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Perfect Exposure

Lesson 5 from: From Capture Through Edit Using Lightroom

Jared Platt

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Lesson Info

5. Perfect Exposure

In this lesson you will learn how to get the very best exposure from your camera by learning how it talks to you and what your camera is capable of doing.

Lesson Info

Perfect Exposure

Let's talk about getting a perfect exposure. Because if we're going to talk about editing photos in the computer, we first need to make sure that we have the best data that we can inside of the camera. And that's really what it is. Data. All you're doing when you're pointing your camera out into the world is you are looking at points of light and you're recording those points of light as points of data on the sensor inside of your camera and then that sensors recording all of those points of data and giving you some raw data and that raw data is then going to be interpreted by your computer. So if we are going to do this right, if we're gonna edit these photos, right, we need to make sure that we get a perfect exposure on the camera. Now, this is going to require you to do some fieldwork. Some tests and I really highly encourage you to watch this lesson and then go out and do some tests. I think that the perfect way for you to become a much better photographer when it comes to exposure...

is to go out and have a date with your camera. So you're going to go out and find out exactly how your camera talks to you, so that when you're out there and you're taking pictures and your camera is giving you feedback through, hissed a grams and highlight warnings and and exposure meters that you know what it is telling you. Because when you take those images back and you put him here inside of light room, you're gonna find that those images air speaking different languages in light room than they are in your camera. Your camera says something about them, and light room is going to tell you something a little different about those images on DSO. You have to learn what is the language or what is it my camera is trying to tell me when it it blinks at me and tells me there's an over exposure. How much exposure latitude can I get out of my camera? How much can I push my camera before it fails? That's what you're looking for. You're looking for that kind of information, and so we're going to talk about going out into the field and getting the best possible information. And then when we come back here into light room, we're going to start looking at that information and we'll compare Will compare what your camera has and what light room shows, and we'll see how your camera is actually talking to you. It's a really fascinating thing to Dio, and it's a lot of fun. Well, I guess I'm a little nerdy that way, but it's a lot of fun to do because I really get toe every time I get a new camera. I take that camera out on a date and I learned how that camera talks to me, and I get used to the camera and how it feels and what it's saying and how much latitude it has and how far I can push it. All of those kind of things come from taking your camera out on the date, so I want you to take a camera on the day, even if it's an old camera that you already know, take it out and do some tests because those tests are going to really give you the um it's going to give you the the construct or it's going to give you It's basically going to set up your relationship for the rest of your experience with the camera because now you'll know what your cameras saying when it says ex. Alright, so first things first. What is a perfect exposure now? A perfect exposure is not a a mountain of information. If you look at a hist a gram, um, that if the hissed a gram is a pile of information in the center and it doesn't clip on the left and it doesn't clip on the right. So you just see a mountain Andi that hissed a gram. Well, let's back up. Let's back up. And what is the history, Graham First, Ah, hissed a gram is a It's a graphical representation of what exposures are on the image. On any given image, you're going to see a hist a gram. So if you look at the image that I have in front of me right now on the screen, you will see up in the top right hand corner of the screen, a hist, a gram that tells us about that image. So I'm going to zoom into that hist a gram so that you can see the hissed a gram itself and you'll see that that hissed a gram has a peak on the left and and then it stops just before the right the right area. Here is all of your highlights, your bright, bright whites until it's literally nothing. It's paper, and then on the left you'll see where this peak is. You'll see that this is the shadows or the pure black. So there's pure black. There is pure white, and you can see that it's represented with an R G and B line, so that you can see that there's a lot more light blues in this photograph. And there's a lot more dark reds in this photograph. There's some bright highlights in the reds and the greens and the blues, but there's very little when it comes to, uh, any of it, right in the kind of the deep, dark shadows. But then, boom right here. The red, green and blue are exactly the same, almost in the deep, deep, dark shadows. So what does that look like in a photograph? Well, it looks like this. You can see that that peak of red, green and blue so that zits, basically a black area, is probably this doorway down in the bottom, Uh, middle of the photograph. It's just a black doorway. So what? It's represented in this little graphical peak at the black area here. And then you can see that the deeper reds there's a lot of red in the kind of the dark shadows. Well, where is that? Well, that's in the tiles Here it's in the warmth of the shadows. It's the warmth, the shadows down here. All of this building is very warm. And so you're you're getting a graphical representation of the shadows air very warm in this photograph. But then, when you look at the highlights, you see blue, the blue is much stronger. And where is that? Well, that's here in the sky. It's It's a nice, bright