1m 11s
    11. Exposing to the right
      4m 1s
  4. 34m 39s
    1. Introduction
      1m 36s
    2. Talking with Steve Simon about low-light photography
      13m 46s
    3. Shooting by candlelight
      1m 55s
    4. Choosing a mode
      4m 34s
    5. Exploring the role of lens stabilization
      3m 1s
    6. White balance considerations
      3m 27s
    7. Flash considerations
      1m 18s
    8. Problem solving
      1m 35s
    9. Understanding aesthetics and composition
      3m 27s
  5. 30m 4s
    1. Introduction
      2m 20s
    2. Preparing for the shoot
      5m 25s
    3. Act I: adjusting to the light
      3m 48s
    4. Intermission: reviewing the strategy
      1m 53s
    5. Act II: moving to the back of the house
      2m 35s
    6. After the show: lessons learned
      1m 18s
    7. Reviewing the performance images
      12m 45s
  6. 19m 18s
    1. Shooting in the shade
      2m 55s
    2. Street shooting
      2m 52s
    3. Shooting flash portraits at night
      4m 5s
    4. Controlling flash color temperature
      2m 50s
    5. Adjusting exposure to preserve the mood
      2m 34s
    6. Dynamic range considerations
      4m 2s
  7. 41m 0s
    1. Shooting lingering sunsets
      1m 42s
    2. Exploring focusing strategies
      5m 17s
    3. Composing and focusing at night
      10m 42s
    4. Shooting the stars
      9m 27s
    5. Practicing low-light landscape shooting
      9m 55s
    6. Focusing on the horizon in low light
      3m 57s
  8. 13m 4s
    1. Light painting: behind the camera
      7m 34s
    2. Light painting: in front of the camera
      2m 13s
    3. Manipulating long shutter speeds
      3m 17s
  9. 1h 4m
    1. Correcting white balance
      8m 49s
    2. Correcting white balance with a gray card
      3m 50s
    3. Correcting white balance of JPEG images
      2m 0s
    4. Blending exposures with different white balances
      7m 13s
    5. Brightening shadows
      9m 8s
    6. Reducing noise
      7m 44s
    7. Sharpening
      9m 14s
    8. Correcting depth-of-field issues
      9m 32s
    9. Correcting night skies
      6m 39s
  10. 53s
    1. Goodbye
      53s

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