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Photo Technical

Photographing the bright white world of yachts – A73

Welcome aboard photo enthusiasts.  Wow…year number seven writing this column and no gold watch. The yachting world has a lot of white, that is high key backgrounds and surroundings.  This reality really stands out when at the boat shows. Most boat hulls are white or light as are most crew uniforms.  Let’s discuss this in terms of photography…the affects, considerations, and ways of dealing with bright-white scenes.

How are you shooting? In A for auto, P for program, M for manual? There are other settings, such as Tv, Av, shutter and aperture preferred, respectively, and other options, but A, P, or M would be the primary choices, and out of those I chose between P and M.

The P setting allows you to set the ISO and Flash, beyond which the camera will select everything else for a proper exposure based on the built in meter reading of the light reflected from the subject you are photographing.  The M setting is depended on the same meter reading for proper exposure, but in this case you will need to make all the adjustments to match the light reading, primarily the ISO, aperture, shutter speed.

Whether it is the camera set in Auto thinking for you or you making all the settings in Manual, it all begins with the light meter reading, which needs to indicate the settings made will give a

balanced exposure (see diagram at left). Notice the little white arrow representing the meter dial has been placed slightly right of center and this is to show that slightly overexposing is a good thing.

Why? Because, in digital photography, half of all the tonal information exists in the 20% brightest areas of the photograph, therefore when enhancements are needed and desired to improve a photo, the areas having more information are easiest to work with for improving adjustments.

What else does this mean? The darker areas have a lot less information, therefore when you expose to the right, that is when slightly over- exposing, you are exposing for the shadows.  They become slightly brighter and… brighter areas have more tonal information for adjustments. Do you see the benefits of exposing for the shadows? By slightly overexposing, knowing your brightest areas have the safety net of holding half the tonal information in the photograph, you now have more control over both the shadows and highlights.

Now it is important to become better aware of what every camera meter reads. There are two ways photographers can go about reading light. One method, using a handheld light meter, is known as an incident light reading. It measures light falling on to a subject, and it is an exact way reaching a proper exposure. Camera meters are unable to take advantage of this method, and have to resort to an imperfect reflected light reading, or light that is reflected from the subject or object. This is a problem, because they all reflect light differently.

To deal with this inconsistency readings are based on a mid tone range, between the extremes of total black and the brightest white, of 18% gray (this may vary to a slightly lower percentage).  

What does this mean? This is best described through an example yachters are frequently faced with…all that white.

If your camera LCD of viewfinder frames a shot to be taken that is dominated by white…white hulls and uniforms, your meter will jump to +1, 2 or beyond and it will tell you in manual or the automatic adjustments to increase the shutter speed and close down the aperture (from 1/60 to 1/500 and/or from f/4 to f/8, respectively, for example), because there is so much light (not any more than usual, but it appears to be so from all the white reflected by hulls and uniforms).

What is happening is your meter is adjusting those whites to be 18% gray, what it has been set for to give the best overall normal exposure.  Scenes dominated by a lot of white or dark areas are not normal for a camera reflected meter reading, and now by reading this article, you are aware of this.

You do not want your whites to appear as 18% gray.  If you are photographing scenes dominated by very light or dark overall tones, be aware your meter will tend to balance them to 18% gray.  In the case of white scenes you need to open up (usually) 2 stops, and with dark scenes close down 2 stops (f/8 to f/4 or 1/500 to 1/125 in the former & the reverse in the latter) to get exposures with the best overall tonal range to work with.

Next time we will look at this again through the graph of the histogram. For now I take permission to come ashore.

James Schot has been a professional photographer for more than 35 years and has a studio/gallery in Ft. Lauderdale. Send questions to james@bestschot.com.