Be Ready with Custom Shooting Modes (Podcast 588)

Be Ready with Custom Shooting Modes (Podcast 588)

Today we’re going to look at a feature that is on most cameras but often overlooked, and that is the Custom Shooting Modes, which enable you to quickly change many of the settings of your camera with the flick of a switch.

In last week’s episode, I touched on the importance of not fumbling with your camera and overthinking the technical details in order to be more in the moment as you make your photographs. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that technical accuracy and being deliberate is important, but we have to get so comfortable with how our cameras work and how to quickly change settings that are ideally second nature to us by the time we need to start thinking about them.

If you’ve been following my antics for a while, you’ll probably recall that I’m most comfortable shooting in Manual exposure mode. I shoot using a technique called ETTR or Expose to the Right, and this requires me to fine tune the exposure, and I find exposure compensation too much work, so I generally just set my exposure manually and I’ve been doing this so long it’s much easier for me than using any of the automatic exposure modes.

Having said that, there are times when the light changes by the second, and it helps me to be able to use a certain set of automatic settings, and I find the easiest way to quickly enable all of these settings is to register them to a Custom Shooting Mode on my Canon camera, and then I can access them by rotating the Mode Dial on the top of the camera (below) literally like flicking one switch.

Canon EOS 5Ds R Mode Dial

Canon EOS 5Ds R Mode Dial

This feature or something similar is available on most cameras I’ve seen, and I think it is often overlooked because people don’t realize just how many settings can be changed, and saved, and also it’s one extra thing to think about, so it’s probably one of those things that you’ll experiment with once you’ve become more comfortable with your camera.

What is Registered?

Let’s look at which settings are registered first to hopefully make it more obvious that this can be a very useful feature. This will change depending on what system you use, but my Canon 5Ds R registers the Shooting Mode, meaning Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual etc. Also, the shutter speed, aperture, ISO speed and many of the auto-focus settings, including the AF area selection modes and selected AF points are registered. The drive mode, metering mode and exposure and flash compensation amounts are also registered.

There is also a long list of customisable settings such as image quality, image review time, white balance and color space. Picture Style settings are also saved. Your interval timer and bulb time settings and live view shooting AF method, grid display, and exposure simulation settings are saved too, to name just a few. I won’t go into all of the settings, but basically, pretty much everything that you can configure that is related to shooting is registered.

Think About Your Shooting Scenarios

We’ll get into how you register the settings in a moment, but before we talk about that, let’s discuss the various scenarios that I sometimes use this neat little feature for. It’s important to think this through first so that you can set up your camera the way you want it, before committing those settings to one of your available Custom Shooting Modes. These can be easily updated though, and even automatically updated if you prefer, but we need to set the camera up how we want it to enable us to register those settings initially to get started.

As I mentioned earlier, for much of my work, I use Manual mode, but as comfortable as I am changing my exposure very quickly as the scene dictates, there are times when I do need to just jump into an automatic mode. Before Manual mode, I used Aperture Priority as my main shooting mode. For my photography I generally use my aperture setting as the base for my exposure, then I set my shutter speed depending on how much I want to freeze the subject movement, or conversely use a slower shutter to capture its movement.

Once I’ve set my aperture and shutter speed, I adjust my exposure with my ISO. In darker situations, I might compromise a little and adjust my aperture and shutter speed to get a brighter exposure, but generally, ISO is where I do most of my adjustment as it affects how the scene or subject is captured the least.

Aperture Priority Base

Because of this, for me, when I’m going to use an automated exposure mode, it’s generally Aperture Priority, even if I need to control my minimum shutter speed etc. which we’ll also touch on shortly. Keep in mind though that I’m just walking you through my thinking to help explain the process, and I’m not necessarily saying that you have to use Aperture Priority. You will need to decide what you want to register, and you have three sets of Custom Shooting modes, so you can register different settings for different scenarios.

So, my first step is selecting Av for Aperture Priority on the camera’s Mode Dial. Just being in Aperture Priority alone though won’t help me to quickly start shooting. By default, Aperture Priority enables you to set the aperture, and the camera starts to select the shutter speed by itself, but it relies only on the shutter speed, which means if the light is low, the shutter speed can get too low, and depending on what I’m shooting, that may not be what I want.

Auto ISO

For example, say I’m out and about in Tokyo, and the light is streaming down nicely on the main street, but there are side-streets in the shade that require a much lower shutter speed. If there are people walking around, they’d be all blurry if I let the shutter speed get too low.

So as this feature has become more useful over the years when I’m in Aperture Priority, I pretty much always use Auto ISO. On my Canon camera, to access Auto ISO you simply press the ISO button and continue to rotate the Main dial just behind the shutter button, down past ISO 100 and L if you have the Low ISO setting enabled until you see an A instead of the ISO number. You are now in Auto ISO mode.

Canon EOS 5Ds R in Auto ISO Mode

Canon EOS 5Ds R in Auto ISO Mode

Set Auto ISO Range

To ensure that the ISO on my 5Ds R camera doesn’t get too high I adjust the ISO speed settings under the SHOOT2 menu. Under ISO speed settings there is an option called Auto ISO range, inside which you can select the range to use. I generally select ISO 100 as my minimum and 6400 as my maximum. I’ve no problem with going to ISO 6400 if the scene dictates, but you’ll need to set this to whatever you are comfortable with. 

Canon EOS 5Ds R Auto ISO Range

Canon EOS 5Ds R Auto ISO Range

Minimum Shutter Speed

The next setting to check is Minimum shutter speed, just below the Auto ISO range setting. You can select Manual, and select a shutter speed. For example, if you just want to capture people walking around, 1/125 or 1/250 of a second is a good zone to use,  but if you are shooting a fast moving subject, you might want to select 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second or even faster. Keep in mind though that to reach these faster shutter speeds the camera will start to increase your ISO, and you need to be comfortable with that.

