Feb 272013
 

Confusion

Understanding the Basics of Exposure by Emanuele Faja

Note: This is a guest post by Emanuele Faja from AndBeThere.com

Introduction

In this post you will find all the information you need to understand how the different aspects of photography come together to form an exposure and how each setting has a distinct effect on the final outcome. Please remember, this is a guide on the basics.

If, after having read through this guide, there is something you don’t quite understand then please do not hesitate to leave a comment with your question and I will answer it.

Another point to keep in mind as you read this guide: There is no such thing as a “correct” exposure! It’s all about YOUR artistic vision and it will vary with every scene. There is no “cut and paste” method. It will require plenty of thinking on your part if you wish to take your photography to the next level.

You will want to bookmark this page because there is a lot of information and it will require reading a few times.

What is Exposure?

Exposure is simply the amount of light that you allow to reach the light-sensitive photographic medium inside your camera. This medium could (or should!) be film or it could be a digital sensor.

The more light you let in the brighter your image will look and, conversely, the less light you let in the darker your image will be. You see? It’s not exactly rocket science!

The factors that affect Exposure.

There are three things that you modify to make your image darker or brighter.

  • Aperture – This is the adjustable opening in the lens. The bigger the opening, the more light hits your sensor at any one time.
  • Shutter Speed – This determines how long the shutter will stay open. The longer the shutter stays open the more light hits the sensor.
  • ISO – This is a measurement of how sensitive your film or digital sensor is to light. More on this later.

So far so good? Right now you only have to remember three things. Easy :)

Now let’s talk about each of these three factors in more detail. I will go over the basics of each factor and then explain how each one effects your image.

Aperture

The Aperture setting on a lens is expressed in “f stops”.

This is actually part of a conspiracy created by photographers who don’t want anybody else to understand how photography works so they can charge ever increasing fees for their work ;)

Of course, I’m just joking. The f/stop is actually a ratio that’s reached by doing some tedious mathematics. It’s the ratio between the diameter of the aperture in the lens and the focal length of the lens. Got that? No? Good, it doesn’t really matter…

This is all you need to know for now:

The standard sequence of f/stops:

2 2.8 4 5.6 8 11 16 22

Going from right to left (f22 to f2) each f stop lets in twice as much light as one before. So f/8 lets in twice as much light as f/11 but only half as much as f/5.6.

Got it?

Yes?

Good.

Because of the tedious mathematics, the smaller the number, the bigger the aperture. This is because they are actually ratios and the f stop number is the bottom number of the ratio/fraction. So they really should read 1/2, 1/2.8, 1/4 etc but they don’t… probably part of that conspiracy theory by photographers…

Here is a nice little graphic to make everything even easier to understand:

Aperture Chart

There are lenses which go beyond f/2. For instance, I own a Pentax SMC K 50mm f/1.2 lens. There are various reasons why a photographer would want to own such a lens. We will talk about that a little later but it’s worth mentioning that the lenses become much heavier and more expensive as you go beyond f/2.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is expressed in seconds or fractions of a second.

Most cameras have shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 1/2000 of a second and also a “bulb” mode that will keep the shutter open for as long as you keep the shutter button pressed down.

1 1/2 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000

Leica_M3_mg_3685

Going from left to right (1 to 1/1000) each shutter speed is twice as fast and so lets it half as much light. 1/125s lets it twice as much as light as 1/250s but only half as much as 1/60s.

Easy!

Instead of tediously writing 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, the shutter speeds are just written as numbers on the shutter speed dial.

Iso

Iso is a measurement of how sensitive your film/sensor is to light.

Iso is actually a throw back to the lovely pure days of film photography. It’s named after the International Standards Organisation which decided the ratings in the first place. Different films would have different Iso ratings and a photographer would select which film to use depending on the situation and, of course, personal preference. A few examples:

ISO 200 color film

kodak-gold-200-36-

ISO 400 Black & White film

kodak_-tri-x-400tx-

ISO 800 Color print film

Fujifuilm Fujicolor Press 800-

ISO 1600 Black & White film

Fuji Neopan 1600

In order not to confuse the hell out of everybody when photography went digital the camera manufacturers continued to use the term Iso and also the same scale:

25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400

Going from left to right (25 to 6400) each Iso setting is twice as sensitive to light. Iso 400 is twice as sensitive as Iso 200 but only half as sensitive as Iso 800.

