Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Ultimate Photographer's Goal: Get The Correct Exposure. Really?

I cover this topic in more detail in my new book, Right Brain Photography (Be an artist first). 

Are you sitting down for this? There is no "correct" exposure. There is only the right exposure, as defined by you. If you like the way your image looks, it's the right exposure. 

Many photographers gasp in disbelief when I tell them I don't look at my histogram. In fact, 
I have mine turned off. It gets in my way. Why? Because the histogram is driven by the camera's built-in light meter, and I don't trust it to give me the "look" I want. It is engineered to let me know when all tones are evenly distributed throughout the image, or not. Well, guess what? I usually do not want all tones evenly distributed throughout my images. That, to me, can look very boring and more like just a great snap shot.

This is part of being an artist first. I don't want a left-brain engineered graph to determine my desired creative aesthetics.

Here are some examples that illustrate what I mean. If I were to look at the histograms related to each of these images, they would all tell me, "Dude, you are way off!"

The histogram for this image says, "Whoa! You're way to the left toward the black side of things!" To get this result, I under exposed this scene by -2 stops!! In photography terms, that means I "under exposed" the image by 200% from what it "should be." Now you see why I ignore the histogram.

Using spot metering to create this, again, the histogram was scolding me! I'm glad I didn't     adjust my exposure to get the "correct" histogram.

Same story here. I spot-metered on the brightest part of this giant leaf, giving me
a -2.33 stops under exposure. When I offer my 1-on-1 lessons and tell my students
to under expose by 1-3 stops, they gasp, fearing the worst---until they see the results.

By now you know what the histogram looked like for this image. It said, "Are you crazy?" This too was at a -2.33 stops under exposed. I have gone as far as -3 stops for some of my images.

Now, this image would have come closer to satisfying the histogram. Which one would you choose? This is also closer to what it looked like to the naked eye. This is why I teach in my book to see with your imagination (see image above), not your eyes (image below).

My challenge to you is to go out and experiment with under exposures. Don't be afraid. Ignore what the books and pundits tell you-- just relax and go for it! Photography is more art than science. 

Contact me if you would like some 1-on-1 field lessons on how I combine technical know-how with creative aesthetics.