Canon EOS 5Ds R Minimum Shutter Speed

Canon EOS 5Ds R Minimum Shutter Speed

The other option is to set the Minimum shutter speed setting to Auto, and if you leave the slider set to zero the camera will use the focal length as the denominator in the shutter speed fraction. That means if you are shooting at 50mm the camera will use 1/50 of a second as the slowest shutter speed, and if you change to 100mm, the camera will use 1/100 of a second as the slowest shutter speed.

This is the rule of thumb that I’m sure you are familiar with, just implemented automatically in the camera. If you want to rely on your image stabilization a little more, you can change the slider to slower. Each notch on the slider is equivalent to one stop of light, so if you select -1 at a focal length of 100mm the camera will use 1/50 of a second as its minimum shutter speed, not 1/100 of a second. At -2 it will use 1/25 of a second, and at -3 it will use 1/13 of a second.

Canon EOS 5Ds R Minimum Shutter Speed - Auto

Canon EOS 5Ds R Minimum Shutter Speed – Auto

Of course, increasing the slider into the positive has the reverse effect, so for +1 you’d be at 1/200 of a second, and +2 and +3 would take you to 1/400 and 1/800 of a second respectively. This is useful if you want to avoid camera shake, but again, as your shutter speed goes up, you’ll also see your ISO go up when shooting in darker environments.

Save Your Custom Shooting Mode

Because there are so many other settings that get saved, it’s worth just having a think about things such as your autofocus mode and metering settings. I generally leave my Metering mode set to Evaluative, but you could change this to Center Weighted or Spot metering if you wanted to, and this would be saved in your Custom Shooting mode.

Once you are ready to save your settings, on a Canon camera, navigate to the Set Up menu and find the Custom shooting mode option. On my 5Ds R it’s under SET UP4, then select Register settings. I always register my Aperture Priority mode to C3, because this is the last mode of the dial, so if I need to quickly access my Aperture Priority and Auto ISO settings, I just crank the Mode dial all the way to the end. So, decide which mode you want to register your settings to and press OK.

Canon EOS 5Ds R Registering Custom Settings

Canon EOS 5Ds R Registering Custom Settings

Auto Update

One other decision to make is whether or not to have the camera automatically update these settings as you change them while using a particular Custom Shooting mode. There are merits and demerits to consider for either scenario. 

For example, say you want to automatically return your aperture setting to f/8 whenever you leave your Custom Shooting mode, you’d need to either leave the automatic update turned off, or remember to manually return your aperture setting back to f/8 whenever you leave that mode. If you leave automatic update turned off, the aperture would automatically reset to f/8 every time you leave that mode, but if you leave automatic update turned on, and change to say f/11, the next time you switch to that Custom Shooting mode, the aperture would still be set to f/11. 

Canon EOS 5Ds R Custom Settings Auto Update

Canon EOS 5Ds R Custom Settings Auto Update

The same goes for any other setting if you decide to turn on auto update, so give this some thought. Of course, it’s only a setting, and you can turn it on or off with a few button presses, so you can change this later as necessary.

Quickly Switching Autofocus Settings

Even when using Manual mode, I register one or two Custom Shooting Modes, to enable me to quickly change my Autofocus settings if necessary. For example, I might have one set with One Shot autofocus selected and another set with AI Servo selected. I will also perhaps have my AI Servo settings set up to use all of my AF points, but for the other Manual setting Custom Shooting mode, I might have just the center focus point selected.

Another way that I use C1 and C2 is to quickly adjust between two extremes of light. Say for example when I’m photographing the Snow Monkeys if something is happening in the snow at the side of the hot spring pool, I might be using a shutter speed of say 1/800 of a second to freeze the action, and an ISO of say 400. But then when I go down to the pool, it a couple of stops darker, so might increase my ISO to say 800 or 1000, and also change my shutter speed to around 1/250 of a second. I also tend to use One Shot autofocus a little more around the pool, so I might also set that in one of my Custom Shooting modes.

Canon EOS 5Ds R Both Manual Modes

Canon EOS 5Ds R Both Manual Modes

If it was just one setting to change, it would be easier to just stay in Manual mode and just change the one setting, but for multiple settings, it’s easier to just turn the Mode dial. Another thing that I often do while shooting with the Black Rapid straps, as I do at the Snow Monkeys, is to turn on the Lock switch on the back of the camera. I have this set up to lock both my Main dial and the Quick Control dial on the back of the camera.

I do this because the camera hangs upside-down on the Black Rapid strap, and I find that I sometimes catch these dials and change my aperture or shutter speed unintentionally. Although I check my settings regularly there have been times when something cool has happened and I’ve shot it way under or over exposed because my settings have changed and I didn’t notice, but locking the dials as I now do prevents this.

The great thing about the Custom Shooting modes is that they remember the two different aperture and shutter speeds that I dial in, so I can also quickly change these with the Mode dial rather than unlocking the camera to change them. It’s just a way to make life easier and prevent myself from making stupid mistakes.

Info Button to Check Registered Modes

Another tip is that if you forget what you’ve registered to your Custom Shooting modes, you can press the Info button on the back of the camera to see a screen that displays the modes you’ve registered at the top of the LCD display. This is useful for a quick check, although you can’t see the settings for each mode, which would be nice.

Canon EOS 5Ds R Info Display

Canon EOS 5Ds R Info Display

Auto ISO in Manual Mode

One last thing that I’d like to mention before we start to wrap up this episode, is that I also sometimes use Auto ISO in Manual Mode. I know that this might sound counterintuitive, but there are times when handing over the ISO controls to the camera provide just enough automation while enabling me to still have full control over both the aperture and shutter speed settings. 

Although I generally like to maintain full control, for example when photographing the sea eagles at dawn on my Hokkaido Tours, one moment I can be photographing an eagle over the sea away from the sun, and the next moment shooting directly into the sunrise. To enable me to work in these extremes I will either use the Aperture Priority settings I mentioned earlier, setting a higher minimum shutter speed of say 1/500 of a second, or simply stay in Manual mode and enable Auto ISO.

