Exposure strategry ... some thoughts (qualitty versus artistic)

posted on 23rd of november, 2010

I too often stuff up photo opportunities by not being prepared in the excitement of a chance to photograph something new, exciting or shiny!
If you are quality obsessed then you will likely try and have the lowest ISO, and struggle to accept a hopelessly shallow aperture and an exposure that will be hard to hand hold. Then you iterate through compromising on faster ISO while you watch/realise how your overall quality will plummet. It is comforting that noise artefacts are not as terminal from modern sensor and tools exists to clean images up. However at long last I am learning to be realistic and as a result do not have to delete as many shots. The basic rules that I am trying to follow is:

For "quality":
•Aperture of the lens sweet spot (check out and look at the MTF charts for the lens you are using)
•1 over the focal length is probably all you can hand hold
•if the object is moving speed the exposure up ("freezing action" exposures need at least 1/500th of second depending on lens, etc however being overly fast helps!)
•if you are moving speed it up even more
•if both are moving make it quite fast
•auto ISO to pick up the slack (I don't let is slip to be too fast)
•wait for more light
•shoot RAW to recover blown highlights, greater dynamic range, better colour control, etc
•I like the concept of the exposure triangle where ISO, aperature and exposure are corners and you need to balance your compromise,
•For long exposure I use the on camera 2 or 10 second delay and if it is particularly sensitive also lockup the mirror.
•Bracket exposures to ensure the high and low tones are well represented (use HDR if will add)
•I typically shoot controlling the aperture (Canon = Av, Nikon = A) while there is a lot of light and allow the camera to change the exposure time and ISO. If either of the camera controlled parameters fall outside an acceptable
range I open the aperture or fix the ISO. Then when the light starts fading and I am worried about camera shake or moving subjects I switch to exposure mode (Canon = Tv, Nikon = S). If light is too low I use the flash but prefer to use ambient light where I can.
•Review photos often and check the parameters and returning good results.
•For "artistic":
oWide open (f 2.8 or as fast as the lens goes), zoomed in for narrow depth of field
•Some rules of thumbs that are:
orepresent motion:
- Waterfall (1/2 sec or more depending on how fast flowing) -streaky appearance
- Car lights (4 sec or more depending on how busy) - Lights streak like
- Moving hands (1/4 sec) Blurred from motion
- Strong wind in trees (1 sec) Blurred swaying leaves and branches)
- Rain (1/60th) Leaves pleasing drop trails
oPanning moving objects:
- if I don't mind taking a few hundred images and end up with none that really work (1/8th second or faster)

•Use a neutral density filter to allow longer exposure times
•wait for less light or wake up earlier the following day
•Try to think less and shoot more

I seem to have an internal battle between defending quality and pursuing an artistic aspect. I am getting better at choosing what aspect to follow but I still have a long way to go. The other factor that always plays in the back of my mind is what do the DT photo editors like. I need to consciously decide who I am shooting for before I start so that I don't end up in the middle road and leave no one happy.

I have read a lot and have a lot of theory floating around in my head but need to try and turn it into habits by using it more and hopefully one day thinking less!

A great easy read is "Understanding Exposure book" by Bryan Peterson. I have taken some of the recommended numbers from this book

I'd be interested to hear of others internal battles and habits that are used to get more consistent/pleasing results.

Comments (13)

Posted by Defess on January 13, 2011
Thank you for your excellent article!
Posted by FabioConcetta on December 08, 2010
Interesting blog!
Posted by Mpalis on November 25, 2010
Nice article
Posted by Bevanward on November 24, 2010
Thanks all for your kind comments. Gmargittai thanks for taking the time to explain your process.

Point taken that the DOF comments were over simplified - for separation from background I can see that it is a key concept. I was mainly referencing very shallow DOF where only part of a single subject is well in acceptable focus. Like I say I still need to make this all second nature ... take care Bevan
Posted by Infotrontof on November 24, 2010
Great post .. thanks.

shoot RAW to recover blown highlights, greater dynamic range, better colour control, etc

True... I've come to realise this in the past few months ;)
Posted by Gmargittai on November 24, 2010
Interestingly maybe because I worked many years on film I fix the ISO first. Usually at 200 and sometimes when light is weak at 400 or even 800 in rare cases.

Then I set the mode on P (program mode) where the camera picks the optimal aperture speed combination. It is quite smart as it also knows the focal length and adjust accordingly. Longer focal length requires shorter exposure. If I am not happy with the automatic selection, there is a ring which I can move (left or right) to change decrease/increase the aperture and correspondingly the exposure.
I do this when I want more/less depth of field. When the DOF does not matter that much I try to bring the aperture close to its optimal point, between f5.6 and f8 one gets the best sharpness. But the camera also "knows" this and picks these apertures from the start.

And finally I can override the exposure also with the same ring (another mode) for extra white or dark scenes. One can use the bracketing function too.

It is best to...(More)
Posted by Sobek85 on November 24, 2010
nice article
Posted by Yuritz on November 24, 2010
great tips and photos too!
Posted by Shopartgallerycom on November 24, 2010
Great info and fantastic shots!
Posted by Shopartgallerycom on November 24, 2010
Great info and fantastic shots!
Posted by smartview27 on November 24, 2010
Interesting photos!
Posted by Arim44 on November 23, 2010
Thanks for sharing the info.
Posted by Javierespuny on November 23, 2010
Pretty post and great pictures! Thanks for sharing

Comments (13)

This article has been read 1471 times. 3 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Bevanward.

About me

I moved to Adelaide, Australia in 1978 from Auckland, New Zealand, as a child. Raised in Townsville, North Queensland, I left home to work in Central Australia where I first became interested in photography as a field geologist. From there I took a role in Johannesburg, South Africa, returned to Australia to marry, moved to Santiago, spent five years there in the capital of Chile and since have moved back to Brisbane, Australia where I am now based. I live with my wife of eight years and our three year old son. I have spent the past 10 years travelling all over the world and as part of my trav... [Read more]

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