The higher the number, the greater the sensitivity of the film/sensor.

The greater the sensitivity of the film/sensor, the less light is required to create an image.

The sensors in new digital cameras today are becoming so good that they reach ridiculous Iso numbers like 51200 and even higher! This does mean that digital is great for night-time photography but I do wonder what will happen in a few years time when Iso numbers in digital photography will be 7 digits long!

 

A Quick Recap

So now you should know the following:

What are the three factors that affect exposure?

Which is the bigger aperture: f/2 or f/16?

Which shutter speed lets in more light: 1/2s or 1/500s?

Which Iso setting is more sensitive to light: Iso 200 or Iso 1600?

 

If only it were that simple!

I have a confession to make. I have not been entirely honest with you in this article but I did it for your own good. Instead of drowning you in information right away I just introduced you to the three factors that make up exposure but I did not tell you the “side effects” that these factors have.

  • Aperture also effects the Depth of Field. I will explain what it is in just a moment.
  • Shutter speed also effects how sharp your final image will be due to movement.
  • Iso is linked to how much film grain or digital noise your final image will have.

Depth of Field

“The distance in front and behind the subject that is acceptably in focus”

Depth of field is often abbreviated to “dof”

The smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field. So at f/22 (small aperture) you will have a much bigger (deeper) depth of field than you would at f/2 (large aperture)

Depth

Depth of field is actually determined by three factors:

  • The aperture – We just saw how that affects the depth of field.
  • The distance to your subject – The further away you are from your subject the greater your depth of field.
  • The focal length of your lens (35mm, 50mm, 85mm etc.) – The longer your focal length (i.e. 100mm vs 35mm) the shallower your depth of field.

Boring Note: Sensor size also plays a big role because of the way it magnifies the focal length of a lens. Most DSLR cameras these days have “cropped” sensors which are around half the area of a full 35mm frame. This means that they magnify the focal length of a lens by roughly 1.6. So a 35mm lens becomes roughly a 50mm lens.

My advice: shoot 35mm film and forget about it. ;)

Sharpness

Generally speaking, if you are hand holding your camera you should be using at least this shutter speed if you wish to get optimally sharp images:

 

1

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Focal length of your lens

So this means if you are using a 50mm lens your shutter speed should be at least 1/50s (or 1/60s if your camera doesn’t have a the 1/50s setting). I find this to be true if you are shooting a camera that uses some kind of mirror system (analog or digital SLR systems) . If you are shooting a rangefinder camera (which is a different type of system which has no mirror and thus far less movement going on when you press the shutter) you can get away with far slower shutter speeds. Some people claim they can shoot a rangefinder at 1/10s or slower!

Here is an example of a picture I took using my Pentax K1000 at a low shutter speed. I had no choice. It was late at night and I had Iso 1600 film and my lens was fully open at f/1.2 so my only option was to lower the shutter speed below 1/60s. If I remember correctly, this was taken at 1/15s.

You can clearly see that the image is not sharp because I was holding the camera and the cars that were crossing the bridge in the background are also very blurred. This is also due to the very small depth of field at f/1.2

 Scan-121206-0010

You also need to choose a shutter speed that is fast enough to capture your subject while they are moving. We will talk about this a little later on…

Grain/Noise

The higher the Iso the more film grain or digital noise you will have in your final image. Film grain can be quite lovely while digital noise is always disgusting. Thankfully, digital cameras are getting “cleaner” as the technology matures.

A quick example:

Iso comparison

Putting it all together

Time for another little test. :) Feels like being back at school eh?

