Putting It All Together - Capturing Your Story (Part 4)

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We’ve been talking about the exposure triangle and how to use manual mode to take better control of our cameras. It’s an especially important skill that goes hand-in-hand with mom’s who normally take the mantle of being the heart of the home.

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Not to diss dad at all, but many times moms are the family narrators. They take on the responsibility of collecting, displaying, and preserving the family history, sometimes even delving into sites like ancestry.com to rebuild what was lost. All the imagery she assembles records the beautiful relationships of the family she loves and eventually is handed down to her children for future generations.

With that said, sometimes, adding a camera to that mix can get technical. But it’s worth it when it comes to your family’s story!

Since the aperture, shutter, and ISO are the building blocks of the exposure triangle, once those are familiar, the journey to storytelling is inevitable.

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Setting them involves a bit of math as discussed in my previous post. But, photography is a game of light. So, the triangle needs a helper to determine how much light is needed for a subject.

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And like a good climax in any story, enter the light meter...

The Light Meter

When you take a shot (or an exposure), in manual mode, you want to tell your camera where to take a reading of the light falling on your subject. I like to think of it as giving the camera a baseline. Your camera is a highly capable piece of equipment. But, it’s not as smart as you are. However, if you tell it where to place your lights and darks, it can arrange a great photo for you.

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In most digital cameras, the light meter itself usually looks like a horizontal or vertical line with a center of 0 and an indicator to show you the value that meter is registering at any given time for light. For most modern digital cameras, you can see it in the viewfinder and/or on your camera’s screen.

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Many times along the line there are a number of tick marks with the center tick mark (0) being bolder or longer than the others to designate the midpoint. In my camera, the meter goes from -3 to +3. When you point the camera at any given subject, if your camera is in manual, it will take a reading and the indicator will move accordingly to show you how much light the camera believes is falling on your subject. When the camera’s indicator rests on 0, it is reading the light falling on your subject as about 18% grey.

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In most modern digital cameras, there is also a way to tell your camera /how/ you want to meter for the light. You may want to meter light mostly in the center of your frame (like center-weighted), or in a broad way across the frame (like an average or evaluative measurement), or a more pinpointed, more specific way in the frame (like spot-metering across a few pixels). To find out how to set your camera’s light meter for one of these modes, consult your camera’s manual. While all cameras that have a manual mode share certain basic features, getting to the settings themselves can vary.

Whichever way you tell the camera how to meter, when you point the camera at your subject, your camera wants to spit out 18% grey. It feels that’s the safest way to get you a good exposure. Using that indicator, it will go up and down that scale saying, “Nope that’s too light.” or, “Oops that’s too dark.” Until it can lead you to dial in settings that it likes around that 0 midpoint, it just won’t be very happy. So, many times, you will need to find that midpoint using your exposure triangle to adjust the cameras settings. Then, you may need to /lie/ to the camera, or override it to get the actual exposure you really want.

A good way to start off with your light meter is to determine which parts of your photo are the brightest areas and darkest areas so that when you take a photo, you can use that to determine the best light reading for your subject. For instance, let’s say in a spot-metering mode, you point your camera at the brightest area in the shot. Well, as soon as you do that, your indicator will act as though it wants to jump off the deep end toward the positive side of the meter. If you take a photo like that, your photo’s brightest areas will appear blown out- all white with no information in your digital photo. This can also happen if it’s indicating that it wants to jump off the negative end except those areas will appear very dark and have little to no detail. If these are important parts areas of your photo like the snow angel your daughter has made or your black fur baby playing with your son, you want to preserve them. So, you may need to adjust your aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings until the indicator registers 0 for the time being. Once it has calmed down, you can tell the meter, “Well, that area is a little brighter than that. I want that to be set at +2 actually. But that’s as high as you go for that reading.” So, you can readjust your triangle’s settings to show that. When you’ve corrected the camera’s thinking, you can get a better photo where you get as much information as possible and a much better quality of an image. Note that in some cameras, you can also use an exposure compensation dial to do this while in manual.

But, to remind you, to manipulate the triangle means you will likely have some trade offs.

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Attempt to trade off in keeping with the story. If the most important part of the story requires you to freeze motion, try to rearrange the other aspects of the triangle so that you can keep the shutter speed you need to freeze it. If your story requires an isolation of your subject, manipulate the parts of the triangle that allow you to keep a wide aperture. Sure, your photo may be grainier because your ISO is high....or you may need a tripod to lessen camera shake.

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It can be a good amount of effort. But it’s all for the family narrative that you are building, and that’s priceless.

Now, when you take out your camera of choice, you mean business. You don’t just want to point and shoot anymore. Now, you want to tell your story.

Being a narrator in this sense means knowing how to tell a compelling story, visually. When we can show this through our photographs, even our everyday experiences and adventures become richer.

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When we can get control of our tools, we can tell a much more accurate and beautifully rendered picture of our families that shows why we love them so much.

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Of course, for those times you want to focus on the family and be in the frame, don’t forget to get in touch. I’ll be here with my camera. ;)

I just loves a happy ending.