L o w L i g h t W i l d l i f e & N a t u r e P h o t o g r a p h y
T R E N T S I Z E M O R E P H O T O G R A P H Y
A s i m p l e g u i d e t o h e l p y o u l e a r n y o u r c a m e r a s o y o u c a n
e n j o y y o u r t i m e o u t d o o r s
Introduction In order to understand how to expose correctly in low light s i t u a t i o n s , y o u l l n e e d t o understand the three aspects of exposure and how far you can push each one to your cameras limits.
By grasping the concepts of exposure in low lighting or difficult lighting situations, youll be able to get the correct exposure for any scene you may encounter. I say correct because nothing is set in stone. There may be a technically correct exposure for a given scene, but you can creatively expose to get the image you want. When you understand the effect each setting has on the image, youll be able to expose more or less to create the image you imagined.
The goal of this guide is to get out of automatic mode so youll be more comfortable adjusting the exposure on your own!
Light All light will have a direction (front, back, side), intensity (brightness), and quality (hard vs. soft). Modern
cameras are great at exposing correctly for most scenes youll encounter, but when you can manually expose using each of the camera settings, youll be able to fine-tune the exposure to take advantage of the different attributes of the light you see.
Metering In the simplest terms, your camera tries to find the correct exposure by averaging things out to a middle gray.
The standard mode, evaluative metering, takes into consideration the entire scene, finding a similar scenario built into the camera to find the best exposure.
Center-weighted metering works in a similar way to evaluative,
but gives more preference to whats in the center of the scene. If you have something really bright on the edges of the scene, center-weighted can be helpful for a better exposure.
Spot metering only measures a small area of the scene, usually a circle visible in the center of the viewfinder. Ideally, this is the metering mode youll want to use with manual exposure controls.
The problem with automatic mode aiming for a middle gray is that its not always the correct exposure. You can try to prove this by photographing a pure white and then a pure black subject that fills the viewfinder. Both photos will end up being middle gray (in automatic mode).
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ABOVE: ISO 500 - /5.0 - 1/200s Dark clouds, shadows, and dim lights all make for difficult exposures that can push the limits of your camera and lens. There is always a compromise between enough light to freeze the action through shutter speed and keeping an ISO with an acceptable level of noise and grain.
Exposure Exposure is made up of three c o m p o n e n t s : s h u t t e r s p e e d , aperture, and ISO.
ISO is the easiest to understand, just an adjustment of the sensitivity of your cameras sensor. The downside of higher sensitivity is higher grain and noise, which is g e n e r a l l y ( b u t n o t a l w a y s ) considered a downside.
Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera shutter is open to expose the sensor to light. A longer time means more light, and a shorter time means less light. This can range anywhere from 1/8000th of a second to several minutes or longer.
Aperture is a physical opening that determines how much light goes through your lens to the camera sensor. A wider aperture lets more light through, and a smaller aperture lets less light through. The counterintuitive part of this setting is that higher aperture numbers equal less light. Lower numbers mean more light. Aperture usually ranges from 1.2 to
45 or more. The aperture is a ratio of the lens opening diameter to the lens length. and is typically expressed as /2.8 or similar.
Stops Exposure in your camera is measured in increments called stops. Increasing your exposure by one full stop will gather twice as much light. Its difficult to visualize what your camera sees as twice as much light because your eyes are constantly adjusting themselves. Most cameras are set up to allow 1/3 or 1/2 increments in between full stops.
Putting it Together By adjusting any of the three exposure settings, you can change the amount of light gathered.
Its much easier to think of making adjustments to one setting at a time. If you change one setting, but want the same exposure, you will have to adjust one of the other settings an equal amount to compensate. Later on in this guide, youll find a chart of equivalent exposures to explain this visually.
All three components work in tandem, but you dont have to adjust all three at the same time. If you want to increase or decrease your exposure, you only need to adjust one setting.