  • Define “Depth of field”
  • What will have more in focus: A large d.o.f or a small d.o.f?
  • What is, generally speaking, the longest shutter speed you should use when shooting hand-held with a 50mm lens?
  • Fill in the missing word: The higher the Iso the more ______ your image will have.

Final Triangle

Let’s now talk about the Exposure Triangle that is created by Aperture, Shutter Speed and Iso.

Let’s assume that a particular scene can be shot at f/8, 1/250s with an Iso of 200. There are actually many other equivalent exposures that we could use to shoot this scene. If you change one factor of the triangle of exposure then you must do an opposite change with another factor to keep the exposure the same.

For example:

  • Original exposure: f8 1/250s, Iso 200
  • Equivalent exposure 1: f4 1/500s, Iso 200
  • Equivalent exposure 2: f2 1/1000s, Iso 200
  • Equivalent exposure 3: f11 1/125s, Iso 200
  • Equivalent exposure 4: f8 1/125s, Iso 100

There are a huge number of variations but they all have one thing in common. The exposure (brightness) of the image will be the same.

What does change between these equivalent exposures is the following:

  1. Depth of field due to Aperture
  2. Sharpness due to Shutter Speed
  3. Grain/noise due to Iso

So what happens when you under-expose or over-expose an image?

The first image is under-exposed, The middle one is a normal exposure. The bottom image in over-exposed.

exposure

If you under-expose a scene then you will lose details in the shadows and your image will be dark.

If you over-expose a scene then you will “blow” the highlights which are the bright areas of the image. They will usually come out as blocks of white.

 

Artistic considerations

Now this is the fun part. You have gone through all the theory and now it’s time to see how you can use it in the real world and how it can spark your creativity.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no “correct” exposure. It’s all about YOUR artistic vision. Each scene you photograph has a certain dynamic range (the range between the darkest and lightest parts) and often its greater than the dynamic range that you can capture with your film or digital sensor. It’s up to you to decide how to handle the situation.

Before we jump straight in I want to say one last thing:

You need to pre-visualise the effect you want to create in your head before you start to change the settings on your camera and lens. Otherwise will you have a hit and miss approach and you will never understand why you aren’t capturing the type of photographs you want.

A few ideas to set you thinking:

  • Using Shallow Depth of Field for flattering portraits.

This is perhaps one of the most common uses of shallow depth of field. By taking a portrait of somebody using a large aperture (i.e. f/2) you blur the background. This is especially useful if the background would otherwise be distracting to the overall feel.

Notice how the woman is in sharp focus but the wall behind her is blurred. 

Scan-121219-0001

  • Using slow Shutter Speeds to create artistic effects with water.

This is incredibly common all over the internet and for good reasons too. It looks great.

Remember that if you are shooting fast-moving subjects then you probably want to use a fast shutter speed like 1/250, 1/500 or 1/1000.

  • Using large Depth of Field for landscapes.

If you shoot landscapes you should try to use a large depth of field so that the entire image appears sharp. This means you will need to use an aperture of f/8 or smaller (f/11, f/16, f/22 etc).

 

Sometimes photography is about compromise. I couldn’t use a really tiny aperture like f/22 because the sun was going down and so that would have meant that my image would have been under-exposed.

  • Mix it up a little!

What ever your artistic choices, make sure you don’t always do the same thing. Don’t shoot every portrait with a shallow depth of field, the background can often add to the the image!

As this is an introduction to exposure, I’ve not covered exposing for backlight, sidelight and exposure compensation.

Conclusion

(and the best way to learn exposure)

Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything yet.

This does take a little while to all sink in.

The best way to learn, in my opinion, is to get yourself an all manual camera like a Pentax K1000 and 10 or 15 rolls of cheap film like Kodak Supercolor 200.

There are a few reasons why I recommend using a simple all manual film camera like the Pentax K1000.

These cameras they have a real shutter speed dial on the camera body and an Aperture ring on the lens. This means that you are always aware of the settings you are using. Also, the physical location of the shutter speed dial and aperture ring remind you that one is a function of the camera and the other is a function of the lens.

