A photographer should understand exposure!

October 29, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


My name is Greg Mitchum with Greg Mitchum Photography. I am located in San Marcos, Texas. As I have been shooting photography for a few years, I am always on the hunt to understanding photography. That's what all photographers should strive for in this art. The understanding, knowledge and patients it take to become a great photographer.

Disclaimer- As a photographer I understand that the evolution of software and advancements if products always provide alternate options. However, the basic understanding is photography will always be the first steps in becoming a master in your art.


As stated in the title above, a photographer should understand exposure. 

Definition of exposure

1:the fact or condition of being exposed: such as

           a :the condition of being presented to view or made known


So what this mean, when a camera shutter and aperture are set in manual, or the camera is in auto setting, the photographer click to expose either on film or sensor the image of the scene. 


However, our eyes as humans are designed to see multiple exposures at  once. We are able to see a number of level of highlights, midtone and shadows at the same time as we look at a scene or subject. But as a photographer, you know that when you click the camera, the image is never what you see. So lets dive into and explore the situation and my method I do to create an image. 


While at Enchanted Rock in Texas, with my wife on a hike. I wanted to get a sunset shot of the area. As a photographer, I always explore with enough time to find the best spot that I want, but also set up for the right composition. I look for the foreground, mid-ground and background combination. Giving enough time, to locate these aspects help improve the information of the image your taking as a photographer to the viewer or client.

So I set up halfway up the hike of the large rock and found a spot that will allow me to show the rock that I was on as the foreground, The next hill at the top of the Park as the Mid- ground and the sunset as the background. I position my camera on the tripod and positioned in low to the rock about a foot high. Using a wide angle lens, I was ready about 30 minutes until image gathering time.


As the sun began to set, I was now looking to gather my image or should i say images. 

Enchanted rock under exposed


However as being exposed to the sunset, even though I could see all aspect through my eyes, the camera gather the information and this was the shot that I got. This image shows that light of the sun setting as its highlights with the best exposure of the sky. But the shadows and mid tone are lost to not know what the scenes full potential is.

So I re adjusted the exposure and quickly took my shot.

Over exposed shot of Enchanted Rock sun set


With just a few seconds later in time, and re adjusting the shots was taking to expose for the foreground and mid-ground. However as I go to brighten the view of the shot, this causes the highlight of the shots which in this case is the sunset to blow out. With the blow of all the details are lost. Now this shot you can make out way more information of what the true nature of the shot is to be. But, the shot is still lacking the defined back ground and the over all rich red that the naked eye is seeing.


So I readjust to take an image that is exposed between the two. This would make since that if you combine the two it should be the best of two worlds. But that's not how it always work. 


Mid tones of Enchanted rock


Now we are close to what I am seeing from my naked eye. But as you look through the other image in this post you will see defined areas that are not in this shot. Yes you can make out some of the sky and yes the richness of the foreground shot is coming into color, I am starting to lose the mid-ground details. This is the options you have as a photographer. Adjust and gain, but adjust you lose. This is getting some details and losing details. But even with the give and take, capturing a true shot is not always that easy. So why not combine the images.


I am not discussing HDR and bracketing the shot which allows you to get the best Highlights, mid-tones and Shadows and allow a program to combine them together to make a completely new highly detailed photograph that is great to view, but is never true in nature. No for me, I shoot three shots when doing Landscape image. 

  1. Exposed image of the Foreground as I see it with the naked eye.
  2. Exposed image of the Mid-ground as I see it with the naked eye.
  3. Exposed image of the Background as I see it with the naked eye.


I then transfer the images in one file to Photoshop to layer on top of each other. I then place the layer and rename the order of the positions that I want them in. I this case, I place the background in the back, then mid-ground,finishing up with foreground. I then layer mask the image that I want to work with so not to destroy my images.


Layer the shots then rename

Once I layer mask, I then paint using either black or white paint the ares that I want removed or replace to bring out the fun shot.

Layer mask and paint layers that you want removed.

As you paint out the ares to bring in the layer below, the true image what I was seeing becomes the spirit of the file that I am working with. Of course this can take a little time and there is quicker ways, but for me I enjoy the process.

Enchanted Rock- TexasEnchanted Rock- TexasUnderstanding Photography Light and exposure After combing the three images, I look at the final piece and see the true scene that I witness. The clean foreground, mid-ground and background are all combined to make one great shot. 


After this I will move my shots as always to light room for file tagging and data import. A quick watermark and my image is complete.


I wanted to pass this information on, not to show what I do for images, but to show case the understand of what the camera is doing as far as exposure. A professional photographer needs this information and knowledge to take great images regardless of the subject. This image above is what I do to make an artistic piece. However, understanding exposure will also help you when shooting other medias, like Graduation Photography sessions, Modeling or Glamour photography sessions and even weddings. Allowing an over exposed shot can create an element of greatness, happiness or accomplishment. Over exposed image can showcase power and energy. This is all opposite in under exposed image. But there is a place for such images. These could include artistic, mood setting, setting and coldness. 

A professional photographer should and needs to understand that exposure in it's self a way of telling a story. Not just having everything in view, but to express the feeling of the shot. An under exposed wedding photography image will dictate unhappiness and lost, But added a stop of exposure will create a positive energy that should be shown.

As I go through my shots and clients as a professional photographer, I am in constant flow of understanding the desire mood and the needed image to portray. Of course, I always take shots for the clients and myself. I love show casing and telling a number of stories with each photography session.


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