Getting Good Exposures: 10 Dos and Don’ts

Getting consistently good exposures with a digital camera is not as easy as manufacturers would have you believe. While the metering systems in today’s cameras are extremely accurate in a wide variety of situations, it still takes some practice and experience to get good exposures every time. And as most experienced photographers know, there are some subjects — like high contrast scenes or backlit portraits — that are particularly tough.

Below are 10 tips that will increase your percentage of good exposures. But remember, a “good” exposure isn’t just one where the lights are darks are exposed correctly; often the best exposures are intentionally skewed in one direction or another in order to get images that reflect your interpretation of that scene.

With that thought in mind, here are 10 things you can do to get better exposures with virtually any digital camera:

1. DO read your camera’s manual. It’s the only book that was written expressly for the camera that you own.

2. DO take lots of pictures. Photography is a learn-by-doing process and if you’re shooting digitally (which, of course you are!) there’s no film to buy.

3. DO feel free to leave a new camera in the “Program” mode while you’re getting used to it. Better to shoot pictures right away than to avoid the camera because of all the options. Experiment with “scene” specific modes, too, like the landscape or portrait modes, to see how they improve your images. The landscape mode, for example, automatically chooses the best exposure setting, but gives preference to selecting a small aperture that in turn creates more depth of field (near-to-far sharpness).

4. DON’T be afraid to experiment with camera controls. Again, just read the manual and have fun. Short of dropping it on concrete, you can’t hurt the camera. Virtually all cameras have a reset menu choice that will return all camera settings back to the factory specs. If not, just pop out the battery for a second and you’re back to ground zero.

5. DO print your pictures frequently. That way, you can see your mistakes and successes more clearly. There’s nothing like seeing a nice 8 x 10 of a great shot to boost your confidence.

6. DON’T shoot all of your photos at high noon. Get up early and stay out late; daylight changes constantly and often in dramatic ways. The color of daylight is constantly changing and shooting at different times of day will provide nice variety.

7. DO avoid overly contrasty situations. You’ll have a higher rate of successes if you wait for the light and contrast to soften up a bit. Try working in the first two hours after sunrise and before sunset–photographers refer to these times as the golden hours. Contrast fools even the best meters (and photographers) and the more you avoid it, the more good photos you’ll get.

8. DO look at the work of other photographers. Study how greats like Ansel Adams handled difficult situations. Remember: What you see and what your camera sees are often two different things. Learn to see the world as your camera sees it and your success rate will soar.

9. DO use a tripod as often as you can. A tripod is the single most useful photo accessory you will ever own. Don’t own one? Buy one.

10. DON’T be afraid to experiment with extreme exposures. Try long shutter speeds, very fast shutter speeds, etc. Push the creative envelope!

[tags]digital photography, photography tips[/tags]

3 Responses to “Getting Good Exposures: 10 Dos and Don’ts”

  1. I found that's what great about the digital can keep taking snapshots unitl you get the right exposure...I pretty much just shoot in manual these days...

  2. Interesting.. I get the impression that the majority of digital snappers truly believe that "Auto" can give them consistently good pictures, when in reality I'd say that one really does need to learn the art of photography as well. Once the basic principles have been learnt then of course the sky's the limit..

  3. Great, simple pointers. Thanks for the reminders Jeff. Well written.

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