1 CHAPTER 4 - EXPOSURE In the last chapter, we mentioned fast shutter speeds and moderate apertures. Shutter speed and aperture are 2 of only 3 settings that are required to make a photographic exposure. The third is film speed. Of course your digital camera does not use film, but the concept of increased sensitivity to light is the same. The film speed numbers you choose on your digital camera are the same as on a film camera. Digitally though, you are really amplifying the data on the digital sensor. Amplification also tends to produce more noise in the digital data and this noise appears remarkably similar to grain in a film image. All the concepts of film photography really do apply to digital photography. WHAT IS THE EXPOSURE YOU ARE MAKING? If you were able to tag along with Ansel Adams and watch him use his big view camera to make a photograph, you would see him take the following steps. First of course is finding the picture. By this, I literally mean he walked about looking at a scene, thinking about composition, camera placement, lighting, etc. Believe it i or not, this is the true heart of nature photography, finding the right spot that will produce an image that will reflect your artistic impressions and intentions. He might frame the image with his hand or use a viewing card in order to mimic the image he will soon see in his view camera. This is the first step in composing the image. Next he would set up his camera at the desire location and height. Ansel Adams was noted for shooting from the roof of his car in order to get the higher perspective. After selecting and attaching a lens to the camera, he would focus the camera and fine tune the composition. He covered his head and the back of the camera with a large cloth and viewed the image, directly on the ground glass of the camera. To do this, the lens itself had to be set to viewing mode so light passed through just as it does when making the photograph. This image is upside down and backwards, but many people feel this actually helps composition since it abstracts the image; you have an opportunity to inspect edges and overall composition. Once the image was composed, he would set the lens to taking mode, and insert a film holder. Then he would take out his light meter and begin measuring different parts of the scene. The light meter requires that the proper film speed be selected, and this was determined by his choice of film. He would take readings of areas that were in shadow and areas that would be in direct light. Each of these measurementss would be written down in a small notebook. He would then decide on the settings he would use to make the actual image. These settings were based on a method he called the Zone System. This system includes considerations of what film he was using, how much development the film would receive, and how it would be printed later in the darkroom. But the final exposure settings made on the lens amounted to just two items: Aperture and Shutter Speed. It is the primary goal of this book that you understand exactly what these settings mean, and how to use them to get exactly what you want. Here are settings from one of Ansel s famous photographs, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941: f/32, 1 second.
2 Understanding these two settings is the key to successful nature photography. The first is the Aperture, f/32, the second the Shutter Speed, 1 second. These were set individually on his lenses, according to his light meter readings. They are not set independently, but follow the rules of exposure. If you follow the mental model below, you will quickly learn to set them correctly. There is one other setting you can make, and that is film speed. For the film photographer, this choice is made at the time of purchase. For the digital photographer, this is a setting you can change on your camera for each frame. Of course, higher film speed in a digital camera corresponds to more amplification of the electrical signal on the sensor and correspondingly more electrical noise in the final image. For the most part we will be advocating for using the slowest ISO setting on your camera. Here s the idea. It takes a specific amount of light to make a photograph. Too little light, and the image is dark, too much light and it looks washed out. You have to get it just right. Fortunately, almost all modern cameras have a built in light meter to tell you exactly what amount of light is required. If you set your camera on automatic, it will make the settings for you, and if your camera is set to manual, it will still tell you what those settings are. Without a doubt, the automatic mode on modern cameras is quite good, even excellent. The automatic mode on my Nikon D200 is said by the manufacturer to choose its settings based on a database of over 300,000 images! That s a lot if images! Yet sometimes it gets the settings wrong. Why? Because the camera doesn t really understand the image, it only understands patterns of