Exposure is king

Thanks for all your sweet comments about Pete’s 2nd year scrapbook. I’m planning to write a whole lot more about memory keeping, as I’m slowing realising that it’s something I’m truly passionate about.

Today I’m very excited (and nervous) to bring you my first Snap Me Happy post! I actually wrote this during my bloggy break last week but I couldn’t quite muster enough courage earlier on to post this. Maybe it’s because I have this unrealistic expectation of how great this series should be. Or maybe it’s because I feel a bit like a fraud, writing a series on photography? So I guess I should preface all this by saying that everything I say here is solely my own opinion, and I’m sure that there are many (ie. the professionals) who approach their photos and their technique differently.

I wanted to kick off by talking about focus, exposure and light:

On a SLR/DSLR camera, the point of focus can make a huge difference to the resulting image, especially when your aperture is wide open, allowing for a shallow depth of field. Or in plain language – when your aperture is set somewhere between 1.4 or 3.5, you get lots of arty blur, hence your focal point can mean the difference between seeing your child’s face (good) or the crack in the back wall (bad).

On the iPhone, however, I don’t really think that the point of focus is too crucial to the overall picture. (The exception to this would be when you’re trying to take an up close photo of something.)

So, Ronnie, does that mean I can ignore that focus square thingy on the iPhone screen?

Well, no, not exactly.

Actually, no, not at all.

Firstly, you need to make sure it actually locks its focus on something, otherwise your entire photo will be blurry. Sometimes this can take a few seconds so be patient!

You also need to use it to control the exposure of your image. Or in other words – how much light you capture in your photo.

Put simply, here’s the deal:

  • If you move the square to a bright point on your screen, your image will appear darker.
  • If you move the square to a dark point on your screen, your image will appear brighter.

Try it out now! Hold your iPhone up and move the square around to different points on the screen. Can you see the brightness of the image changing as you do? This is the inbuilt iPhone camera app doing its ‘thing’ – it’s automatically controlling the exposure of the shot for you based on your point of focus.

If you can get the hang of this, this alone will significantly affect the ‘quality’ of your images.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

The maximum amount of light you can capture in a photo depends on how much natural or artificial light there is around. In other words, in low light conditions, even when you move the square to the darkest spot on you iPhone screen, the photo will still be very dark.

A handy thing to do before taking a photo is to move the square to the brightest spot and then the darkest spot on screen to help you gauge the range of light that’s available for you to work with. Often, you’ll find the spot you want to leave the square on is somewhere that’s midrange.

If there’s a lot of light around and you choose to take your photo with the spot on the darkest point, chances are you’ll overexpose some parts of the photo. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you’re attempting to take a group photo at a family event, then overexposing people’s faces probably doesn’t work in your favour. However, if you’re taking a still shot of something in a room and you’re after an artistic effect, then this could be exactly what you should do. Remember that apps on your phone can turn harsh sunlight into a softer halo effect. I’ll cover this in a future post.

I used to think that a good photo was a bright photo. Funny, right? It wasn’t all that long ago either. Now, mostly through admiring photography blogs, I’ve come to appreciate that shadow is as much part of a photo as the light is. I’ll talk more about light versus shadow down the track, but for now, I just want to encourage you to embrace the dark side.

And lastly, there are apps which allow you to have a separate focal point to the point of exposure. The Camera Awesome app is one such example. I must confess that even though I have this app on my phone, I don’t actually use it much. The reason for this is twofold: a) I like the simple and clean interface of the inbuilt camera app, and, b) like I said above, I feel that controlling the amount of light is more important than choosing a particular focal point. But if you feel differently, then this would be a fantastic app for you.

* * *

If you’re up to some Snap Me Happy ‘homework’ this week, try photographing the same subject matter with your iPhone, using:

1) an abundance of light in your image
2) a mid level of light in your image
3) an abundance of shadow in your image.

I would love to see the different effects you achieve, so if you happen to post the images on your blog, please leave a link below!

Till next time, fellow happy snappers.

