Setting Proper Camera Exposure

In a previous post I went over some of the differences between using auto exposure and using manual exposure. Knowing how your camera will react in manual mode vs. auto mode is important, but being able to set a proper exposure in manual mode can be tricky. There are many considerations when setting an exposure.

  • Every camera has limitations.
  • When bright parts of your video are overexposed it is referred to as being “blown out”
  • When dark objects in your video are underexposed it is referred to as being “crushed”.
  • Dynamic range is the difference between what will appear completely black and completely white in a video.

In general a “proper” exposure happens when the darkest part of your video is not completely black and the brightest part of your video is not completely white. Unless you are shooting in a controlled environment most often a compromise between the two is made.

  • Generally video is more attractive when it does not contain anything overexposed.
  • Lean towards underexposure; it is better to have underexposed parts rather than overexposed parts.

Having some things overexposed can be aesthetically acceptable. Here are a few exceptions to the rule.

  • Windows when shooting indoors
  • Lamps and other light sources
  • Sky

One of the main problems shooter face is trying to gauge exposure. It is often impossible to gauge by using the viewfinder or tiny LCD screen, especially when shooting outdoors. There may be some features on your camera to deal with this. Dig into to those manual setting to enable them.

  • Peaking

    This feature will enable some sort of overlay on your LCD screen usually in the form of “zebra stripes”. Any part of your image overlaid with these stripes is overexposed. Don’t worry. The stripes will not be present on your finished video.

  • Histogram

    This is a small graph indicating the portion of your video that is overexposed, underexposed and everything in between.

Finally there is artistic interpretation.

  • Overexposed video can portray a dreamy event.
  • Underexposed video can portray a melancholy or somber mood.

Lighting is a big deal. You can manipulate light to avoid blowing out your brights and crushing your blacks and there are all sorts of options available. Shades, reflectors, lights, window tinting, but even if you are spending big bucks on lighting systems and hours setting them up everywhere you go, eventually you will be faced with a choice; burn the brights or crush the blacks. In some situations it is advisable to tinker with lighting. Sometimes it is just not practical. That’s when you’ll be glad you know what you know.

Shirley Lewis

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"I am the Licensing Director at JewelBeat and generally love all types of music. My new found hobby is baking although I doubt it will make any entries here."