There is no “auto” mode! This means you are forced to think at all times about what settings you are going to use! Don’t worry, there is a light meter to tell you if your exposure is correct.

By starting out with a film camera and using the same type of film you take Iso out of the equation. If you take my advice and only shoot one type of film while you are learning it means that you will always be using the same Iso value. This means that you only have to worry about shutter speed and aperture. It makes it even easier! You are turning the exposure triangle into a see-saw.

There are plenty of reasons to shoot film. Once you try shooting film you might just want to stick to it! Check out my article on giving film a try.

A Real Aperture Dial with a Depth of Field Scale 

1332433062_332686004_1-Pictures-of--FS-SMC-Pentax-50mm-f12-prime-lens

Shoot 3 or 4 rolls a week while also making a note of the aperture and shutter speed setting and in less than a month you will have it down like a pro. As a bonus, you may also have some lovely pictures too ;) After you have shot your 15 or so rolls and got accustomed to manual setting the exposure then feel free to move to scanning, digital or a more advanced camera… It’s up to you!

Thanks for taking the time for reading this guide and I hope you found it helpful.

Feel free to leave some feedback about what could be improved. I’ve tried my best to explain everything as clearly as I can.

If there is something you don’t quite understand then don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and I will clear it up for you.

Note: This is a guest post by Emanuele Faja from AndBeThere.com

You can connect to AndBeThere via: 

Our Website | Facebook | Google+ | Twitter | Flickr | Via Email

I would like to thank Steve for the opportunity to write an article for his website.

 I am a big fan…keep up the good work!

Oct 242012
 

Leica Monochrom Ongoing Review part 2.5. More thoughts on the camera, on Leica in general and many more sample shots from this unique camera. 

Part 3 is now up HERE!

It has been about a week since I have last written anything about the Monochrom. In part 2 of this ongoing review I wrote about the low light performance of the Monochrom as well as touched on the use of filters on the lens and in software while processing. In part 1 of the review I spoke about understanding the camera. Since then I have been shooting with the camera more and more and finding out that even after a few weeks of almost daily use I am not tired of seeing the gorgeous “Mono” files that come from this already “classic” tool.

I say already classic because as you all know, this is a black and white only camera body. Even if you come across a super cool scene in color, you can not shoot it in color. With the Monochrom it is all about “seeing” in Mono, something that I admit I am not 100% trained on just yet. Even so, I am having a wonderful change of pace shooting with it. It is like I have been transported back to a time without color film, color TV or color anything. Shooting this camera just feels nostalgic.

I have also been having some fun shooting with a Hoya R72 IR filter, and yes, it works giving beautiful results. Finally, I have been really enjoying seeing what Kristian Dowling has been getting with his Monochrom so read on to see a couple of IR samples as well as Kristian’s breathtaking and amazing images with this camera.

Let me get one thing stated up front..this camera is indeed overpriced. There is just no way on earth it is actually worth $8,000 US dollars to me (to you maybe). Yes, it has the gorgeous and classic Leica build and styling and the solid feel as well as the feeling you get when shooting with a classic rangefinder but it is $8000 for a body only and at this price it is in reality reserved for those with an upper end income, and I get the feeling Leica wants to keep it like this. Kind of sad that there are so many who are lusting after this but know deep in their heart they could never afford it. When you add in the cost of a lens it gets really outrageous and beyond the scope of 90% of shooters.

But this is Leica my friends and it is who they have been for many years and they show no sign of changing their ways though the new M is actually reasonably priced IMO for a full featured Leica M, and that is one camera that I am very excited about because if Leica nailed the IQ and usability then for some it will be the last M they may ever buy. For others that camera was the M9 and for some it was the M3, M6, M7 or MP. I am not sure that the Monochrom is the last M anyone would buy just due to the limitations of shooting only in Monochrom. Then again a Monochrom and something like a NEX-6, OM-D or Fuji X-E1 would be a good combo as well if you do not want to break the bank.