light. It has knowledge, not intelligence. Even if your camera recognizes faces (and some do!) it doesn t know if you want that face light, dark or medium. It may not even be the face you want to be in focus! So the key to getting good images under all conditions is to understand the settings your camera is using, and when they need to be changed. This applies equally to film and digital cameras. The next few paragraphs provide a mental model of what your camera is doing. It s a simple model, yet I have not often seen exposure settings described in this intuitive way. THE MENTAL MODEL My wife has several potted plants on the back deck. Every day she waters those plants using a one gallon bucket. Mostly, she turns the kitchen faucet on full and the bucket fills in about one minute. Sometimes, the faucet isn t open all the way up, and it takes longer. Makes sense doesn t it? Turning the faucet handle opens the valve; the bigger the opening in the valve, the faster the water flows and the less time it takes to fill the bucket. If we wanted to use numbers to describe this, we would say that wide open, the water flows at 1 gallon per minute. A plumber would say 1 gpm. If the water was flowing at ½ gallon per minute, or ½ gpm, it would take 2 minutes to fill the bucket. Even more slowly, we could imagine water flowing at ¼ gallon per minute, ¼ gpm, and take 4 minutes to fill the bucket. If we make a little table with these numbers it would look like this: The important thing to note is that the numbers are related. If the water flows fast it flows for a shorter time. If it flows slowly, it flows for a longer time. Your camera does the same thing. (OK, OK the camera lets in light, not water. My cell phone s camera did in fact let in a lot of water when I managed to leave it in my shirt pocket on laundry day!) Your camera sets the lens so light enters either fast or slow, by changing an opening in the lens called the aperture. When the hole is small, the shutter has to stay open longer, so a longer shutter speed is set. Water Flow Time to Fill 1 gpm 1 min. ½ gpm 2 min. ¼ gpm 4 min.
3 THE SHUTTER The shutter is often, but not always, part of the camera body. This is characteristic of the SLR or single lens reflex type camera that has interchangeable lenses of different sizes and focal lengths available. It is also true of most point-and-shoot cameras, and mega-zoom cameras. The type of camera that Ansel Adams used, a view camera, has a shutter in each lens. In real life, you don t need to know where your shutter actually is, but you do need to know how it works. SHUTTER SPEED Shutter speeds are the easiest part of an exposure setting to understand. If we made a table of camera shutter speeds, it would like the table in the margin. You might expect that when the shutter speed is slow, say 1 sec., objects or people in motion would be blurry; wind will cause many natural subjects to move, and will appear blurry in the final image. And unless you are well practiced, it s hard to hold a camera perfectly steady for shutter speeds longer than about 1/30 second. When the shutter speed is very fast, say1/1000 sec, even objects in motion would be very sharp. If you were a sports photographer, you would want to use a very fast shutter speed. If you were a landscape photographer, shutter speed might not be very important. After all, how far could that mountain move in 1 second? 1 1 1/2 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000 1/2000 1/4000 Since this is book on nature photography, I have to say right now that the choice of shutter speed is important. If you are photographing a waterfall, a slow shutter speed makes moving water soft and cloud-like. A fast shutter can make the water stand still and look glassy. The final decision is yours to make, and you will make that decision according to your own artistic desires. Of course, you can always take two or more photographs and make a choice later. (Is that an experiment or play? Well, it s both!) While you can see the image on the LCD screen of your camera, you will not be able to really inspect it for details until you see it on your computer. Shutter speeds are typically shown without the fraction symbol. Camera: Actual: 1 1/2 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000 Slow shutter Fast Shutter You have already noticed that as you read across, each shutter speed is about twice as fast as the one before it. It s a curious aspect of film photography that decreasing the amount of light falling on the film by a factor of 2 actually makes a nice, evenly spaced set of values from light to dark. (A math major would say that the response of the film is logarithmic, but you don t have to be a math major to understand the concept.) 1 Plate tectonics tells us that North America is actually moving westward about as fast as your thumb nail grows. But since the mountain and your camera are both firmly placed on the North American plate, the mountains do seem to stand still.
