The Digital Photo Guy

Monday Morning Tip – 11/30/09

by on Nov.29, 2009, under Monday Morning Tips

Today’s Monday Morning Tip

I have a Wild Animal Park Photoshoot this coming Saturday so I thought I would roll my MMT into the instructions I send the students beforehand. During “hands-on” photoshoots, I concentrate on three areas: Nailing Exposure, Sharp Focus and Compelling Composition. Today’s MMT is about nailing the exposure.

Exposure is a balancing act among three controls: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. These are covered in this previous MMT. After I wrote that MMT, some students didn’t understand the relationship among the three so I wrote this MMT. Then, students wanted step-by-step instructions for adjusting EC (exposure compensation to get the desired exposure. I also wrote this MMT this year as a refresher.

Bottom line, there are 3 variables (controls): aperture, shutter speed and ISO. To help you adjust these, there are 3 major tools: histogram, EC and “blinkies”. Use these tools to determine if your photo needs more or less light and adjust the appropriate control.

Burrowing Owls at Salton Sea

My wife and I spent Saturday and Sunday at the Salton Sea searching for burrowing owls. We drove about 100 miles over dirt farm roads looking for the little buggers but this was the only photo I got. Canon 300/2.8 w/1.4 TC – $4400, Canon 40D – $1400, Gitzo 3530 w/ Wimberley head – $1100, photo of burrowing owl – priceless. As you can see, the owls were not cooperating.

On our way to the Salton Sea, we stopped at the (commercialized) ghost town of Calico, CA (we went to the Salton Sea via Las Vegas).

SchoolhouseI was using only the Canon 17-40/4. I framed this a a typical landscape with a foreground anchor, mid-ground CoI (center of interest) and background. Based on my camera meter, exposure was set to f/8, 1/500″, ISO 200. That overexposed the white clapboards and created “blinkies” in my LCD. I dialed in -0.5 EC to take away light and the second frame was dead on. I used f/8 because I wasn’t all that concerned about DoF. I knew that focusing about 30 feet out on the footbridge would give me infinity on the far end. Until I knew my lens well enough to know this instinctively, I used a Depth of Field calculator from

WavesThis one is strictly a study in textures. I’m not completely done with this because there’s still too much sky. If I hadn’t been lazy, I would have walked down and shot up but I wasn’t in my suffering artist mode. I used f/16, 1/180, ISO 200. Again, I didn’t really care about f/stop because I knew my DoF was out to infinity and my near distance was somewhere between 15 ft to 50 ft. In other words, it didn’t matter with such a short focal length.


People Who Live in Glass Houses...This one was a bit different because I was standing 3 ft from the corner of the house. With my camera set to f/22, 1/90, ISO 200, I used my depth of field preview button to be sure I had everything in focus from corner to corner. I was pretty sure f/22 was enough but the actual near distance is 2.36 ft. I’m not good enough to remember exactly how much DoF is available at every combination of focal length, aperture and distance to subject.


Fire EngineNow we’re really getting cramped. I wanted everything in focus back to the back wall. I knew f/4 or f/5.6 wouldn’t give me enough DoF but f/11 wasn’t enough light to hand hold. After I settled on f/8, I discovered ISO 200 didn’t cut it so I increased ISO to 800 and squeezed out shutter speed of 1/20, just barely hand-holdable. In the process, the colors shifted so I ended up with a mauve fire truck.

As you can see, there’s a lot of “by guess and by golly” in photography. If you’re not willing to take your time and practice, you’ll never master even the basic steps necessary to get the desired exposure.

Hope everyone had a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Lee

    Thanks Betsy. One has to be careful about advice on forums. Many people offer advice based on their own gear or experience. I’ve learned over the years that it’s better to learn the basics and “tweak” them to your situation. Unfortunately, we live in an “instant gratification” driven society where people want short and simple answers to complex questions.

  • Betsy

    I’m not on topic here, but I wish I lived close enough to take a class from you. I have just been following a discussion the the PSE Forum about blurry photos. I really enjoyed your comments.

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