Back to Leica. Over the past few years Leica has changed a bit. I have seen them go from a small struggling company who were making many bad choices in the digital age, even bordering in bankruptcy at one point, to a company enjoying huge success and growth. They went through many digital growing pains and if it were not for the M9, Leica would not be where they are today. The M9 was THE camera..it was their golden ticket. This camera, the “golden child” M9, changed the whole world of photography because it attracted so many new Rangefinder users, and this was good. The M9P that was released as a “new” old camera did not even come close to selling in the numbers that the M9 did, and this could be an issue for Leica. With so many happy M9 users how many will jump to this Monochrom or the new M? The new M could sell less than the M9 or blow it out of the water sales wise depending on user reports and experiences.

With the M9, It did not matter if you were a pro or hobbyist, the reason for shooting these cameras was clearly for the passion, the fun, the excitement and the pride you got from using such a precision and well made tool. It also happened to deliver the most gorgeous and unique image quality of any camera at the time  when you used  the right Leica lens. Lenses like the 50 Summilux ASPH, 35 Summilux and 90 Summicron. The Noctilux and even the classic 50 Summitar. Yes, it was expensive but it was more versatile than the Monochrom because it shot color or B&W. So many stretched their budgets to buy one, and many fell in love with the camera just as I did.

Leica came back in a big way in 2009 and I am a VERY humble guy but this time have to admit that my blog..THIS blog.. was at the forefront of the M9 rush. It was my favorite camera ever and it stayed by my side day after day. My M9 review has had over 3 million views and I have had THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of e-mails over the past three years from those who have bought M9′s just due to my review and were sharing their story with me. I have heard heart warming stories as well as horror stories. Many Leica users flock here due to the my love of Leica and the images and stories shared by the many who submit their images. But I am the first to admit there are many cameras that can shoot beautiful photos and no one “needs” a Leica to do so. No..we do not need a Leica M, but many of use get so much pleasure from using one that in many ways, for some of us, it enriches our lives.

A bold statement for sure but it is true. I have met so many of you at workshops, events and all over the world and the one thing I see is consistent. There is a passion in those who shoot Leica that I just have not seen as much with other brands. Even though we can make gorgeous images with ANY camera, there is just something about a Leica that gets our hearts beating. A Leica may not be any better at preserving those precious memories than other cameras but to those who own one, it gives us something..something we may not be able to put our finger on exactly but it has some MOJO that other cameras can not match.

I admit to being in this group which is probably why I also am in love with the Monochrom even though I can get great results with any camera shooting B&W. So, is there a real difference between cameras when shooting in Monochom or converting color to B&W? That is what everyone wants to know, including me. Shooting a NEX-7 or OM-D can give you fantastic results but for those who have that love and passion and desire to shoot Leica it does not matter as shooting other cameras is nothing like shooting an M. So what is the point of  doing such comparisons? Well, there will always be those who hate on Leica and those who hate on cameras that are NOT Leica. There is always a debate in life no matter what the topic of discussion which is always good to have. After shooting other cameras with the Mono I have no doubt that anyone could get an award winning B&W shot with just about any camera out today, but I will compare them so you can see what the Monochrom offers over the others as everything is not as black and white as it seems. But this will be in PART 3 next week :)

If you have not yet read part one and part two of this ongoing Monochrom review then you should :) This is officially “part 2.5″ because part three was supposed to be the comparisons. I am not finished with those just yet so I added this in as an in between review post. After a while with this camera I am seriously enjoying it because it does have some serious charm. In past installments I spoke about how you can get any look you desire from this camera. Contrasty, flat, or however you like it. I also went around the internet and looked up over a thousand film images and after seeing some of the work from Kristian Dowling and his Monochrom I concluded that yes indeed, for me, this camera can easily and does easily take the place of any 35mm film. I will have those yelling at me over that statement but look at the key words..”for me”..it is what it is and nothing will change my mind. 

