Setting Your Camera Exposure Tutorial

Getting it right in camera

Today has been incredible whether and with some new camera equipment I needed to test out I headed off in to the city for a few shots. I also wanted to try out several new techniques for exposure settings.

  1. Using a Sekonic L-478 exposure meter calibrated to my 5d MKii.
  2. Using an 18% grey card to set exposure.
  3. Spot metering with camera on the brightest part of the scene.
  4. Using the camera evaluative meter to set exposure.

Exposure Meter

passport (1 of 1)The first method requires a Sekonic L-478 or L-758 and an Xrite colour checker passport. I used the 478. I calibrated my exposure meter first using the DTS data transfer software from Sekonic, you can download it from here. For a full tutorial I recommend watching this in depth video on how to calibrate your exposure meter  by Joe Bradey here. Calibrating the meter to your specific camera makes a huge difference and your basically going to tell your meter how your camera see’s light so that it can then apply the correct setting for your own camera rather than use the default settings

Grey Card

passport2 (1 of 1)

Using a grey card to set exposure is extremely simple and very accurate. A purpose made grey card can be purchased from most photographic stores such as Calumet but I use the one attached to my colour checker passport. It’s a simple case of holding your passport in the light which you will be shooting and taking a reading off the card in aperture priority mode. The camera will need to be in spot metering mode so as not to take the rest of the scene in to consideration. Remember the settings that were displayed in the view finder and turn the dial of your camera in to manual mode and input the settings for aperture and speed. Your camera is now set to take pictures within the same lighting conditions as your grey card was in.

Spot Metering

For me this is my favourite method of metering. As a general rule I would say that most digital SLRs are capable of three stops + of EV overexposure while still maintaining recoverable detail in the highlights. I know my 5d mkii will will retain detail at +3.5 stops of EV.  I found out the exposure range of my camera using the Sekonic data transfer software and making an exposure profile of my camera. A demo of how to do this can be viewed here.

Armed with the knowledge of your EV range I set my camera to spot metering and take a reading in manual mode of the brightest part of the scene that will be in the frame. This may be a cloud, white building or something like that. Adjust the shutter speed so the EV reading is 0. For example if the shutter speed reads 1/500s all we need to do is lower our shutter speed to 1/60th of a second or 3 stops. As mentioned my camera will cover +3.5 of exposure value but to remain confident I can recover the highlights in post processing I will play safe at 3 stops. After taking the shot the highlight detail may be blinking on the display, Don’t worry this is a Jpeg representation and the detail will still be retained in the RAW file.

This method is sometimes referred to as shooting to the right of the histogram. An added advantage of this also allows the sensor to record more detail in the shadow areas allowing more control; over tonal range.

Give these methods a try and let me know how you get on.

Any questions just ask, I will be happy to help.


About Mark Bulmer

Hi and glad you came across my site and me. I'm a passionate Landscape photograpaher from York, North Yorkshire, England. I started to seriously photograph landscape images in 2010 after giving up my lifelong passion for course fishing. It was quite a natural progression for me having spent most of my young and adult life chasing that red letter day of bagging up a net full of fish while spending a day in natural beautiful surroundings, been on the bank of a lake or river from dawn to dusk and witnessing some incredible sunrises and sunsets along the way. After a bitter divorce in 2010, my whole life changed and what once was changed. My passion for fishing had gone. My passion for the great outdoors though still remained and photography had always been my second hobby. I decided to mix the two together as a distraction from the past and over the last few years its changed my perception of life. I still end up seeing the sunrise and sunset I loved to witness on the bank, I still get to enjoy the great outdoors but it takes me further afield to explore new avenues, venture to new highs, see new places, share new visions and ultimately get that cracking shot. Its addictive fun and a pleasure to do. I hope you enjoy get something from what I share and I look forward to bringing more of my visions and techniques. Drop me a line any time. Mark
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