Steller's Sea Eagles at Dawn

Steller’s Sea Eagles at Dawn

Exposure Compensation with Auto ISO

The final setting that is sometimes useful and that has been added to the last few generations of Canon camera is being able to use Exposure Compensation with Auto ISO. Usually, in Manual exposure mode, there is no concept of Exposure Compensation, because you have full control of the exposure. However, Auto ISO hands some of that control back to the camera, and that means that it is error prone.

To overcome this, on the latest cameras, you can now set Exposure Compensation for Auto ISO in Manual mode. To set this on my 5Ds R, hit the Q button on the back of the camera, to enter the Quick Control screen. If Exposure Compensation isn’t selected, indicated by the orange border (below) use the Multi-controller to the top right of the LCD screen to select it, then press the SET button in the middle of the Quick Control dial. 

Canon EOS 5Ds R Auto ISO Exposure Compensation

Canon EOS 5Ds R Auto ISO Exposure Compensation

As long as you have the camera set to Auto ISO, you should be able to rotate the Quick Control dial to adjust the Exposure Compensation and rotating the Main dial will adjust Auto Exposure Bracketing settings.

If that’s too cumbersome and you find yourself using Exposure Compensation in Manual a lot, you could change the Set button to adjust the Expo Comp in the Custom Controls of the camera, but I don’t do that. I always use the Set button to magnify my image in Live View or when previewing an image I’ve already shot. This is because the older Canon cameras used to have the Magnify button on the right side, closer to your thumb, and I never got used to using it in the new location along the left side of the back of the camera, so I always just assign this to the Set button.

Conclusion

OK, so I hope that was useful. I don’t want to make it sound like I use these Custom Shooting modes all the time. In truth, I use them for specific purposes, and although I do switch to C3 for my fully automated Aperture Priority settings from time to time, it’s still only a very small part of my photography. I simply prefer to use Manual mode, and I’m so used to it that there aren’t that many times that I switch to these Custom Shooting modes. 

Having said that, when I am in the few scenarios that I’ve touched on today, and a few others, I am happy to have this feature, and it does make life easier when the need arises, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on this with you today. If you think it might be useful for you too, do check your manual and see what comparative features your camera might have.

Podcast Reaches 12 Years Old!

Before we finish, I’d like to just mention that this podcast turned 12 years old on September 1st (2017). It’s hard to believe that we’ve been going for 12 years now. I was the third person to register a photography podcast in iTunes, beaten only by Chris Marquardt of Tips from the Top Floor and Brooks Jensen with his Lenswork podcast. These two podcasts were a great source of inspiration a s I decided to start my own podcast. 

I’ve seen many podcasts come and go since, and I’ve developed some favorites of my own over the years, namely, Ibarionex Perello’s The Candid Frame, Sharky James’ Petapixel Podcast and I still love to listen to Brook’s philosophical outlook on the photography world in his Lenswork Podcast. I’m also happy to have become friend’s with Ibarionex and Sharky, as well as many other podcasters, and of course, this podcast has enabled me to totally change my life, as I incorporated Martin Bailey Photography K.K. in 2010 and started to make my living entirely from my photography related activities.

I have so much to be thankful for, but as we reach twelve years of mostly weekly episodes, I’d really like to thank each of you for continuing to listen and follow the blog. Without you listeners, none of this would mean anything, so thanks a million for being here, and I hope you’ll stick around because I certainly don’t intend to go anywhere. 


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


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Metering in Manual Exposure Mode (Podcast 392)

Metering in Manual Exposure Mode (Podcast 392)

Following on from our Why Expose to the Right (ETTR) episode a few months ago, I received a question from listener Christopher Pearson, asking how I meter in Manual mode, so today, I’m going to explain my techniques for metering in manual mode.

First of all, I want to explain that I leave my camera in the Evaluative Metering mode now. For long time listeners, you may remember that long ago I used to use center-weighted average metering, but I stopped that years ago, because I now just like to see what the camera “thinks” about a scene, and Evaluative metering allows the camera to think for itself a little more. I know people that use spot metering as well, which works well, but I haven’t used spot metering in years either, as I just don’t feel there’s a need for it.

I should also explain that just because the camera is set to Manual mode, that doesn’t mean that the camera stops metering. As you look through the viewfinder in Manual mode, the little caret that indicates where the camera think the exposure is, still works, so for example if I have my camera set for too short an exposure compared to how the camera sees the scene, the caret will be below zero on the Exposure Level Indicator scale, and if I have my exposure set too high, the caret will be above zero.

This means that when shooting in Manual mode, we aren’t flying blind. We still have the benefit of seeing where the camera thinks we should be, and that allows us to quickly make adjustments based on what we see in the scene. I’ve spoken about this before, but just to recap with an example, but the most common manual mode compensation that I do, is when photographing in the snow.

Metering for a Snow Scene

The first thing I do when I am shooting a snow scene, is point the camera down slightly, and fill the frame with snow, as you can see in this example image (below). I usually start at ISO 100, and then set my aperture for the depth-of-field that I want to shoot at, and then start to adjust my shutter speed, until the meter indicator shows me that I am 2 stops over zero.

Exposure - 2 Stops Over

I aim for plus two stops, because I know that is how I need to exposure for whites to be white, and not grey. Remember, the camera wants to make everything 18% grey, so without this manual compensation, the photo would look more like this example (below) and we don’t want that.

1/2500

Once I have my exposure locked down like this in Manual mode, I know that my snow is going to be beautiful and white, and the red-crowned cranes that I shoot are also going to be perfectly exposed, even with texture visible in their beautiful black feathers. If I left this up to the camera, the white of the cranes would be grey, not white, and their black feathers would be so dark there’d be no texture in those areas at all.

