Monday, October 12, 2009

Taking Great Photos. Part 7: Black, White, and Glowing All Over.

Exposure compensation. Here's another thing that you may need to look up in your manual. Exposure compensation is your way of deliberately under- or over-exposing your pictures - and here's why you might want to do it.

Cameras have specific design criteria - as I mentioned before. One of them is to attempt to get enough light onto the picture to make the whole thing an even, average tone. So when you throw something very high contrast at it, like a black dog on a snowdrift - it struggles - and fails to come up with an exposure that is pleasing. In the case of the black dog in the snow, your camera will do the electronic equivalent of throwing up it's hands in the air and saying "Fine, Whatever." And the end result is an amorphous silhouette on a glaring background. Not necessarily what you had in mind for ol' Blackie. (These dogs aren't even black - but there's no detail, the person is practically a cut-out and what's with the blue-grey snow?)

You may have even noticed, as you perused your manual, that you have a "Snow and Sand" exposure setting - so that you can turn that on for trips to the beach and snow-day outings - so that your camera has a fighting chance of not turning all your friends faces so dark that all you see are the whites of their eyes.

However - when it comes to shooting jewelry and beads - many of us just want to plunk our creations down on a black velvet stand to photograph them. MMMM - jewelry on black velvet. Or on those white leatherette stands. Or, now that you've discovered them - lighted panels that give a nice glow through the transparent beads.

However - your camera is doing it's darnedest to make everything a nice average tone. You want brilliant glowing jewels on a rich, black velvety background, and you get dull colours and every freakin' speck of lint that has ever been stuck to the velvet. And you get out the tape and carefully remove it - take more pictures, and they still look like ... .

Harrumph. So you switch to the white leatherette - and the white doesn't look white.

So you try the new backlit panel - and heck, the background is grey - what the heck is going on here?

Your camera isn't deliberately trying to sabotage you - so don't take it personally.

Somewhere on your camera there is (probably) an exposure compensation. Usually - it's fairly easy to access - you might even have done it by accident. You might find it in the manual's index under exposure compensation, over- or under-expose, or even "bracketing" - which is what we called it back in the film days. Or look for something that indicates -1, -2, -3, and +1, +2, +3, etc. These all indicate that you can under (-) expose or over(+) expose your picture by 1, 2, or more stops. (Let's not worry about the technical terms for now.)

So, the idea is, we can mess with the camera's mind and say "gimme more" or "gimme less" light. When to use which - well - you'll see the effects immediately in the viewfinder - so you don't actually have to remember - just do the one that looks better. If it's not an improvement - go the other way. If neither work - well - then it's not helping and you need to move on.

Ok - let's get down to some concrete examples.

This is the aforementioned white, leatherette background. The pictures proceed from left to right, top to bottom. The first picture is the camera's choice for the exposure. Notice that the white background does not actually look white.

In the next three images - the picture does not improve - so it is safe to say that I am going the wrong direction. I chose the minus setting - which means I am getting less light, I am underexposing, the picture is getting worse. After doing it umpteen times - I have learned that minus is not the one you want for a white background.

Let's try plus.

Again, from the camera's choice to plus, more plus, and more, more plus. More light, and technically - over-exposing. See the background get lighter. In the final picture, the background is quite white - but the colours (I moved up the necklace - so it isn't the same beads) may be getting a little odd. It's all about compromise - picture number three may be the best bet.

Plus (over expose) for white backgrounds is a good thing.

How about black?

Notice how the background in the first image isn't really black - more of a charcoal. This is the camera's choice. And - if you click on this image to see the larger version - the little squiggly bits of dust and lint will horrify you.

So, using the minus (less) setting, the pictures show a progression to a darker, blacker background. By the same token - the beads themselves gain definition as the dazzle is dialed back.

I think that shows that we're going in the right direction with this one - minus for black - but how does plus look? Can't tell you - the camera wasn't going to go there - it literally did not offer me that option. The automatic light readings flatly refused to let me turn the exposure compensation up. How's that for being pushy?

OK, one more test. Let's try the illuminated flat panel. That should show off these Crystallized beads to their best, eh?

This is what the panel looks like - it runs on batteries or AC power. It would make an excellent display platform at a show too, I think.

I got mine from Table Top Studios, I suggest buying the largest you can afford. This is the 6 x 8 inch model, and you can see - I have to coil the necklace up to get it to fit.

So - again - we have a progression - from dark to light, from camera's choice, to plus. I think we've established that it's plus for white backgrounds and minus for black. I like number 2 best here - colours are still rich - but the background is a little whiter.

One of the downsides of shooting pictures with an illuminated background - is that the non-transparent areas - like the clasp - tend to get a bit dark - and upping the exposure may not help much.

In this case - just hitting that area with a little extra lighting will fix that.

So - I think we have now done about all we can in the camera. Next up - tweaking the pictures on the computer. Photoshopping, in other words.

Soon - I think I will have to write "How to buy a camera" - as mine is starting to die. The display flickers and changes colour - sometimes those colour changes show up in the pictures, sometimes not. I get card errors, and while I have replaced the card (memory card) several times recently - I keep getting them.

So - sadly - as I doubt I can have it repaired in our disposable economy - I think I may have to retire my trusty camera that has served me so well for so long, and replace it. I paid about $500 for this camera, I have used it for both video and stills. I got it in 2004 - and have taken tens of thousands of pictures with it. It has served me very well and it owes me nothing. I can only hope to do as well with the next one.

1 comment:

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