Quick Photo Tip: Light, A Little Dab Will Do Ya

I love the light, plain and simple, and I’m a firm believer in one of my favorite phrases, “You find the light and you’ll find the shot”. I’ve been following this self-appointed rule for as long as I can remember and it has served me well.

One of my favorite ways to shoot is to find a little dab of sunlight somewhere, usually hidden between larger areas of shadow and or color, and place or see an object or subject in it. When I expose for only the area in light, I can make the shadow area ever more dramatic and interesting…and colorful.

In my online class with the BPSOP, and in my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind”workshops I conduct around the planet, I’m always telling my fellow photographers that one of the best ways to take their photography what I refer to as “up a notch”, is to “see past first impressions”. I usually follow this with a quote by Henry David Thoreau who once said, “It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see”.

What I mean in this context is when you find yourself at some location, look for areas that have a small amount of light hitting somewhere. This is easier to find when the light is dappled, but harder to find when the majority of the scene is in shadow. When you see it, think of ways to utilize it. I can promise you there’s a chance to walk away with one of those illusive “Keepers” we all strive for but sometimes have a hard time creating.

There are people out there that think this is not a good idea and will tell you that you need more light to take good photos. All I can tell you is to run away as fast as you can because they will only beat you up with bad advice and drag you down to their level.

In the above photo taken during my Springtime in Berlin workshop, I was walking down the street and saw a crowd of people standing in line. I’m always attracted to this becauseof the possibility that something going on.

What the people were doing is waiting for this restaurant to open, so I walked up to the front to see what it looked like. I’m really curious about everything, especially when I have a camera in my hand…which is most of the time.

There, right in front of my eyes was this chair being lit by the sun coming through a small hole in the red fabric. Needless to say, I was all over it like a tight fitting Lassie costume.!!!

Using exposure compensation

This is an excerpt from Photography Essentials, taught by Brit Hammer.

What is exposure?

Having the “correct” exposure means your image is neither too light nor too dark.

When shooting in aperture priority mode the camera chooses the settings to create the correct exposure. This means the camera sets shutter speed and ISO.

How does a camera know how dark or light an image should be? A camera will try to make the image a medium level of brightness, not knowing anything about what you’re photographing or how it’s supposed to look. That means your image might turn out darker or lighter than how the scene looks in reality.

Most of the time it works just fine for the camera to guess the correct exposure. That’s because the things we usually photograph in everyday life are made up of a mix of dark and light elements. But sometimes the camera guesses wrong, and you need to tell the camera to go brighter or darker…

 

What the camera thinks is a correct exposure is not always right

In the example at top left, this is what the camera chose for the exposure, but this was not how it looked in reality. The camera does not know that these sand dunes and white clouds look very bright in reality. It just makes the image a medium level of brightness.

This is why you sometimes have to help the camera and tell it to brighten or darken things. You do this by using exposure compensation.

In the image at top right I used exposure compensation to make it look more natural.

 

What is exposure compensation?

Exposure compensation is a setting that tells the camera to go slightly brighter or darker than what it thinks is correct.

Just like aperture, exposure compensation is expressed in stops. A stop means simply to halve or double the amount of light. Most cameras have an exposure compensation range from -2 to +2 stops.

Negative values make the image darker, and positive values make the image brighter. Behind the value, you’ll often see “EV”, which stands for exposure value.

 

Where to find exposure compensation on your camera

Depending on your camera, exposure compensation might be easily accessible or not. If your camera doesn’t have a designated exposure compensation dial (left image), then it’s worth digging through your manual to see if you can assign this function to one of the buttons or dials on your camera so it’s handy.

On most cameras, exposure compensation is adjustable in increments of one-third of a stop. One-third stops are expressed in decimal numbers: one-third is 0.3 and two-thirds is 0.7. Your camera’s current setting is visible on the LCD display, such as shown in the above right image set to ±0.0 (i.e. no exposure compensation).

 

When to use exposure compensation

There are two typical situations in which the camera will make a wrong judgment of the exposure:

  1. Almost everything in the frame is light. (Left image) In this case the camera will make the image too dark. Correct this by using positive exposure compensation.
  2. Almost everything in the frame is dark. (Right image) In this case the camera will make the image too light. Correct this by using negative exposure compensation.

 

Photographing a light scene

In each image above, almost everything is white. Because the camera doesn’t know what’s being photographed, it made the exposure a medium brightness. That resulted in images that look too dark when compared to reality.

I used an exposure compensation of +1 EV (left) and +0.7 EV (right) to brighten the images to make them look like more natural.

 

Photographing a dark scene

Because the camera will always try to create a medium bright image, it will make images of night scenes lighter than in reality. That means when photographing night scenes you have to tell the camera to make the image darker so it results in a natural looking image.

The above two images were taken with the exposure compensation set to -1.7 EV. That’s one and two-thirds stops darker than what the camera chose for the exposure.