Also, in case you are wondering why I wouldn’t just use plus two stops of Exposure Compensation in Aperture Priority mode, that’s because the birds can move from their white snow background, to a very dark background in an instant, as we see in this next photo (below). And when that happens, instead of the camera underexposing the whites, trying to make them grey, it sees all that dark and increases the exposure trying to make the black grey, and the white bird goes super-nova.

Soft Arched Wings

Soft Arched Wings

So remember, for snow scenes, if you fill the frame with snow, and adjust your exposure so that the camera thinks you are two stops over exposed, you will be in good shape. For very dark scenes, you would usually do the opposite, but as I explained in the Why Expose to the Right episode, you may not always want to do that, but if you missed that episode, I suggest you go back and check that out instead of me covering that again today.

What About Other Scenes?

With other scenes, I really don’t meter the subject as such. I literally look through the viewfinder, estimate how much of the frame is bright and how much is dark, and adjust the exposure to what I think will be close, then take a test shot and check the histogram. The estimation process takes a bit of getting used to, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. I’m usually either spot on, or just 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop under or over at tops.

I leave my metering mode in evaluative. I don’t use spot metering, because even with spot metering the camera still wants to make everything 18% grey, so I find that it takes longer to find my ideal exposure than adjusting based on a guestimate, and then shooting the test shot. I would still want to shoot a test shot even when using spot metering, and still may have to fine tune, so I just leave my camera in Evaluative Metering mode now, as I mentioned earlier.

Which Parameters to Change?

To arrive at my ideal exposure, with the data almost or just touching the right side of the histogram, I might change any of the three parameters in the exposure triangle. I generally start with the Aperture because I usually want to control depth-of-field first, then I set a low ISO of say 100 if there is plenty of light, and then adjust my exposure with the shutter speed. If it turns out that my initial ISO setting was a little too low, I might revisit that and increase it some more so that I can get a shutter speed that suits my subject matter.

Exposure Triangle

Exposure Triangle

In the earlier example I used a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second, but for flying birds I actually like to go a little faster, so I might go to ISO 200 for a 1/1250 of a second shutter speed. Also, if there is a bit of patchy cloud around, I might find that I have to adjust the exposure every so often, and I usually do this with the ISO, so I might increase from ISO 200 to 400 while the cloud is there, then back to 200 when the sun comes out again.

How you handle this will depend on your camera. Canon cameras generally have an ISO button to select the setting you are going to change, then you just turn a dial to change it. Some Nikon cameras bury the ISO setting a little further into the menus, which can make this a bit of a pain, so you’d need to figure out the best way to make these changes for your own equipment.

No Need to be a Manual Snob

Young Himba Man

Young Himba Man

I also want to note that I’ve become so used to shooting in manual, that I have a hard time going back to Aperture Priority mode, because it actually takes me more time to adjust my exposure with exposure compensation than it does to adjust my manual settings.

I do wish however, that I was better with Aperture Priority, as it makes more sense in some situations. When I’m doing street photography for example, I am now using Aperture Priority with Auto ISO, and I’m getting used to it, but it’s hard for me.

I forced myself to use Aperture Priority for example in Namibia earlier this year, when we visited the Himba people. We were shooting in a variety of lighting conditions, and it just made more sense. For this photo of a young Himba man sitting in the doorway of his hut, my ISO was set to 400, for a 1/60 of a second exposure, with an aperture of f/3.5.

The camera would have chosen the shutter speed of a 1/60 of a second because I was shooting at 64mm with my 24-70mm lens, so it’s trying to use my focal length as my shutter speed to avoid camera shake. I’d of course set the aperture, because I was in Aperture Priority, and the camera selected ISO 400 because that’s what I needed to maintain the minimum shutter speed. I also see from the EXIF data for this shot that I had dialed in – 2/3 of a stop in Exposure Compensation, because the subject is predominantly dark. Had I not dialed in that compensation, the young man would have been too bright, probably over-exposing the highlights on his forehead, and his two sticks would also have been over-exposed.

Use a Handheld Light Meter

One last tip that I want to relay, because I found it very useful, is that if you have or can borrow one, a light meter can really help to understand exposure. Mine is a quite old Minolta light meter that is now discontinued. I think if I was to go out and buy one now, I’d go for the Sekonic L-478DR light meter, because that’s the one Zack Arias swears by.

Of course, you don’t really need a light meter now that we have the histogram on the camera, but I do still use mine sometimes in the studio. Especially when I’m setting lights up at a customers home or office. I can plug my Profoto Air Remote right into my meter, and then trigger the lights with the meter to get my readings. That’s going off topic though. The point I wanted to make here is that when I first got a meter, I was already shooting digital, but just spent a lot of time taking incident light readings, which is where you use the little white dome to read the level of light falling on your scene, and just seeing if that was close to my estimates.

Even without a camera, I would carry the meter around with me and just meter stuff. I also used the spot meter which is where you look through the little viewfinder in the meter to take a reflective reading of the light bouncing off of your subject. It can really help you to hone your exposure estimations just doing this, and also when you are out shooting. Compare how your camera sees the scene with it’s limited artificial intelligence based on stored scenes, and compare that to the raw readings from your hand-held meter. I don’t suggest you buy a meter for this, as you’ll probably never use it, but if you know someone that has one, ask if you can borrow it for a month and meter the hell out of your world for a while. It’s a lot of fun.

Anyway, that’s about it. I wish I could talk more about metering, but really, the histogram is king to me, so I generally start with my guestimate, adjust while viewing the in camera meter, and then take a test shot and check the histogram to ensure that the lightest part of my scene is just up to the right shoulder of the histogram. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

 

 


Show Notes

Why Expose to the Right?

The Sekonic L-478DR light meter on B&H Photo.

