Many photographers understand the technical pursuit of photography. However, the key to making great photos is obviously more complex than calculating the proper exposure value. We all know that photography is subjective, and approaching art requires a trained eye. Today, we’ll look at how to approach exposure as a way to improve our creative process.
Today, we’re taking a look at how to expose creatively in two ways. The first of these is to understand the creative effect that manipulating the settings can have. Not all stops of light are created equal, and exposure is more artistic than simply balancing light. After mastering that aspect, we’ll take a look at some of the creative approaches toward making exposures. Many scenes can be exposed in a variety of ways depending upon the photographer’s vision.
Up until now, you may have always approached exposure from the technical perspective, carefully selecting settings to balance the exposure. If you moved the scale to adjust for a different shutter speed, you compensated with perhaps an aperture or ISO adjustment. Or, maybe you’re still using the automatic mode that does the heavy lifting of selecting settings for you.
This approach works “well enough.” But if you’re ever going to reach the level of controlling the exposure, you’ll need to choose settings proactively. That means approaching exposure with a vision in mind for the photo. This is what it means to visualize the outcome and then create it using the tools at your disposal.
By now, you’re probably familiar with the factors of the exposure triangle: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Unfortunately, too many beginners approach these three settings as if they’re equal. Sure, moving down a stop of aperture and up a stop of ISO will keep the exposure in balance, but there’s simply more to creating great photos than keeping light in balance.
Instead, a better way of approaching exposure is to consider the desired visual effect, having a clear mental image of how you want the final product to appear. Each of the three settings controls not only the light in the photo, but the way the camera “paints” the scene. If I approach a scene in which I wish to isolate the sharpness of one element, I’ll think in terms of aperture. If I want to convey a sense of motion, I immediately shift gears and consider a shutter speed that achieves just that.
During my early days of assisting and second-shooting for some amazing wedding photographers, one of the most impactful bits of advice that I remember receiving was to learn to think in terms of just one setting. That means thinking first in terms of the visual product, and of the settings as a subsequent choice.
If I wish to isolate the sharpness of one element, I’ll think in terms of aperture. If I want to convey a sense of motion, I immediately shift gears and consider a shutter speed that achieves just that.
The most talented wedding photographer that I ever shot with said that she thought strictly in terms of aperture. Sure, she would pay some attention to ensure the shutter speed was fast enough to avoid blur, but she had trained her eye to consider aperture. While she certainly had the technical prowess to shoot in full manual mode, I perceived that she was certainly a more free creative when she thought in terms of aperture; in terms of limiting the focus area using wide apertures.
This photo was only made possible by first having the visual idea of conveying a sense of motion, and then selecting a shutter speed that would create it. Photo by Forrest Lane.
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