Chapter 12 of Pet Photography For Fun (Part One) !

Hi There. Time to publish another chapter from my book on the blog.
This is Part One of Chapter 12. I’ll publish Part Two next week. Enjoy! ~ Susie Ley

Chapter 12


Well we’re not actually holding on for dear life when we set our exposure, but it is tricky. I have therefore broken it down into two chapters. This one is for beginners who want to have fun and the next is for serious photographers who are too busy being serious to remember that exposure is fun. (OK, that’s an exaggeration – anyone who thinks exposure is fun really needs to get a life.)

But there is a message here. When you first start photographing, every picture you take is wonderful and you are creating in the moment enjoying every image you make.

However, as you attempt more difficult shots, everything goes to heck and pretty soon, every day is a bad hair day.

But don’t worry. Your hair will fall into place once you master the rules for exposure. But don’t tell the pros that. They’re about to photograph your camel noshing down grain with Jenny and they think making this image will be easy once they set their exposure.

This means we can stand back and watch their confidence change into haggard disbelief when the animals begin to move. A few more clicks, and they’ll suddenly remember that Aunt Harriet is having open heart surgery in ten minutes and they have to go.

Well, if they think open-heart surgery is tough, they should stay and make some animal images. It’s way tough, which is the reason we’re easy on ourselves as we progress through the learning curve.

The hard part isn’t exposure; it’s capturing the action in front of the lens. But you can do that because you already understand your animal subjects and you know where they are likely to be hangin’ out.

I’m not saying that most professional photographers can’t create great animal images. I’m just saying they usually don’t photograph animals, which means they lack the critical ingredient for success – experience with the subject matter. The best exposure techniques in the world are no substitute for understanding your animal and its behavior.

I’m exaggerating again, but it does a lot for your confidence, doesn’t it? If you are a beginner, and lucky enough to be using a mid-range or high-end digital, you can coast with exposure, and let the computer inside the camera do all the math while you concentrate on composition and background issues. This means that as long as you know what you need to tell the camera, it will set the proper exposure for you.

That’s right. You can concentrate on your subject matter and let the camera do the thinking when it comes to exposure. If you are an intermediate to advanced photographer, skip to Chapter 13.

Basics for Beginners

Start by flipping to the section in your manual that explains the icons on your command dial. You need to read and memorize what each icon setting does, and then practice using each one. Depending on how many features your camera has, there may also be icons for night, landscape and macro photography, but master the sport and portrait icons first because those are the two icons you will use the most when you are photographing animals.

Each time you make an icon choice, you are telling the computer in the camera what kind of photograph you are making so the computer can set the exposure.

If you are photographing animals in action, put the dial on the SPORTS icon.

If you are taking a close-up, put the dial on the PORTRAIT icon.

If you are not sure how to set exposure, put the dial on the GREEN ICON which represents the fully automatic mode.

To understand how your camera computer comes up with the correct auto exposure, pretend for a moment that your camera is a bucketful of paint.

All the light you see pours through the lens into the bucket where the computer blends it all together. As the colors (or tonal values if you are shooting black and white) mix, the color that is produced is 18% (middle) gray. It’s about the color of your favorite dolphin, but more importantly, it is the color camera meters are calibrated to produce with every exposure.

So why, since you are a charter member of the “Let’s Have Fun Club,” do you have to know this stuff?

Because the meter wants to produce 18% middle gray with every exposure. It doesn’t discriminate among the different objects in the scene. It doesn’t give more importance to the tonal values of one object over another. This works well as long as there is a good balance of tones from light to dark, but with animal and people photography, we usually don’t care about all the light in the scene; we care about the light falling on the subjects.

………..stay tuned, and next week I’ll publish Part Two which gives examples of common problems the camera meter, when left on auto exposure, exposes incorrectly, and how to solve them.

Good shooting!


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