How To Set Your Meter To Achieve Correct Animal Color: Part Two

If you didn’t read the last blog, read it now. Otherwise, this blog will make about as much sense as snow in July.

How To Set Your Meter To Produce Correct Animal Color: Part One, by Susan Ley, Photographer and Author of Pet Photography For Fun.

So were you able to answer the quiz at the end of that blog?

Hope so! Because I’ve written quite a few blogs on exposure and it’s clearly time to move on.

And we can. But just be sure you have the concepts for good exposure nailed down before you do. The best pose, the best animal, the best action, the best show image, the best pet image…every one of them will end up on the cutting room floor if your exposure is off.

So let’s answer that quiz question and put this exposure series to bed.

The question was how to set our meter for black subjects.

In the last blog, we learned that when we photograph a bright white subject, the meter, which is calibrated to produce 18% (middle) gray, reads all the light and says, “Yikes! This scene is too bright! I need to shut out some of this light to achieve 18% (middle) gray.” When the meter shuts down, the white subject receives even less exposure and is rendered gray white in the final image.

The answer for fine tuning exposure of black or white animals is counterintuitive. You would think that to get the correct exposure of a dark  animal you would need to open up the aperture to add more light, and to get the correct exposure of a white animal, you would need to take away some light. Just the opposite is true. To get a true white, we open up the aperture (add light) so that the white subject receives more exposure and comes out white and not gray white. To get a true black, we close down the aperture (subtract light) so that the animal receives less exposure and comes out a true black and not gray black.

As always, it is easier to see the concept in photographs.

Both images were exposed at a shutter speed of 250th of a second, but in the first image the black horses are brown because they were given too much exposure (f11).

In the second image, I shut down the aperture one stop to f16 (took away one stop of light from the exposure) to ensure that the black horses were recorded on the file as true black.

So now you’ve got the whole enchilada. Remember that our shutter speed, the other variable in setting the correct exposure for this exercise, stays at 250th of a second to stop the movement of the animals. This makes it easier because you only have to deal with one variable, the aperture setting. Now you can run some tests on your black subjects to find the sweet spot that works best for your images. Take notes. Next time you’ll have your notes to refer to and you won’t have to fiddle with your settings.

So one last quiz. How do you set your camera meter if you are photographing a dark and a white animal together?

Well that’s easy, right? We meter for the light, we meter for the dark and set our aperture value for in between.

*Note for those super serious advanced photographers out there.

Yes, there is a lot of controversy about the calibration of meters to 18% middle gray. With digital and the introduction of digital histograms, the argument has been put forth that the true calibration of meters is now 12% and not 18%. So far, it’s been a discussion among geeks about super technical concepts that do not add anything to the issue at hand unless you are photographing products where the exact color of the product is essential. We’re animal photographers shooting outside. Whether the meter is exposing for 18% (middle) gray, or 12%, we are still left with the basic premise that camera meters are calibrated to produce middle gray so the concepts discussed above still apply. Remember my most important rule to keep it simple. Let the geeks tear out their hair over 18% or 12% gray. We’ll be out in the field having fun.

Good shooting!


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