 

Photographing a scene with medium brightness

It’s not just extremely light or dark scenes that benefit from some exposure compensation.

The image on the left shows what the camera chose as the exposure for this scene. On average, this exposure might be fine, but the detailed texture in the bright white flower is almost invisible. That’s why I used an exposure compensation of -0.7 EV to make it a bit darker.

The lesson here is to always ask yourself, would this image look better if it were a bit lighter or darker? Take a shot using what the camera thinks the exposure should be (i.e. 0 EV) and another using exposure compensation. You can choose which looks best when you compare images side by side on your computer.

 

 

Exposure compensation as a creative tool

Sometimes you might deviate from the “correct” exposure for creative reasons.

Like aperture, exposure compensation can be used as a creative tool. You can create an atmosphere or mood with a little (or a lot) of exposure compensation.

At first this might seem like yet another thing to think of when you’re shooting, but after playing with it for a while it will become second nature to ask yourself before pressing the shutter, “What if I applied a bit of exposure compensation?”

 

You can use exposure compensation to over-expose or under-expose for creative purposes.

Learn more when you sign up for Photography Essentials.)

 

Instructor: Brit Hammer

In Photography Essentials you’ll learn the techniques Brit uses so you can arrive at your own great images quickly and easily. With a bit of practice, they will become second nature to you!

Everything is explained simply and clearly.

We’ll work on one essential aspect at a time, broken down into parts like building blocks. By the end of the course the pieces will be put back together again so it all makes sense.

This course is for both beginners as well as experienced photographers desiring consistently great shots.

 


What students say about Brit’s teaching:

“I’ve taken many classes. With the way Brit taught and explained things, I finally said, ‘I get it’. She made me enjoy taking photographs.”

“I have taken quite a few courses offered by BPSOP and learned so much from each one of them. All of your teachers are stellar. Brit Hammer’s class and method of critiquing took me to another level, and I am so appreciative. The video format and her commitment and energy she puts into her students’ work is inspiring and makes you want to work that much harder to utilize her suggestions for improving your photographs.” – Patricia Tedeschi – Galarneau (Celebrate Your Life in Beautiful Images)

Using Selective Adjustments in Adobe Lightroom CC

The secret to a well-edited image is to not only having the exposure, contrast, white balance, and saturation correctly adjusted, it is also to look at your picture it in parts. What parts of the image could be adjusted individually to add more definition, detail, vibrancy, or clarity to your image? 

My favorite tools for this fine-tuning are in the selective adjustment panel in Adobe Lightroom CC. If you click on one of the selective tools such as the graduated filter, the radial filter or the adjustment brush, you will see the basic adjustment panel. Depending on the areas you would like to adjust, select the appropriate tool. To add more drama to a sky, I would use the graduated adjustment tool, to increase or decrease exposure in a particular area, I would use the radial filter, to fine tune smaller areas, I would use the adjustment brush.

On some images, I may have multiple selective adjustment masks (they are called masks because they mask out only certain areas of an image).

In the image below, I have made the preliminary adjustments in exposure and vibrance. You can see by the histogram that this is a balanced image and there is room in the shadows and highlights to enhance it further. I’d like to add more detail and contrast to the sky, enhance the color of the water and add some saturation to the hillsides.

The first thing to do is use the graduated adjustment filter and pull it down from the top of the image to just below the horizon line. (I have ticked the box “show selected mask overlay” so the red mask shows the area being affected by the adjustment.)

Then, add other areas of selected masks with the radial filter. I added a mask to the ocean and a couple of masks to the coastline as shown below and made the adjustments to my liking. I mostly added exposure, saturation, and clarity to pop out the details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you are happy with your selected results, the last thing to do as add sharpening and your watermark and your done!

If you would like more information on how to create amazing images in Lightroom, take my next Lightroom Quick Start class here at BPSOP.

In this class, I cover the basic tools to use Lightroom as your go-to editing and organizational tool. This 4-week class covers the basics that will get you up and running quickly in an efficient way. Try our next Lightroom class and learn to use the essential program for editing and organization.

BPSOP Instructor – Holly Higbee-Jansen

HollyHolly Higbee-Jansen is photographer, trainer, blogger, and landscape photography workshop leader who enjoys teaching and the creative process. Her passions include teaching photography workshops in beautiful locations in California, Iceland, Costa Rica and the American West with her husband Mark. Holly also teaches online classes on Lightroom, Photoshop and photographic technique. Get Holly’s Free E-Book on “Landscape Photography and the Light and find out about her newest workshops at Jansen Photo Expeditions.com.

Reach Holly by email at hhjphoto@gmail.com and read her blog at JansenPhotoExpeditions.com/Blog

Holly Teaches:

Lightroom Quickstart

Lightroom

Do you want to learn to create images that show the beauty of the scene you saw when you took the photograph? Do you want to learn the other essential side of digital photography, photo editing and get up to speed quickly?

