Exposure is the result of a combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings. Digital cameras have built-in light meters but they can be fooled sometimes. The wrong exposure can kill a perfectly composed shot; so take note of these five tips for perfecting your exposure:
1. Try Aperture or Shutter Priority modes. To get the right exposure you need to select either the perfect aperture or shutter speed to capture the photo you want to create. Aperture will control the depth of field and shutter speed will determine the amount of movement of the subject. Let the camera suggest the setting for whichever one you don’t set.
2. F/8 and be there. If limiting or expanding depth of field is not an issue, use an aperture of f/8 or f/11. This aperture will not isolate your subject or add a lot of background detail.
3. Watch the light. On a sunny day the time of day will give you different colors to the light. An overcast sky will act like a huge softbox lighting things evenly.
4. Meter-read the right spot. When shooting a backlit subject, take a meter reading off of an area to the right or left of the sun and your subject will be silhouetted. If you don’t want the silhouette, move in closer to the subject and the take a reading off of the subject, set your camera with the suggested settings and then move back away and take your shot.
5. Use your hand. Take a reading off of a gray card and then take a reading off of your palm. Your palm should read around +2/3 to 1 stop overexposed from the gray card reading. You can then use your palm to be sure you are getting a proper meter reading off a scene such as a snow covered field. Your palm reading should always be overexposed the same amount relative to whatever you are trying to meter without having to have a gray card on hand.
For more exposure tips, read Bryan Peterson’s book Understanding Exposure (Amphoto, $25).