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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Universal Exposure Strategy


How to harness the power within your camera and your eye to get perfect exposures for every kind of lighting situation

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Here's an example. Let's say I spot-meter the shadowed foreground foliage at 1⁄4 sec., ƒ/16. I set that exposure on the camera in manual-exposure mode. Next, I spot-meter the bright mountains and get 1⁄30 sec., ƒ/16—a three-stop difference. My first exposure will render the foreground flowers perfectly, but place the background mountains three stops over midtone, which makes them pale and washed out. I want to place them about one stop over midtone. They're a highlight, after all, so they should be a little brighter than midtone. One stop over midtone is two stops darker than they will be rendered in the first frame, so I set my auto-bracketing interval to two stops and fire away. The first frame will be exposed at 1⁄4 sec., ƒ/16, giving me perfect flowers, and the second will be two stops darker at 1⁄15 sec., ƒ/16, giving me perfect mountains.

This complicated procedure is only necessary if something is moving within the frame. If not, I use the Universal Exposure Strategy. But, what if your camera limits you to a three-frame bracket set? Here's a tip for efficiently shooting a five-frame bracket with a camera that only will do a three-frame bracket at one time:

Set bracketing to three frames with a one-stop bracket interval.
Set exposure compensation to +1.
Shoot three frames, which will give you the series 0 exposure compensation, +1 and +2.
Now set the exposure compensation to -1 and shoot three frames.

That gives you the sequence -2, -1 and 0 (again). You'll have one duplicate frame (the metered exposure, 0 exposure compensation). Discard the duplicate, and you have a five-frame bracket set with a one-stop bracket interval.

When I returned home from my shoot, I experimented with different approaches to processing my five-frame bracketed sets. I finally resorted to Photomatix, with further processing in Photoshop, to produce the result I wanted. By employing the Universal Exposure Strategy, I had the freedom to choose, after the fact, whichever exposure strategy gave me the ideal rendering of an amazing sunrise I never expected to see.

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