This course is designed to get you up and running FAST in this incredibly powerful program. In this two week information packed class, you will learn how to import, organize and perform simple and effective editing processes that will let you produce beautiful adjustments to your pictures.

iPhone Photography
Skagafoss-1
In this class, we will introduce you to the magic of iPhone photography using several shooting and editing apps that will give you the ability to make your pictures sing in a fun and easy way. You will learn how to crop, change saturation, brightness and affect the overall look of your pictures with HDR, drama and grunge filters and other techniques. You will be amazed at the simple and effective methods.

 

 

Get in the ballpark first, then refine your camera angle

The below builds upon “The one simple thing that will improve your photos immediately”. (Read that post here.) Excerpted from Photography Essentials, taught by instructor Brit Hammer.

 

Get in the ballpark first, then refine your camera angle

Walk around your subject, looking at it from four sides, if possible. Begin at subject level. As you look from each of the sides, ask these two questions:

  1. Does the light enhance your specific subject?
  2. Are there any distracting elements in the background?

As you move around the subject, notice how the light on it changes. Also look for any distractions in the background. Choose the side (a) where the light illuminates the subject best and (b) with the least distracting background. This is the process of getting in the ballpark.

If the subject-level angle doesn’t work, try the same four sides but this time looking up or down at your subject from 45 degrees. Find the side that works best and the general camera angle.

Once you’ve found a side that works, review the edges of your frame. Check if anything in the background distracts from your specific subject. If so, then it means to move slightly left, right, forward, or backward to fine tune your camera angle. Likewise, it might mean to get closer or further away, or to zoom in or out.

It’s this slight zooming in or out, moving left or right, or up or down that refines your camera angle.

 

Refine your angle: Look at the how your subject is lit

Light creates shadows. Those shadows help define shape.

Compare the two above images. Which is better? Does the shape of the subject look better from one side?

 

Refine your angle: Does the background enhance your subject?

Moving around your subject can create two completely different images. But what happens to the background as you move — does the background enhance or distract from the subject?

Critique the above images. Which do you prefer and what would you change, if anything?

 

Refine your angle: Get closer

Are there distractions in the background that draw your eye away from your intended subject? If yes, move closer to isolate your subject to push the distractions out of frame.

Critique the above right image. Are there any distractions? Did I get too close and make the shot feel too tight, or does it feel just right? What would you change, if anything?

 

Refine your angle: Move further away

Sometimes your shot might feel a bit awkward because the angle just isn’t working. If you’ve already tried moving left and right, now try moving further away. By including a wee bit more in your image you can create extra context for your scene. Moving further away also solves the problem if your shot feels too tight.

Critique the above images. Which do you prefer and why? What would you change, if anything?

 

Refine your angle: Zoom in

In this example I stood in the loft above the bathroom and shot straight down into the scene. The overview image (above left) wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped, so I iterated on the top-down camera angle by zooming in (image above right). By zooming-in I found a detail shot waiting for me within the scene.

Critique the above images. Is the light illuminating the subject enough to draw your eye there? Is there anything in the background distracting from the subject?

 

Refine your angle: Zoom in and move further away

Sometimes getting close to your subject works, but moving further away and zooming in creates a different look. Zooming in also cleans up extra clutter in the background. That’s because the field of view is narrower zoomed in than when zoomed out.

For the image above right, I moved one step further away and zoomed in, but imagine if I had stepped slightly to the right to get the entire head of the children’s toy against the white wall. Then the white text on the black background would no longer be directly behind the toy’s head, distracting from the subject.

Compare the above images. What could be better? What would you do differently?

. . .

(This was a quick peek into how instructor Brit Hammer finds great images. Learn more when you sign up for Photography Essentials.)

 

Instructor: Brit Hammer

In Photography Essentials you’ll learn the techniques Brit uses so you can arrive at your own great images quickly and easily. With a bit of practice, they will become second nature to you!

Everything is explained simply and clearly.

We’ll work on one essential aspect at a time, broken down into parts like building blocks. By the end of the course the pieces will be put back together again so it all makes sense.

This course is for both beginners as well as experienced photographers desiring consistently great shots.

 


What students say about Brit’s teaching:

“I’ve taken many classes. With the way Brit taught and explained things, I finally said, ‘I get it’. She made me enjoy taking photographs.”

“I have taken quite a few courses offered by BPSOP and learned so much from each one of them. All of your teachers are stellar. Brit Hammer’s class and method of critiquing took me to another level, and I am so appreciative. The video format and her commitment and energy she puts into her students’ work is inspiring and makes you want to work that much harder to utilize her suggestions for improving your photographs.” – Patricia Tedeschi – Galarneau (Celebrate Your Life in Beautiful Images)

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  • "I have had so much fun learning exposure from you guys. Learning is one thing, but gaining the confidence in your abilities is also very important. Through your teachings, Q&A area, and critical evaluations, I have not only learned, but have truly gained confidence in shooting. Thanks! You guys are the best!" Read More
    Sandi Understanding Exposure
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