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Exposure Compensation (Podcast 57)

Exposure Compensation (Podcast 57)

I recently received an email from a guy called Tomasz Trzebiatowski (Tomash Tchebiatovsky) with regards to Exposure Compensation. At first I thought Tomasz was just asking for the technical reasons why we use Exposure Compensation, but it turned out that he was thinking more along the lines of any artistic reasons why we compensation exposure. It occurred to me though, that although I often mention that I used minus two thirds exposure compensation, or plus a third etc. I rarely explain why, other than because the background is dark or bright. I kind of expect that most listeners already know this, and I don’t think I’m mistaken in thinking that. It did start me thinking though that there are going to be some listeners that either have never really given this a thought or might want to just brush up on the reasons behind Exposure Compensation, from both a technical and an artistic point of view. So with that, today I’m going to do a brief episode on this subject. Also, if you have any similar requests for me to discuss various techniques that I have not really explained in any detail, please do drop me a line via the forums private messaging or the Contact Form at martinbaileyphotography.com. In fact, I am making this mail address more public these days anyway, so you can also go right ahead and mail me on info@martinbaileyphotography.com as well. So let’s move on to the main topic.

For those of you that have followed this Podcast for a while, or have caught up on the archives, you’ll probably remember that I discussed Exposure and shooting in Manual Mode in Episode 10, way back in November last year. In that Podcast I went into detail about EVs, or Exposure Value and we discussed how to easily calculate by how much you need to increase shutter speed for when decreasing the size of the aperture, and visa versa and also situations when we might switch to Manual mode. You might want to catch up on Episode 10 if you haven’t already and you are a little shaky in these areas. I also spoke briefly about why we use Exposure Compensation too, but we’ll go into a little more detail today and take a look at some real-world examples while we’re at it as usual.

So first of all, why do we need to even use Exposure Compensation? Well, in-camera light meters are getting incredibly accurate and intelligent, but as they still cannot connect to our brain and see what we see in the same way that we see it, they make mistakes. Your camera will try to render your scene in neutral brightness, similar to that of an 18% gray card. Now if the scene is actually very dark, say it contains a lot of black objects, the camera will try to brighten them up and over-expose your image. If you remember in last weeks Podcast I mentioned image number 1117, which has some bright reds, but a very dark background. Let’s look at this image again first today and you’ll see what I mean. I actually found it took quite a lot of time to find some examples of where I’ve used exposure compensation in my images, as I tend to switch to Manual quite often, as I did with this shot, but for now, let’s just pay attention to the fact that there are bright reds, with a very dark background. Had I allowed the camera to select a shutter speed for me in Aperture Priority mode, it would have undoubtedly metered more for the dark background, which it would have tried to brighten up, and the resulting image would have had a red flower so bright, that almost none of the detail in the flower would have remained.

Equinox Flowers 2006 #3

Equinox Flowers 2006 #3

If we take a look at the next image, those of you at a computer can view the image on my Web site and therefore be able to see the EXIF shooting data below the image. Those of you that are not at a computer right now will just have to trust me. The image is number 895, which you can view either on your iPod, or in iTunes, but if you want to view the shooting data too, click the thumbnail in iTunes or go to the Podcasts page on my site and either enter the number 895 into the field on the top page or the top of the Podcasts page and click the orange button to jump to the photo, or find this episode in the table of Podcasts and click on the thumbnail. You should be able to see a photo of some boats in a harbour at 5:20AM, before the sun came up. This is a perfect example of when to use exposure compensation to stop the camera from being fooled into making the shot too bright. Firstly you’ll notice that the top and bottom of the shot is in total darkness, and there are a number of lights on the boats, but it is overall quite a dark image. Take a look at the EXIF data below the image, and find the item called Exposure Bias. This is the amount of exposure compensation I applied when I shot this image. You’ll see that it says 1.666666 EV, which is minus one and two thirds of a stop. Two rows down from that you can see that I was shooting in Aperture Priority mode. You can of course also use exposure compensation in Shutter Priority mode. The difference is in Aperture Priority you set the aperture and allow your camera to automatically set the shutter speed, and in shutter priority you set the shutter speed, and your camera automatically sets the aperture to get what it thinks is the correct exposure. So as you compensate exposure in Shutter Priority mode, your camera will change the aperture size, and with aperture priority mode, exposure compensation affects the shutter speed.

Rausu Fishings Boats #1

Rausu Fishings Boats #1

So if we look at the aperture for this image it was shot at F5. If we look at the shutter speed, we can see it was shot at 1/80th of a second. Had I not used any exposure compensation, we can calculate from this that I would have had a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second. This would have let so much light in that the scene would have been quite bright, and probably not have looked like night time any more. The other important thing here is, like the bright red flower in the first example, the bright lights on the boats and their reflections would have become very bright, and started to over power the shot. If you can’t figure out how I got from 1/80th of a second to 1/25th of a second in the calculation a moment ago, let’s do some quick mental arithmetic. As we wanted to calculate the effect of minus 1 and two thirds exposure compensation, we need to count the other way. As I am really not good at maths at all, I usually start by doing the whole numbers, which is to add one stop of exposure. To add one stop of exposure, we simply need to double the length of the shutter speed, and as we are working in fractions of a second, to double the shutter speed, we just half the 80 to 40. One fortieth of a second will allow light to enter your camera for twice as long as on eightieth of a second. After that, we have to add another two thirds. Again, my math skills are pretty bad, so I tend to take a strange route, by once again adding one stop by halving 40 to 20. The last part takes a little bit of memorizing the steps a camera uses to jump between thirds of a stop, because if we were to calculate an exact third, we’d end up counting back to 1/27th of a second, but cameras use 1/25th of a second instead.

Another thing you can do if none of this is making much sense is actually pick up your camera, and switch to manual mode, then start to change the shutter speed and see the steps that it jumps by. You can also select 1/80th of a second, and as long as your camera is set to jump in thirds of a stop and not half, you will see that three clicks takes you from 80 to 40, then one more click takes you to 30, and the last click, a total of 5 thirds, takes you to 1/25th of a second. If you are not familiar with these steps is no big deal. The important thing is getting used to apply plus or minus exposure compensation.

