Exposure for birds

Discussion in 'Nature' started by jeff nadler, May 29, 2002.

  1. After shooting a dozen rolls of bird images with my new EOS 3, I am
    fairly frustrated of not mastering the ability to judge exposure
    compensation needs. Based on Art Morris's book, I've only used
    evaluative metering thus far and not spot. When the sky is overcast,
    all of my bird images are dark and underexposed. With any sun at
    all, the whites are blown out. Obviously, I better start applying +/-
    exposure comp and I incorrectly assumed evaluative would do a fair
    job. Is the obvious answer to spot meter birds more often or
    compensate every single shot?
  2. Have you been following the recommendations in the book for compensation in various conditions, or are you simply following the recommendation to use evaluative metering?

    If you want to continue using evaluative metering and Art's methods, you may want to look into the little laminated pocket guide he sells on his web site, www.birdsasart.com. I'm currently trying to decide whether to switch over to digital completely. If I decide to stay with film for a while, I'll definitely order a copy.

    Spot obviously works for a lot of people too - you just need to pick one and practice.
  3. A spot meter works if you choose the right spot to meter. On the other hand, if you can spot the spot to spot meter, it is pretty easy to compensate in the proper direction. There isn't much point in metering the sky if you are photographing a critter. You may be able to avoid gross under-exposure by metering on foliage or something else middle-toned. Keep in mind that there is a huge difference between a white bird and a black one or even a dull bird vs. a bright one. Also backgrounds can throw readings far off. Hard light is much harder to meter than soft. Spot metering is probably best if you have time to fool with it. If averaging, you may wish to underexpose a bit to avoid blown out highlights. Your judgement will improve with practice.
  4. Exposure is easy. What I do is to use spot metering and manual exposure mode. Spot meter on the bird and decide whether you want it to be midtone (e.g. great blue heron), dark (e.g. raven) or white (e.g. Egret). For mid tone birds adjust exposure to give the "correct" reading. For white birds adjust exposure for 2 stops over the mid tone reading. Art may recommend using evaluative metering and applying compensation based on subject size, color and lighting conditions. By all accounts this works well for him and others. I prefer spot metering, that way I don't need to second guess at what evaluative metering is doing and if it has already applied compensation (and if so how much!). For dark birds adjust exposure for 1 stop under the mid tone reading.
  5. I spot meter in pretty much the same way Bob Atkins just described. Verify with your own system and film how much to compensate to achieve a bright white or a black with detail or something in the middle, but the basic principles are just as described.
  6. Hi Jeffrey,

    This is a big question, and i think it depends of which type of bird photography you do.

    I can only speak for myself, as someone who concentrates on hide photography exclusivly.

    As i only have the area in front of my hide, to worry about, i have found incident metering ideal. As i am mainly photographing small waders, from close range, the action is often fast & furious, and i am not sure that a spot reading would be a better option for me.

    I usually take a reading before entering the hide, and then during the day, when i get a chance. Ive been doing it this way for many years now, so im able to make small adjustments as and when required.

    Ive rarely had any problems with contrast etc, because the distance i am photographing from is within either, full, or fill in flash distance, if it becomes necessary.

    In a nutshell, i think incident, spot, and reflected metering all have their pros and cons. I think is is worth getting as much advice as possible, making your choice, and sticking to it. Any cons in the above metering systems are soon overcome with experience.

  7. I tried evaluative in the beginning with EOS-3 but since I was
    used to have more control and predictability I soon switched to partial metering with AE lock which is perfect for my needs. Partial is faster than spot to use for me (in fast changing situations) because I don't need to select the metering point too carefully:

    1) I just spot a smallish area which in my opinion is similar to mid-gray (in average) and meter there.

    2) I use AE lock on shutter button (and AF on thumb button) so I can reframe as soon as I have the exposure locked.

    3) The great feature in EOS-3 and 1V (and in 1D but unfortunately not
    in D60) is that after I have locked the exposure I can easily see from the exposure scale in the viewfinder (+- 3 stops) how much the area which I'm currently pointing at is under/over-exposing.

    4) If necessary (not very often) I will use exposure compensation in addition to above. If the lighting on the target is changing and the target is not mid-gray I set exposure compensation and re-meter when necessary without need for continuous reframing.

    5) Very seldom I do like this: I set camera to continuous evaluative metering (no AE lock) and continuous AF on the shutter button. I also set the AF point to something else but mid-point in order to have best framing which I keep constant all the time. As soon as the target arrives I just press the shutter release halfway and take a photo when I want. This is easiest to master because I only use the shutter button and re-framing is not needed in any case. But most of the time I don't use this because 1) I want individual AF start/stop control, 2) I try to avoid messing with exposure correction 3) I don't like the unpredictability of the evaluative metering.

    I have used this method (points 1-3 above) basicly since 1976 when I got the Canon FTbN (with manual exposure) and later with T70 and T90 and EOSes (with AE lock). If you can estimate the average lightness or "mid-gray" quickly it is quite a fast method.

  8. With Canon evaluative metering, exposure is biased to the active focusing point. You did not say what kind of focus you were using, but your exposures might vary depending on this.

