I think that most of the questions I was asked during workshops, and on other occasions, have been related to exposure. Moreover, I am often asked what settings should be used in order to obtain a good photo.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult questions in the field of photography, because there are countless variables to be considered before pushing the trigger button, and the most important of these are vision and creative spirit.
Frankly, once we understand the purpose of each setting and how it can change the image, I believe that there is only one perfect exposure, specifically the one that expresses our vision, no matter what it is.
We could describe those countless variables mentioned above, but that would mean writing an entire book. Once we are familiar with the settings of our camera and how they work, the only thing left to do is to experiment.
The correct exposure, in which we have details across the entire shot, from white to black, is not the right choice, in most cases. The perfect exposure for our pictures is the one that highlights the enhanced subject/message.
Below are some examples where perfect exposure is not the same as correct exposure:
1. Contre-jour. Shooting against the light
Contre-jour is the type of lighting where the source of light is behind your subject. To be more precise, the source of light and the photographer are face-to face, and the subject is somewhere in between.
With the help of contre-jour, we can obtain dramatic images with a remarkable atmosphere, completely different from traditional photos.
Silhouettes are part of the family of photos shot against the light. Exposure is on the background, while the focus is on the subject. Thus, we obtain an image in which the background is exposed correctly, while the subject is underexposed.
3. High-key images
These images have very few tones of dark or very dark grey, while the predominant tones are light grey or white. High-key lighting is used to create “optimistic” pictures, full of life. They are simple, yet somehow sophisticated at the same time.
4. Low-key images
On the other hand, low-key images convey a dramatic and mysterious air. This type of lighting can be used to express rather negative emotions, however it all depends on the scene, subject, and concept.
It is enough to understand that photography is a mean of communication, same as music, painting, or literature and that we, the photographers, do not possess a thicker brush, most of the times cannot choose our colours, we do not have words or phrases to touch the sensibilities of our audience, nor higher or lower notes, like musicians have. We have light, shadow, and colour.
With light and shadow, we can write, sing, draw, express ourselves. This is precisely why in photography, similar to any other form of art, it is ideal that we aren’t afraid to be creative.
We can create images with correct exposures, following the rules to the letter, or we can deliberately overexpose or underexpose to highlight the message, idea, or concept that made us push the trigger button.