Winter Persimmon Tree

Winter Persimmon Tree

So the last example was a dark image, next let’s look at a reverse example. Image number 782 was shot on a snowy day, so there’s a lot of white in the frame. This has the reverse effect on your camera meter, as it wants to make white darker. Although there are a lot of reds and dark branches in this picture of a persimmon tree with fruit covered in snow, the camera still wanted to darken it down too much in the search for an average brightness image. This time it took plus two thirds of a stop to correct the exposure. Again you can check the number 0.66666 in the shooting data below the image. In shots with lots of white and few dark areas, like a full field of snow, would require much more exposure compensation of around plus one and a third on an overcast day, or one and two thirds on a bright day. As I said earlier though, in challenging situations I tend to switch to Manual mode, and set both the aperture and shutter speed myself. As the meter in the camera is very accurate, I don’t carry my hand-held light meter around with me very much at all these days. Rather I use the camera’s meter, first selecting the aperture I want to use to get the depth of field I feel will suit the shot. As you change the exposure you can see how much above or below what the camera thinks the exposure should be by looking at the indicator in the viewfinder. As you change the shutter speed or aperture, the camera will display how off it thinks you are.

Whether you are in manual mode, or just using exposure compensation, I strongly suggest that if you are using digital, shoot a test shot and then check your histogram. If your camera has a histogram that can display the Red, Green and Blue channels separately, I suggest you use it. In scenes where there is a predominant colour like the reds in the Equinox Flowers we looked at last week, it is very easy for them to clip. Clipping is an expression used to mean that one or more of the channels is hitting the right or left side of the histogram and therefore the colour is blowing out or becoming totally white if it’s the right, or the dark areas are becoming totally black if the histogram is hitting the left side. When this happens, either too bright or too dark areas will contain no detail what so ever. Although I myself try to get the exposure spot on in the field, if you are the sort of person that tends to just shoot away and then try to fix it in Photoshop, you will probably already know that there is no way to get detail back in areas that have clipped in this way. There are tools that will enable you to get a bit of detail back, but this always depends on the area at fault not clipping totally. When this happens, no amount of playing around in Photoshop will help. Anyway, if you keep your eye on the histogram, even if it is not an RGB histogram, and ensure you don’t touch the right or left edges you will have detail throughout your image.

Of course, there will be times when the scene contains more contrast than your camera can record. When this happens, you have two choices. Either exposure for the highlights and allow the shadows to go totally black loosing detail, or go the other way, and expose for the shadows, allowing the highlights to blow out, going totally white. You can also use gradual neutral density filters to reduce the contrast in the shot, or you can shot two images, one for the highlights and one for the shadows and then merge them in Photoshop. This is the method I’m choosing over gradual neutral density filters these days. I spoke more about this in Episode 36 if you are interested in listening to more about these techniques.

So, I also said that we’d look at some artistic reasons for using Exposure Compensation. Before we really get into that though, we should note that really there is no right or wrong exposure, so pretty much all exposure compensation is simply a means to an end. Either its to get to what we believe is the correct exposure, or to modify the exposure to the point that it produces what would generally be thought of as an artistic effect, as opposed to a correct, quote unquote, exposure. In image number 673 we can see a very bright picture of some lavender. In this image I used plus 1.3 stops of exposure compensation, really pushing the brightness way up, which in combination with a wide aperture for a very shallow depth of field, give a really soft, dreamy look. The aperture for this shot was F2.8 with my 100mm macro lens, and this aperture gave me a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second at ISO 100. This is one example of an artistic application of exposure compensation I guess.

Early Flowering Lavender

Early Flowering Lavender

Another example is image number 729, in which I used minus one and two thirds exposure compensation to make the line of trees, the boat and the shoreline quite dark, though not totally silhouetted, against the bright rays of sunshine bursting through the thick cloud. This was shot at F8 for 1/640th of a second, again at ISO 100. Of course, had I not used minus exposure compensation here, the suns rays would have been very bright, as well as the trees and shoreline, so the mood of the shot would have been lost totally. With that in mind, I guess there are two reasons for compensating here, but I reckon both could be classed as artistic decisions..

Chuuzenji Lake

Chuuzenji Lake

So, that’s about it for today. As I said, if you have any particular subject that you’d like me to discuss, please do drop me a line from the forum or Contact Form, or mail me at info@martinbaileyphotography.com. Pretty much any topic would be OK, but please remember that I only usually talk about things that I have experience with. So for example, if you mail me with a request on how to do wedding photography or studio lighting, I couldn’t do a Podcast on it myself, as I’ve never done it. I could though perhaps find someone that does have experience in these areas to interview, so by all means go ahead and mail on just about any subject. Also, I’m not very up on equipment other than Canon, so if you have specific questions about camera or lenses from other makers, it would be better to post something in the forum. Again though, if it’s a generic question, like why do we sometimes get flare in lenses, or how is a lenses focal length calculated I would be able to get something out to you.

Thanks again to Tomasz for today’s topic. Tomasz actually has just started a Photography Podcast of his own which you can find at shutterstories.com. They are short snippet type Podcasts of less than 5 minutes each, but they got me thinking a little when I checked them out the other day, so by all means do give them a listen.

Finally, a reminder that the “Reflections” assignment is still in progress. You will be fine to upload your entries to the MBP Members’ Gallery assignment album until midnight on Sunday the 22nd of October, just about anywhere in the world. Check out the assignment forum for more details.

So with that, please do have a great week, whatever you do. Bye bye.


Show Notes

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Exposure and Manual Mode (Podcast 10)

Exposure and Manual Mode (Podcast 10)

Hello and welcome to episode ten. First, I want to announce the winner of October’s prize for members active in the forum. Congratulations to Marisa Firpi. An original print of the photograph you chose, which was “Distant Tokachi Mountain”, is in the post on its way to you. This is photo number 663 if anyone would like to take a look. The print was creating with an Epson PM-4000PX printer, which I believe is the Stylus Photo 2200 in the US. This printer uses pigment or archival ink, and I am using compatible paper, so you can expect your print to last longer than a standard photograph under the same conditions.