Would I rather save $6500 and buy an M6 and hundreds of rolls of film? Me? No because that would limit me to whatever ASA is in my camera. It would limit me to 36 images per roll. It would cost me quite a bit of cash to have all of those processed and scanned. If I scanned myself I would have to spend money on a very good scanner and spend hours per roll scanning. Then they would need to be tweaked anyway. For what I shoot and my style I just do not have  the desire to go through all of that again. Film has a special place, and I enjoy it every now and then but with this Monochrom available and in my hands I just would not go back to film except to shoot the occasional roll here and there.

A Quick Sneak Peek – Leica Monochrom vs Leica M9 at ISO 320 – Click for full 100% crop. OOC results are scary similar but noise is where it is at. THIS IS NOT FOR SHARPNESS! This was hand held, indoor low light. This is to show tonality and ISO at 320. ISO at 320 on the M9 = ISO 2000 on the MM. 

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Infrared with the Hoya R72 FIlter

Infrared photography is something I have always been interested in but never really tried it when shooting film. I experimented with it years ago with a Sony F707 digital camera and again with a Minolta Dimage 7 but was never happy with my results. So why not try it again? Not all cameras can shoot IR and many photographers end up converting their digital cameras so that can shoot like this.

Many have told me that you can not shoot IR with the Monochrom but I had to try. I bought a couple of IR filters and the one that gets me the results is the Hoya R72. I bought one to fit my 35 Lux FLE and gave it a shot. One thing to remember when shooting with these filters is that if you focus normally with your Monochrom your image will be severely back focused. It is a hit or miss and you will also need a tripod. The key is to focus a few feet in front of your subject. I have not shot too much with this filter yet but hope to do more soon.

Greens to white :)

So the Monochrom is basically a camera that will appeal to a select few. A few who have the funds to sink into it as well as the hardcore dedicated B&W shooters who salivate at the thought of a B&W only camera that allows them to concentrate on their vision more than anything else.

Part 3 will be up really soon with comparisons between the M9, OM-D, NEX, etc. The Mono with straight RAW files and the others with converted color files. The M9 is easily capable to shoot B&W but the main #1 difference between the M9 and Mono is the noise levels. ISO 320 on the M9 looks like ISO 2000 on the Mono. This opens up possibilities for night shooting but how will the new M be with noise? With ISO 6400 capability the new M may be really good at 3200 but the Mono goes up to 10,000 and is usable at that speed.

Those who are interested in the Mono just need to know it is a back to basics as  you can get.

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Some amazing Monochrom imagery by Kristian Dowling

Kristian and I have been chatting through e-mail for quite a while now and after he wrote the article about the Noctilux I was blown away with what he could do with an M. Just so happens he was out shooting the Monochrom as well and he has allowed me to share some of his images here. I am so itching to go take a trip with my Mono soon but Kristian is one of those photographers I respect, admire and hope to be as good as someday. You can check out his website HERE. These shots below are all MASTERFUL photographs.

Jul 292010
 

I had a few more requests for some comparisons with the Sony NEX 5 at low ISO and high ISO. So, since I am against shooting charts and graphs I decided to shoot my favorite macaroni and cheese :) All images are straight out of camera JPEGS, starting with ISO 200 from the NEX-5, then Leica X1 and then the Olympus E-P2. Then after those three it will be going into an SO 3200 image from each. These are all JPEG only.

YOU MUST CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO SEE  THE FULL SIZE OUT OF CAMERA VERSIONS!

1st up, ISO 200 from the Sony NEX-5 – Kit Zoom lens at F4.5 – 24mm which is 36mm equivalent

Leica X1 – ISO 200 – F4 – 24mm which is 36mm equivilant

and now the Olympus E-P2 – ISO 200 – f4.3 – 20mm which is 40mm equivalent (14-150 zoom)

Now, ISO 3200 from each…

Sony NEX-5 – ISO 3200 – MUST CLICK IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE JPEG

LEICA X1 – F4 – ISO 3200

Olympus E-P2 – ISO 3200

Ok, now I am hungry so I am off  to go cook this up and have some lunch :)

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