blue sky, and that's what you're seeing in that hissed a gram and then you're seeing a peak of red when it gets really bright. What is that? Well, that's the sunset you can see right off here in where the sun is setting. That sunset is represented here inside of this hissed a gram by these red peaks right here. Now, as your red, green and blue start to match together That means that it's a very neutral color, and if they don't match, then that tends to tell you that the red is more prominent or the blue is more prominent or the green is more prominent. That's a hist, a gram in a nutshell. Now what is a perfect instagram? A perfect instagram is not a and and some people will tell you this, and they're wrong. A perfect instagram is not a pile of stuff in the mid tones, like a mountain in the mid tones. And then it clips off right before black, and it clips off right before white so that there's no clipping and it's just a mountain in the middle. That is not a perfect hissed a gram, because every photograph is different. So the hissed a gram that I've just showed you here for. This photograph is perfect for this photograph because it looks like this photograph. So you're hissed. A gram is simply telling you what the photograph looks like so that you can get a proper exposure on the photograph. If you're photographing a polar bear in a snowstorm, then you should have mostly light gray to white, and then maybe a little peek of black when you see the nose and the two eyes and that's it, and everything else in the middle is going to be nothing. For instance, if I photograph a bride in a white dress on a white beach with a bright, uh, ocean behind her and white sky because there's lots of white clouds in it and there's just a little bit of black on a tree stump that's behind her, which is what this is. You can see that the hissed a gram looks like this, and that is a perfect hissed a gram for this particular photograph. So don't let anyone tell you that a hist a gram is perfect if quote unquote whatever, that's not true. Ah, perfect hissed A gram is whatever the photograph looks like, the graph should represent it. If there's lots of black and it's a really deep, dark photograph, then most of your hissed a gram should be in the gray and black area, and there should be very little in the highlights unless there are some bright windows. And then there should be a peak of brightness over on the right hand side of the hissed a gram, and in our case, on this photograph, there's very little on the shadows, and there's very little in the bright, bright, bright, bright whites. But everything's in that nice light gray toe white area on the right hand side of the hissed a gram, and that's a perfect exposure or a perfect hissed a gram for this photograph. So now that you know what a hist a gram is, and you know what a perfect exposure looks like and by the way a perfect exposure is one that does not clip out the necessary data. So you could. It could be said that a perfect exposure does not allow any whites to clip and does not allow any blacks to clip. But that's not necessarily true, either, because there are unimportant whites that we don't care about. And there are unimportant black areas that we don't care about, like, for instance, the door down in the middle of this photograph. We don't care what's in that door, and so if it's black and it clips doesn't matter. So fine. Let it go. If, on the other hand, there's a bright window in a photograph and it's blowing out and there's no information in it. But you don't care about what's out in that and often times, I would rather have the window blow out so that I don't see the 7 11 or the McDonald's. That's outside the window. So I'd rather it blow out so that if you're hissed, a gram is blowing out. If it's clipping in the highlights but the highlights you don't care about, then that's fine, too. So again, the important thing about a perfect exposure is that you know that the data you care about is inside the photograph and that there are no important data clipping. That's a perfect photograph. And then if we have that perfect hissed a gram, if we have a perfect exposure where we have all the data that is necessary in the photograph, then when we come to light room, weaken, nail it, weaken. Do amazing things with that photograph because we have the data. So you've got to learn to collect the data really well. You've gotta learn to read your history, Graham, and you gotta learn to read your highlight warnings and use your exposure meter, and that's what we're gonna talk about right now. First, let's talk about meat. Oring. Now in your camera, you have several different types of meters. You have a matrix meter, which kind of is an intelligent meter. That kind of reads different sections of your photograph. Um, and that meter is a good general meter. Um, if you're photographing kids and people and fast moving objects and you're you're moving around and changing a lot, that's a good meter system to use. Um, but if you're doing, say, landscape photography and and I want you if you're not familiar with meters, if you're not feeling familiar with light meter in your camera, the best way to get to know what that meter is saying is by using the spot meter, the spot meter Onley reads What's in the circle inside of the middle of your camera. So when I hold up my camera and I turn on my spot meter, I'm looking at a circle in the center of the frame and on Lee. What's in that center is being read on the meter that showing me I'm too bright, I'm too dark and really what your cameras trying to do is your camera wants to see middle gray in there. And so if I point my camera at something and that spot. So I turned to the spot meter and I point that spot at White Wall. And if I change my exposure, shutter speed after isso doesn't matter. Take your pick. If I change that exposure down so that that so the meter shows it in the middle, then that means that that spot, whatever that spot is, is that if it's on, a white wall is going to turn gray. It's telling you that whatever you've got that circle on is now middle gray. So if I