All you need to know if you are going to hire me to do some photography work, is that I understand the wah wah. You don't need to, unless, of course, you are interested in the mechanics of exposure and trying to optimize each photo. Then there are plenty of resources out there to help you through.
The little story: When I first started getting serious about opening a photography business in 2011, I did not have the camera I own today, nor the glass (lenses). I shot with a Sony DSC-H7 and a Fuji Film camera. Neither of these cameras have the same abilities in "manual" mode as my present Nikon D300. And I had a few lens options for the Sony--a telephoto and a macro lens--but mainly relied on the lens that was built into the camera. I shot exclusively in JPEG. Here is a photo from 2011 of Moe, who is the subject I chose for this week's blog.
I spent most of 2011 experimenting and trying to decide what photography classes to take. In the Fall of that year I took an online class which led me to metering and the zone system. Warning: Wah Wah ahead.
The Wah Wah: The Zone System is a product of the bright minds of Ansel Adams (who did his work of looming landscapes in black and white) and Fred Archer (who was a Hollywood portrait photographer). On a side note (all friends who know this story can skip the next sentence) my brother-in-law, a native Californian, was one of Ansel Adams' interns and can probably tell us all stories, but he lives in Colorado, and at the time of this writing, I didn't have a chance to call him.
Since cameras are built to be an "average Joe" kind of guy, they usually look at a scene and take the average of that scene and say "okay, this is about right" and SNAP...........and that's why we don't let cameras make the decisions. Let me show you what happens when I let my camera make the decision, with no help from me, on taking this week's photo of Moe at the park.
Luckily, thanks to Ansel and Fred and a gray card, we have a way to fix that rascally camera. (I honestly drank no wine before writing this blog.) So, let me go back to the Zone System. The system helps you evaluate tones. There are 10 zones, but to decrease the wah wah, and to make this easier, for our purposes, let's just use three....black, white and the gray that falls right in the middle of the black and white (which is Zone V <- roman numeral, Zone 5). Cameras are usually metering at that middle gray position when analyzing a scene. If there is lots of light or sun, the camera is going to try to darken it. If it's too dark, the camera tries to lighten it. So this is how we might get underexposed or overexposed photos. In the photo above, the camera tried to take the dark areas and the light areas and average them out.
To help out in a situation like this, we can use a gray card to meter and expose correctly. The gray card has that middle of the road gray to focus on, so now the camera is doing a better job of using the available light to set the tone of the photo. I placed a gray card in the proximity of where Moe had sat his furry behind and took a shot, then set the camera accordingly. Here is the photo after recomposing the shot. Better, right?
And last, but not least, below is the final edit of this image. I've brightened it, added color, and a bit of pop in Moe's eyes. I do 80% of my work using RAW at this point in my life, but I shot all of these images in JPEG to keep with the thoughts of the Chapter and the assignment. The final settings on the image above were ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/250, at a focal length of 70mm. If you are still with me and you are interested in seeing other interpretations of the Zone System, start with Boston Pet Photographer, Blue Amrich.