4 THE LENS RELATIVE APERTURE F/STOPSS Now that we ve seen how the camera uses shutter speed to control how long light is allowed to f/1 enter our light bucket, the next step is see how the camera controls how much light enters this f/1.4 f/2 bucket. This job is left to the camera s lens. As you will soon see, a camera lens is more complicated f/2.8 than the shutter. A table of aperture values would look like this: f/4 f/5.6 Every lens or camera has a diaphragm, which is a small mechanical device whose opening can be f/8 made large or small. The opening is the aperture. In older cameras, the diaphragm could often be f/11 seen simply buy looking into the lens. In modern cameras the diaphragm is always open, except f/16 f/22 when the image is being made, so is generally not visible. If your camera has interchangeable lenses, each lens has a diaphragm. A fixed lens camera may have the diaphragm built into the body. In either case, the diaphragm controls the amount of light entering the camera by controlling the areaa of the lens that that light can pass through. Try this experiment: Set your camera to manual with a slow shutter speed, say 1 second at f/8. (Doesn t matter if the exposure is correct..) Turn it around and look into the lens and depress the shutter button. You should see the diaphragm close down for 1 second, the return to wide open. The relative aperture is usually written like a fraction; the relative aperture f/4 literally means that the relative aperture is the focal length of the lens (the letter f ) divided by 4. It is the area of the opening that controls the amount of light passing through the lens. Remember the formula for the area of a circle? Area = πr 2. To change the area of the circle by a factor of 2, or 1 stop, we have to change the radius by the square root of 2. The square root of 2 is very close to 1.4. A manual lens will have aperture symbols on it that look like this: Camera: Actual: f/1 f/1.4 f/2 f/2.8 f/4 f/5.6 f/8 f/11 f/16 f/222 f/32 More Light Less Light Each number is 1.4 times the previous number. As we move from left to right, the amount of light get smaller by a factor of 2. These symbols, the letter f followed by a /, means that these numbers are fractions! The letter f represents the focal length of the lens. So f/2 means an aperture opening that is ½ of the focal length l of the lens. f/4 is an aperture that is ¼ of the focal length. The secret is that for all lenses, the same f-stop lets in the same amount of light. So even if you switch lenses, the same f-stop and shutter speed are still correct. These are call 'stops' because most interchangeable lenses have an aperture setting ring that clicks into these positions. These were called click stops, and made it easy to set the exact value. Some lenses also have click stops at positions ½ or ⅓ stop. Here s the vocabulary: if we go from f/4 to f/16, we are stopping down 4 stops. Just count the number of steps in the list above. 4 steps = 4 stops. Going from f/8 to f/2.8 is opening up 3 stops. To make it even more confusing, many digital camera lenses don't have aperture rings anymore; you have to set the aperture using a dial on the cameraa while watching the digital display. The numbers are the same though.
5 Point-and-shoot cameras will work similarly; all the settings are shown and adjusted using a dial and the LCD display. More about this later. Sometimes a lens is said to be a fast lens. A lens that gathers a lot of light is called a 'fast' lens because more light means faster shutter speeds can be used, and there is less motion blur. For news photographers who might work indoors, or relatively dark places, a fast lens that gathers a lot of light is required. So the light gathering power of a lens is the lens' relative aperture when the diaphragm is wide-open, and is often a factor in determining what lens you will purchase. Camera lenses usually have their widest aperture written on the lens, usually on the barrel or on the front. This gives the photographer a measure of the lens' light gathering power. A zoom lens may have two f/stops, one for each end of the zoom range. My normal zoom is the Nikon 18mm-70mm, f/3.5-f/4.5. The aperture at the 18mm wide angle setting is f/3.5, and at the 70mm setting f/4.5. (This could be written 18mm, f/3.5 70mm, f/4.5.) You will hear the word stop used to indicate every setting change that results in the amount of light changing by a factor of 2. So in our example when the shutter was changed from 1/125 to 1/500, we might say the shutter was 2 stops faster, and we compensated by making the aperture 2 stops wider (or opening up 2 stops). THE IMPORTANCE OF F/STOPS: DEPTH OF FIELD The important aspect of f/stops is how the f/stop setting affects the image. Smaller apertures yield image with greater depth of field. Depth of field, DOF, is how far behind and in front of the intended focus point the image appears to be sharp. Small apertures, e.g. f/22, yield deep DOF. Large apertures, f/2, yield a shallow DOF. The photographer gets to choose. << sample images here>> PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER UNDERSTANDING EXPOSURE So finally, we are in a position to understand exposure. Since this book is about nature photography, we begin by setting the camera to its lowest ISO setting, say ISO 100. This minimizes and noise that might appear in the image. We then select our shutter speed and f/stop. If you are using your camera in an automatic mode, the shutter speed, aperture, and perhaps the ISO and white balance, are selected for you. On a sunny day, your camera might make a choice of 1/125 sec, f/16. This is a realistic value for ISO 100 film, or a digital camera set to ISO 100. If you are photographing a track meet, you might want a faster shutter speed, say 1/500 second. Changing the shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/500 decreases the amount of light reaching the film by a factor 4. (1/125 to 1/250 decreases by 2, 1/250 to 1/500 is another decrease by 2.) To get the correct amount of light, you need to change the aperture to admit more light by a factor of 4. So, f/16 to f/11 increases by 2, f/11 to f/8 is another increase by 2. Our final and also correct exposure is 1/500 sec, f/8.