want something to be a shadow like for instance, in our case, we went out to test and look at a mountainside, and that mountainside has highlights where the sun is hitting and shadows where the sun is not hitting. And so as I'm pointing my camera and I'm trying to find out what the proper exposure is, if I have my spot in the shadow and I start messing with the exposure and increasing or decreasing Um, my I S o r, my shutter speed or aperture, take your pick. You will see that the meter starts to drop down, and I want that shadow to be a dark shadow. I don't want it to be middle gray, because if it's middle gray, then everything else on the mountain and the sky are way too bright. So what I want is that to be a deeper shadow. So I'm going to allow it to be two stops darker, then middle gray, which means that the meter then moves down to that negative to position. So it zik Sklar X or two full stops, which every stop has three clicks on it. So a third of stop. So you're bringing that exposure down to stops, and that makes that shadow on that mountain dark. Because it's two stops lower than middle gray. You could go three stops lower than middle ground. It would be really rich, dark shadow. But two stops is about where I want it. So I pull it down into the to stop range, and now I know that if that shadow is correct, then most of the highlights are also correct. Now, when you're dealing with digital photography, the most dangerous thing that can clip, though, is the highlights. So when you're out testing with your camera and your in spot meter mode, point your meter at the brightest highlight. Usually, that's the highlight of a cloud like the crest, the high, the brightest part of a cloud. So point your spot at that cloud and then look where the meter is. Is the meter in a shadow or is it is it right in the middle? If it's in the middle, then that cloud is gonna be great. But if that if the meter tells you that the spot is two stops brighter, but it hasn't like clipped off the edge, it's not three stops or four stops. It hasn't gone off the edge of the meter. Then you know that you're okay, so get to know that meter and find out what that meters telling you first. That's the most basic understanding, and that's what we used to do with film. So or if you're you shooting with a DSLR, that's a really good way to quickly get a read on what kind of a scenario you have so that instead of taking picture and then looking to see whether it's exposed, just use the meter and point that spot meter at that cloud and get the cloud under control and make sure it's not more than 2.5 or three stops brighter than middle gray. And then you'll know that if you take that picture, the cloud will not blow out and everything else will be exposed in relationship to that cloud. If you have a white cloud, everything else should be good. Now, if you have a mirror lis camera, that means your cameras actually showing you what the exposure is gonna be before you even take the picture. Which means that that spot meters not quite as important. But I still wanted to show it to you so that you understood it. And you should get familiar with it because it is really a good educational tool. Just point at things and say, What is that? Okay, that's a black thing. So that's I'm I'm looking over at a black, uh, camera bag. And so if I point at that camera bag or in our case, when we pointed that shadow on that mountain, I don't want it to be middle gray. I want it to be shadow, so I move it into the position where I take shadow, then take the picture and you should see that the picture will look quite nice and the same thing. If you point at that cloud and and get a photograph and move that spot the meter that's inside that spot to the position that it should be. Is it brighter than gray? Is it darker than gray? You will then find that that photo the resulting photo is correct. Now, if you're using that Marylise camera, you can turn on your hissed a gram while you're looking through the viewfinder. So if I'm looking through the viewfinder at the mountain and I have the hissed a gram on, then you can actually see what my exposure increasing, Decreasing my ISO shutter speed or aperture. Take your pick. You'll see that the hissed a gram starts to shift, and that's even more useful, especially if you have that RGB settings on your hissed a gram because now you can actually see whether the hissed a gram is starting to get too close to the highlights and gonna blow the highlights. Or you can shift it back down and see whether it's going to get too dark and what you want to do is you want to take a picture of that mountain where all of the important data which in this case is all of it, is captured correctly. And so we're going to look by shifting him up and shifting him down so overexposed and under exposed and watch the hissed a gram move. Then the question is, what's the best version of it? Because in our case, we're looking at a mountain that doesn't have to deep a shadow, and it doesn't have a super bright highlight. And so the entire thing could be exposed correctly in the middle of the hissed, a gram without losing a highlight or a shadow, which is perfect because I only really need one photo, even though I played around with an HDR, and we'll talk about HDR a little bit later. But what I want you to do in your test is I want you to go in and photograph. So go and play with that, hissed a gram and watch it move. And if you're using a DSLR, you're gonna take a picture, figure out whether or not you've got it correctly exposed, and then I want you to go down and completely under expose it so that your hissed a gram and your meat oring system all says this is way to dark, super dark. And then I want you to take a picture. And then I want you to increase the exposure. Maybe just by a third, to stop every time, maybe by a full stop every time. But I want you to start it dark, and then I want you to move up the exposure, keep increasing the exposure and it's great toe. Use a tripod for this test because then you'll have the same picture every single time, so under expose it and then start