The next few pages will go into more detail about each of the three settings, and the changes each will make to your final image.
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ABOVE: ISO 1000 - /5.6 - 1/500s This elk was in a brighter area near the river, so I was shooting at 1/500s in order to freeze the action. When he moved up to the darker area of the trees, I just adjusted the ISO up to 1000 to get a brighter exposure with other settings remaining the same.
ISO ISO is the sensitivity to light of the cameras sensor. Regardless of the camera brand or model, all ISO sensitivities are the same, so ISO 100 on one camera is the same on any other camera.
The lowest ISO is 100 (although some cameras offer ISO 50). ISO 100 offers the least amount of grain, the best colors, and highest dynamic range (the range between lights and darks). ISO 200-800 and even 1600 are unlikely to show any noticeable loss in quality when compared to 100, but its still best to keep it as low as possible.
Noise & Grain The difference between the sensor in an iPhone camera and the sensor in a full DSLR is how much grain and noise each increase in ISO will introduce. Any modern DSLR should have no problems shooting up to ISO 1600 without any noise or grain issues. I often have to use ISO 3200 or even 6400 after the sun goes below the horizon. These high numbers are when noise becomes
more visible, but its worth it if it allows you to continue shooting.
If you have a camera made within the last few years, you shouldnt hesitate to raise the ISO to whatever it needs to be in order to expose correctly with the aperture and shutter speed you choose. If you need a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second and cant open the aperture any wider, you should raise the ISO until you can get 1/1000th with a good exposure. With that said, the shutter speed only needs to be as high as you need in order to freeze the action (if thats what youre going for). If you shoot at 1/1000th when you really only need 1/500th of a second, y o u l l b e d o u b l i n g t h e I S O unnecessarily.
Even if you find noise in your images, programs like Adobe
Lightroom and Nik software plugins can get rid of most, if not all, visible noise. Then again, most people wont even notice a noisy image when it has a much deeper story or emotion behind it. There are those that will nitpick every l itt le technical flaw in an image, and there are those that simply enjoy the subject youve captured. Id MUCH rather appeal to the latter of the two.
Expose to the Right If you are using a high ISO, its worth noting that the brighter your image is, the less noise will be visible when compared to a similar underexposed image with the same ISO. Youll want to expose as bright as possible without cl ipping highlights to minimize the quality loss of a high ISO.
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ABOVE: ISO 400 - /8.0 - 1/250s The left half of this image has artificial noise introduced to show how a higher ISO would introduce more noise to the image. This is a dramatic example and would likely represent an ISO of 12,800 or higher.
Shutter Speed Measured in fractions of a second or full seconds, shutter speed is the amount of time the cameras shutter remains open to expose light onto the sensor. More time means more light. Less time means less light.
Focal Length When handholding your camera, a general rule of thumb for choosing a shutter speed is this:
1Focal Length (mm)
For instance, if your lens is 100mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/100th of a second in order to avoid blur from your hands moving. This only gives you a minimum shutter speed. If you want to freeze the motion, youll likely need a faster speed than this.
Stopping Motion A shutter speed of 1/100th of a second would be sufficient to freeze some slow moving subjects, but nothing moving quickly.
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ABOVE: ISO 800 - /8.0 - 1/400s Even though this was taken in the afternoon, I still shot at ISO 800 to get a higher shutter speed. I could have even doubled the ISO to 1600 and chosen a shutter speed of 1/800th to freeze the water more. I use an aperture f/8.0 when shooting with a teleconverter on my lens to improve the sharpness reduction that the teleconverter introduces.
BELOW: ISO 100 - /16.0 - 1/15s This elk was running through the river and I wanted a shot to show his movement. By panning the camera and using a slower shutter speed, I was able to blur the background and the splashing water, while keeping at least his eye relatively sharp.
For stationary wildlife and a telephoto lens, a shutter speed of at least 1/400th of a second is recommended. For moving wildlife, youll want to double that and aim for a shut