6 In fact, there s a whole set of possible, correct exposure settings. Here they are: Shutter F/stop Effect on image 1/30 1/60 Camera s choice - -> 1/125 f/16 Hard to hand hold well, more DOF than needed. 1/250 f/11 Our choice - -> 1/5000 f/8 Good action stopping, good DOF. 1/1000 f/5.6 1/2000 f/4 f/32 Slow shutter; Large DOF. A landscape! f/22 1/4000 f/2.8 Great action stopping; Very shallow DOF. Sports! Here s the most important thing to note: Each of these exposures is correct! So while your camera can only select one pair, you are free to choose a different pair. How you do this may involve changing scene modes or using your camera s manual mode, but each of these pairs of settings results in exactly the same amount of light. There s a name for this: exposure value or EV. Each EV represents a specific amount of light. The whole set of exposure pairs above would correspond to EV 15. If you look back at our mental model, you will see the same relationship in this table. As we choose a faster shutter speed, we need to let in more light using a larger aperture. This interdependence of shutter speed and aperture is called the Law of Reciprocity. A good working knowledge of the law of reciprocity is important to the nature photographer. Most, if not all, of your images will be interpreted according to the law of reciprocity. You choose whether to emphasize depth-offield or action-stopping shutter speeds. There are also in-between possibilities you might like. The correct one in the one you want! Note that while a slow shutter speed does result in the softening of moving objects, such as a water fall, we are not choosing sharpness vs. blur. Even if we want the water to look smooth and silky we usually also want the surrounds to be tack sharp. So we always use a tripod, and let the movement of the subject be the source of the blur, not the movement of the photographer! f/4.5 1/60 sec. f/5.6 1/30 sec.
7 f/8 1/15 sec. f/11 1/8 sec. f/16 1/4 sec. f/22 1/2 sec. In a later chapter, we ll look at how setting your camera to Programmed Mode will let you quickly take a sequence of images at each possible exposure pair. This is only one of many ways to accomplish this, and we ll explore these in a later chapter. Of the images above, bove, I like the one at f/16, ¼ sec. The silky smooth water implies motion in the water and retains quite a bit of texture as well. That s my artistic decision; yours may be different. Of course, you are able, and encouraged, to make all the above images aand nd make your decision after reviewing them on your computer. What should I do if I like the depth of field of f/16, but wanted a faster shutter speed? The answer is to increase film speed. If I change ISO form 100 to 400, I could change the shutter speed from ¼ to 1/15. How to get a longer shutter speed? If ISO 100 is the lowest ISO setting, you can use a neutral density (ND) filter over the lens to decrease the amount of light entering the lens. A 2 stop ND filter would let me use f/16, 1 sec. While the image display on your camera is not fully suitable to make a detailed review of an image, it does allow you to verify composition, and preview the effect of the changes in ISO, aperture and shutter speed. You may be able to zoom in on the image to check sharpness, as well.
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