moving up. Increase the exposure by a third or a full stop every time until it gets so over exposed that the entire thing is just the entire hissed. A gram has just blown off the right hand side. So you start with the instagram way over here on the left hand side, and then you just brighten it up until it's all the way over on the right hand side so that you know that you have gotten every possible exposure between way too dark and way too bright. Now that's gonna be the way that you learn how your camera talks to you. Because later on, we're gonna come back into the studio. We're gonna look at what the camera says about that situation, and we're gonna look at what light room says about the images that we put into light room and they're gonna tell two different stories. And that's how we're gonna learn what our camera actually says when it's warning us of things. Now, the third thing that you have to get to know on this, uh, this date with your camera is you have to get to know what the warning sign means. So if you turn on the highlight warnings on your camera, they're going to blink at you. If something is overexposed on your camera, this sky or a person's face or the hair, it's gonna it's gonna blink. So when you hit play on the image, it's gonna blink at you, and it's going to tell you this thing. Whatever this thing is is overexposed. In our case, As we take the picture, you'll notice that the highlight warning starts blinking at us when the sky gets over exposed. We don't want that to happen. But we gotta get to know when our cameras being accurate about that warning or when it's just saying the sky is falling too early. Because if we ever get into a circumstance where we have a sunset and we have, you know, dark clouds and then we have ah, you know, sun coming through the clouds and we and when we have a really contrast ing situation, then we need to be able to expose it as bright as possible without clipping the highlights that are important. And so we have to get to know what our cameras saying when it starts blinking at us, because sometimes the camera actually tells you your skies blown out and it's not, and the reason for that is this. Your camera is showing you on the back screen, so when you hit play on your camera, your camera is not showing you a raw image. You took a raw image, but it's showing you a J peg representation of that image. It is also reading the JPEG, making the hissed a gram, and it is reading the JPEG to make the highlight warnings. Well, a raw image has this much latitude and a JPEG has this much latitude. And so a J peg is gonna seem mawr contrast e The highlights are gonna be brighter. And the shadows, they're gonna be darker. And so your camera is gonna warn you about this J peg overexposure way before the raw image actually has a problem. So you need to get to know what your camera is saying and how much more latitude you have in the raw image, some cameras, it's gonna be one stop, that's all you got some. It's gonna be two thirds of a stop. So as soon as it starts blinking, you've got two thirds of stop before your you're gonna have a problem with that file. But in more modern cameras, like they are five, I find that I have almost two full stop sometimes leaving a little bit more than that off latitude before I lose the ability to bring back that highlight. Even though my camera was shouting at me, saying this sky is over exposed by blinking at me. So I need to get to know every camera that I use so that I know exactly what it's saying when it blinks at me, that's all we're going to dio. So go out and test your camera because you're going to come back into your studio and you're gonna look at the images on your camera's screen and those same images in your computer, and that's going to help you get to know your camera and exactly what the best possible exposure is. Because in the end, the brighter the image is the mawr. Information the cleaner the file is. You ever noticed that you have, ah, lot of noise in your shadows. That's where the noise always ends up being. So when you brighten up in image that's too dark, it tends to have all the color noise and all the graininess in the shadows. But the highlights look really nice. That's because the highlights have all the data. There's more data and information in the in the highlights from From You Know, mid Gray on. There's just a whole bunch of information, but the shadows. There's not a lot of information in them, and so as you brighten them up, they get they kind of get ugly, so your preference would be to take a shot that its's bright as possible without clipping the highlights. That way, you have really clean, great information. You can always darken it back down, but brightening it up brings up those shadow noise issues. So we want to know what your camera saying so that you could brighten something up is bright as you possibly can without clipping something. That way, you can be informed about what you're doing when you're taking the picture. So get to know your camera and take it on a date and then will compare what your cameras saying toe what's actually in the raw file inside of light room.

Class Materials

1. Lightroom Presets and Profiles

JP Color Pro

2. RAW Images To Follow Along With


3. Lightroom Creative Cloud Schematic

Lightroom Creative Cloud

Ratings and Reviews

Teresa Piccioni

Great great great class: Jarett explains the Lightroom workflow clearly and thoroughly. I am not a native English person and my English is quite poor but Jarett explains in a very simply and clearly way everything and I understand all chapters perfectly. Thanks guys, great job. I highly recommend this lesson to everybody,


I have watched each and everyone of Jared's classes on Creative Live and they are first class. I've waited a long time for a new one and now we have it and it's another gem. This is a wonderful overview of Lightroom and will repay watching sections (or all of it) several times to absorb the wealth of information presented. For anyone new to Lightroom, this is just what the doctor ordered.


Really in depth, so helpful! Thanks

Student Work