So, on to this week’s main topic… Today I’m going to talk about Exposure, Exposure Compensation and the times that I switch to Manual mode when shooting. There’s a lot to take in, so you might need to concentrate a little if you are not entirely confident in these areas.

Typically I use Aperture priority mode, but under certain condition I switch to manual mode and set the aperture and priority myself. I’ll explain more about that in a moment, but first, let me explain briefly about the relationship between the aperture size, the shutter speed and the ISO settings. For some of you this will just be a recap, but I’m sure some listeners will benefit from a brief recap.

When we talk about the aperture size, we often use the term f-stop. The f here stands for factorable. Basically, your camera will have a series of aperture values which you can set. The smallest number such as F1.4, F2.8 or F4 etc represents the largest aperture size, and the largest numbers, such as F22 or F32 represent the smallest aperture size. I know it’s weird to have the smallest number equaling the largest aperture and visa versa, but it would make this Podcast too long to go into the reasons why. Let’s just remember it this way.

The key aperture settings are F1, F1.4, F2, F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8, F11, F16, F22 and F32. Some lenses will go smaller than F32 to F45 or even F64, but they are not so common. With each stop, counting down from the smallest number, or largest aperture, we are effectively halving the size of the hole that lets light into your camera. Depending on your camera, you may also have half or third stops, but the numbers I just gave are the primary stop values, so let’s concentrate on them, and if you can, it will help you greatly when shooting in manual mode to memorize them.

Now, to help us to change these settings while shooting with some simple mental arithmetic, we should remember that there is a direct relationship between the Aperture values and the shutter speed and the ISO. To illustrate this, if you have your camera available you could try it right now, if not, just keep on listening. This will work on a digital camera or a film camera that allows manual setting of the ISO and see the aperture and shutter speed settings. First set your camera to aperture mode. Next set your ISO to 100 and aim your camera at a scene that you know will have constant light for a while, then half press the shutter button to have the camera meter the scene and show you the aperture and shutter speeds. Make a note of the aperture and shutter speeds. For the sake of this example, let’s say that you have set your aperture to F8, and the camera is giving you a shutter speed of one 250th of a second. If you then change the ISO to 200, you will now see that the shutter speed changes to a 500th of a second. Change the ISO again 400 and you’ll see that the shutter speed changes to one 1000th of a second. So we see that changing the ISO is doubling the sensitivity and therefore halving the time needed to make the same image exposure.

Now, let’s return the camera’s ISO settings to ISO 100, and you’ll be back to F8 at 250th of a second. This time, let’s change the camera’s aperture setting. Remember that F5.6 is one f-stop larger than F8, so obviously, when we change the aperture from F8 to F5.6, we’ll be letting in twice as much light. So what’s going to happen to the shutter speed? That’s right! It will be halved to one 500th of a second. This is the same as changing the ISO from 100 to 200, and doubling the sensitivity of the film or sensor. To make the point, let’s make the aperture smaller by stopping down to F11. Now you’ll see that the shutter speed changes from one 500th of a second at F5.6 through the original 250th of a second at F8 to 125th of a second at F11. If you stop down further to F16 you’ll again halve 125th of a second to on 60th. I know that half of 125 is actually 62.5, but your camera will display one 60th. Again, let’s just remember this as it is.

Of course, if you were to set your camera to shutter priority, you could do a similar thing by setting the shutter speed to 1/250th of a second, and the camera would select F8 for you. If you change the shutter speed to 1/60th of a second it would change the aperture to F11 for you. It’s all relational.

If by the way you are getting inconsistent reading while trying this, maybe you could try this at night under artificial lighting, such as the light bulb in your living room. You might also want to put your camera on the table or even on a tripod to keep it steady during the operation, so that the readings will be constant.

If you own a hand-held light meter, you can also play around with that in a similar way to get an idea of the relationship between these three settings.

Anyway, I think you get the picture. By changing any combination of the aperture, shutter speed or ISO we can change the amount of light that hits the film or digital sensor and change the exposure. Now that we know that a properly exposed image can be obtained by any combination, let’s talk briefly about EV or Exposure Value. Exposure Value is a unit used to describe the amount of light for any given exposure. For example, the starting point for the example given earlier, which is F8 for 1/250 of a second at ISO 100, has an Exposure Value, or EV of 14. And so do F16 at 1/60 of a second and F5.6 at 1/500 of a second and F2.8 for 1/2000 of a second. All of these settings will give us the same exposure as the same amount of light will hit the film or sensor. It may be easier to understand the relationship between the EV values and the shutter speed and aperture settings by look at a table I posted in my forum some time ago. I’ll include a link to this post in this episode’s notes.

Obviously being able to obtain the same exposure using different combinations of aperture and shutter speed, gives us the ability to make artistic decisions about the resulting image. That is because the size of the aperture will affect the depth of field. If we want the whole scene in focus, what we call pan-focus, we must select a small aperture such as F16 or F22 or smaller, though this also depends on the focal length of the lens and the distance from your camera to the subject on which you focus. Talking about this today though would make this Podcast a little too long, so we’ll leave that for another day. Anyway, pan-focus is often something that we want to achieve in Landscape photography to ensure that the whole scene is sharp for our eyes to explore.

If however, we want a very shallow depth of field, say for a portrait or wildlife shot in which a sharp background would detract from the main subject, we would need to select a wider aperture. So we may decide to go for an F2.8, F4 or even F5.6 aperture with longer focal length lenses.