    Re. spot metering, everything Bob said is true. You should also be aware that you don't have to meter every shot. This is a basic advantage of manual exposure. Spot metering is like incident metering in that you don't have to take a separate reading for each subject you are photographing.

    If the lighting is not changing, you can meter anything of known reflectance, including the back of your hand. Just open up or close down by the proper amount and you will have derived a basic exposure for all subjects under the current lighting conditions.

    If you are trying to retain values in a white bird, you may want to close down a third to half stop over your basic reading, or do the opposite with a black bird, but your basic expsure should be the same as with incident metering.
  9. Also, like Vesa, I often use the partial metering pattern instead of the fine spot because I find that I need to be less discriminating in selecting a place to meter, particularly if the scene contains specular highlights.

    However, the same methods and benefits apply.
  10. Gary said:

    "Re. spot metering, everything Bob said is true. You should also be aware that you don't have to meter every shot. This is a basic advantage of manual exposure. Spot metering is like incident metering in that you don't have to take a separate reading for each subject you are photographing."

    I also find manual exposure metering useful, e.g. in hide/blind work (which I seldom do) but if you are taking shots "all the time" exposure lock on shutter release button does the same and it is faster (to set the exposure). The disadvantage is that you need to keep the shutter button halfway (or full) pressed all the time or otherwise you will loose the exposure setting.

  11. Thought you might fnd this interesting:


    I think Artie is off to Alaska for the next few weeks, so he is not likely to have computer access for a while.
  12. Using manual exposure doesn't necessarily mean you have to meter for every shot, even under varied changing lighting conditions. If I'm set up in an area where there is direct sun and shade, for instance, I meter the two zones in advance, set the shutter speed, and just change the aperture or shutter speed by a fixed amount as the subject moves from one zone to the other. If you remain alert to lighting conditions, you can also develop a habit of resetting the exposure as clouds pass, without necessarily having to check the meter every time.

    This is sort of the Henri Cartier-Bresson approach to nature photography. He was known to be adjusting his camera constantly as he walked around, looking for the action, prefocusing and adjusting exposure settings, lifting the camera to his eye discretely only at the moment of exposure.
  13. Jeff,

    The message in Art's book is not to use evaluative metering as a way to avoid exposure compensation ... quite the contrary. He very thoroughly indicates how to use exposure compensation WITH evaluative metering. My suggestion is to review the chapter again. It includes one of the better descriptions around on exactly this subject.
  14. The purpose of Morris's booklet is to provide a fast way to meter in the field. It relies on experience as much as anything. In effect, that's what you bought--a summary of his years of experience. The only way I've found to get pretty consistently good exposures was for me to shoot lots of film over the years. My understanding of exposure took a huge leap when I quit using the camera meter and began metering every thing with an incident light meter. I mostly shoot medium and large format anymore though, and don't often shoot 35mm.

    Kent in SD
  15. [​IMG]
    In-camera spot meter, adjusting as nessesary for lighter or darker subject (+1.5 for white, -1 or so for dark). It's really simple once you understand that the meter reading will give you a middle gray. The spot meter's reading isn't skewed by background brightness so I don't have to compensate for the camera's compensation.
  16. > use spot metering and manual exposure mode. [...] For white birds adjust exposure for 2 stops over the mid tone reading.
    This is actually tricky. It depends on exactly what you want.
    Art Morrison in his book advises to use +1 for brilliant white birds, rather than "scienfically correct" +2.
    There is a point behind this: at +1 texture of white feathers comes out well-defined; whereas at +2 details are resolved poorely (in comparison to +1 or even not at all), even more so if you push the film and thus reduce its recording range.
    The downside, of course, is that at +1 background comes out underexposed, so it's a matter of striking the balance between importance of the bird and importance of its surroundings.
    If you want to retain well-resolved texture of white bird's feathers, you have to use +1 or perhaps +1.5; if you are willing to sacrifice those details or part of them for the sake of properly exposed overall composition, use +2.
    With +1 it might be possible to balance picture later by brightening background on a computer. Some background details may be lost, but presumption here is that it is bird what matters first, over background.
    If it does not quite make sense, you can try to bracket picture of white egret from +1 to +2 and see for yourself.
  17. I'd agree that +2 on a white bird is a little dangerous unless you spot meter the very brightest part of the bird. +2 is the absolute limit that will hold some detail. +1 or +1.5 is safer if you are metering the "average" whiteness not the absolute highlights.

    Since slide film has a range of maybe 5 stops total, with a very white subject in sunlight you are going to have problems and your background and any dark shadow detail may well be lost if you want texture in the white subject.

    If you don't have experience to guide you, I'd certainly advise some bracketing when shooting such "difficult" subjects. Shoting at +1.5 with +/- 0.5 stop bracketing would make sense.
  18. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    I use Center Weighted metering (because that's all my old LX has, but a spot meter would be even better)and almost always get the exposure correctly shooting slides (yes, slide!) of flying.

    While this doesn't always work, I usually meter for a tree or a part of the landscape that I figure is close to neutral grey and is in the same light as the bird, recompose for the flying bird. This works well if the direction of the reflected light from the tree is about the same as the flying bird. I never meter from sky because it simply wouldn't work.

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