Now, before we move on to some real-world examples, let’s talk briefly about exposure compensation. As I mentioned in last week’s Podcast, your camera will almost always try to render your scene in neutral brightness, similar to that of an 18% gray card. Now if the scene is actually very dark, say it contains a lot of black objects, or such as some of the images attached to last week’s episode, the camera will try to brighten them up and over-expose your image, so you have to under-expose to ensure that the scene is recorded accurately. Likewise, in daylight, if the scene is very bright, the camera will try to make it a neutral brightness, and therefore will under-expose the shot. So you have to over expose it to make it accurate. This practice is called Exposure-Compensation and most cameras except for the basic, fully automatic models will have the ability to compensate exposure quite easily. It’s usually as simple as turning a dial. You also need to know by how much to turn the dial of course, which I have some practical advice on.

So let’s talk about a practical application, now that we can do these exposure calculations easily in our heads. This will also illustrate the reasons why we might want to go to manual mode on occasion.

In February 2004 I went to Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, to shoot wildlife. Hokkaido in February means snow, and lots of it. Snow will generally fool your camera’s meter into under exposing by around 1 to 1 and 1/3 of a stop in overcast conditions, or up to two stops in bright conditions. If you were to rely on your camera’s meter you would end up with gray snow, which I’m sure you’ll agree would not look very nice.

To make snow look white, you can compensate by moving your exposure compensation dial to plus one and 1/3, one and a half or more in brighter conditions. If the entire scene is going to be snow with no darker patches you need not worry about switching to manual mode, as the metering will be constant, so the amount of exposure compensation needed will also be constant. However, if the scene will be made up of very light patches, such as snow or light coloured sand, and dark patches, such as wet rocks or trees, depending of the metering mode you are using and where your main subject is in the frame, you camera can make all sorts of mistakes. It is under this kind of conditions that I would switch to manual mode and set both the aperture and shutter speeds myself.

Wassup!! - Japanese Crane

Wassup!! – Japanese Crane

Let’s take a look at the first photo on today’s Podcast. This is number 287, which was shot at F5.6 at 1/800 of a second. You can view the photos in iTunes or on my Podcast page which is linked to the top page of martinbaileyphotography.com. You’ll see a number of Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes on a field of snow and a dark forest in the background. I had l metered from the snow which although I don’t recall exactly, was probably giving me a reading of around 1/2500 of a second at F5.6. The camera was remember trying to give me a nice medium gray coloured snow, so this was far too fast a shutter speed. It was a hazy sunshine on that day, not full sunlight, so I didn’t need to compensate by a two full stops. To find the correct exposure, I first took a shot of the snow, with nothing else in the frame, then compensated by adding around 1 and 2/3 of a stop.

To calculate this, you can either count up two thirds from plus one stop, or down from plus two stops. To count up from one stop, start with 1/2500 and then double the shutter speed to 1/1250 of a second. Then click twice more on your shutter adjustment to go past 1/1000 of a second to 1/800. To drop back by a third from two full stops, double the speed first to 1/1250 as before, then double it again, which will give you 1/640 of a second, which is two stops. Then click back one to 1/800. You don’t have to do the mental arithmetic to find out exactly what a third is, as you know that there are three clicks per stop. Your camera will help with the finer adjustments. In actual fact, if you don’t want to remember all this about doubling the times you can just think that 1 and 2/3 is actually 5/3, so you can just click five times after what the camera is initially telling you.

If you have your camera set to use half stops and not thirds you will have just one click between stops. You will probably also have different numbers to play with to start from. This makes the example a little confusing, but I can’t go back to February 2004 and take my shots again, so I’ll just quickly mention that when I set my Canon EOS 5D to use 1/5 stops, in manual mode I have the options of 1/750, 1/1000, 1/1500, 1/2000 and 1/3000 etc. If you are using a similar scale you need to set the shutter speed to 1/750, which would be one and a half stops more than what your meter reading gave you, which would probably have been around 1/2000 of a second.

One important additional piece of advice here is that if you are using a digital SLR, it is very important to check that you are not blowing out your whites. Take another practice shot and check the histogram. If you have a spike on the far right hand side it means there are areas of your shot that are too bright. With a very white scene you should see the peak of the histogram weighted to the right side, but not right up against it. Some digital SLRs also have a flashing warning when the white is close to or actually blown out. If you see either of these warning signs, drop down by a 1/3 or 1/2 a stop and take another practice shot. Repeat this until the histogram looks good or there are no or very little areas of the image flashing the over-exposure warning. This way you should be able to ensure that your whites are white, but not blown out.

Japanese Crane

Japanese Crane

Let’s also take a look at the second shot attached to this episode, which is number 297. This time the white cranes, which are obviously the same colour and luminosity and when they are standing on the snow, are now flying against a totally dark background. I shot them in manual mode at exactly the same settings, F5.6 at 1/800 of a second. Had I left this to my camera’s meter, it would have over-exposed to brighten the dark background, and the birds would have been so blown out that there would have been absolutely no detail in the white what so ever. The shot would have been useless. Instead, you can make out detail of the feathers and the background is dark as it actually was. Another interesting thing is that even when the birds were shot flying overhead at the same F5.6 at 1/800 of a second, as in shot 280, they were still perfectly exposed. This is another scene that would have fooled the camera’s meter and again ruined the shot.

Japanese Crane

Japanese Crane

Of course there are numerous ways to ensure good exposure in high contrast scenes, such as using spot metering on your camera and using hand-held light meters etc. but getting into this right now would make this Podcast way too long, and I still have some weekend left to enjoy, so let’s leave it there for now.

For some examples of when you might want to do some negative exposure compensation to ensure a dark scene stays dark, take a listen to episode nine and look at the examples. I introduced a number of dark shots from a trip to India.

This Podcast was a little heavy going, but if you are not familiar with Exposure Values, F-stops and exposure compensation, you might want to listen to it a few times until you come to grips with this theory and the practical applications. If you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them in the forum at martinbaileyphotography.com and if I can’t, I’m sure someone will be able to.


Show Notes

The Music in the first 28 Podcasts is copyright of William Cushman © 2005, used with kind permission.


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