38 comments

Cecilia July 4, 2012 at 11:23 pm

So useful, Ronnie. Can’t wait to read more o your tips in this series.

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thestripedelephant July 5, 2012 at 12:23 am

Great photo tips Ronnie!

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Jacquelyn | lark&linen July 5, 2012 at 2:36 am

Thank you so much for your tips! I’ve been interested in photography for a few years now but definitely learnt a thing or two here. I can’t wait to see what else you have up your sleeve!

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Pink Ronnie July 5, 2012 at 11:47 pm

That’s really encouraging Jacquelyn!
Ronnie xo

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rooth July 5, 2012 at 4:28 am

This is so very helpful – thanks for doing this blog post!

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Corrabelle July 5, 2012 at 5:32 am

I’m new to digital photography (Up until two months ago, I was still using a film slr and scanning my negatives.) These tips will be helpful, thanks! I look forward to more of them.
One of the things that I have noticed with this camera (pentax k1000) that I didn’t have with my film camera is what seems like a bit of a haze in the images. Like the contrast isn’t quite there, and the colour temperature is a bit off.
It’s easily corrected in photoshop, but I’m wondering if it’s something I’m doing? I did add a uv filter which helped some, but not entirely. Any thoughts?

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Pink Ronnie July 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I’m afraid I don’t have any experience with the Pentax K1000, Corrabelle. I’ve only worked with the Canon EOS. The only thing I can think of is maybe the white balance? Sorry I can’t be of much help.
Ronnie xo

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Corrabelle July 6, 2012 at 1:13 am

ooh, white balance? See, I don’t know anything about that…but I know someone who’s an expert with the k1000…so i’ll ask him! Thanks!

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Punctuation Mark July 5, 2012 at 7:17 am

I really enjoyed this post… Love the tips!

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Meg July 5, 2012 at 9:04 am

I love this post, Ronnie!

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Pink Ronnie July 5, 2012 at 11:48 pm

That means a lot, coming from a photographer like yourself, Meg!
Ronnie xo

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lamina @ do a bit July 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Great post Ronnie… I found it helpful even though I don’t have an iphone especially about the focas on light and dark points! Thanks :)

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Pink Ronnie July 5, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Oh, that’s good to know Lamina!
Ronnie xo

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shinelittlelight July 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm

This is an AWESOME post Ronnie! Im so excited for the others! Thank you! *s*

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Pink Ronnie July 5, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Thank YOU for such encouragement.
Ronnie xo

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Grace July 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Oh, Ronnie! I love this!!! I’ve been playing with that little square a lot lately but mainly to try and get a photo in focus. In my experimenting, I can see that the light is doing all sorts of funky things but couldn’t figure out what I was ACTUALLY doing.
I’m off on a mission with my Snap Me Happy homework now! :) x

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Pink Ronnie July 5, 2012 at 11:49 pm

That is awesome, Grace. I’m glad I could be of help.
I will give you so many brownie points if you do your homework!!!
Ronnie xo

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Trish July 5, 2012 at 4:36 pm

This is such helpful advice Ronnie.
I hope it is ok to PIn it .

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Pink Ronnie July 5, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Perfectly fine with me.
Ronnie xo

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Julie July 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Great tips! I really need to work on my photography skills!

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Donna July 6, 2012 at 7:03 am

so useful. I need to change up my pics a bit!

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Gesche July 8, 2012 at 8:42 am

Dear Ronnie, this is genius and so very helpful. And simple to understand and follow! Thank you so much! Gesche

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Pink Ronnie July 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm

My pleasure, Gesche. Thanks for your sweet comment.
Ronnie xo

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Fiona July 10, 2012 at 12:40 am

Nice post. I don’t have an iphone, so I won’t be doing the homework, but there are plenty of tips here to keep in mind when taking pictures with my ordinary camera. Thanks!

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Katherine Ross July 10, 2012 at 6:38 am

This was such a great post Ronnie! I’ve been using my iPhone more and more to take little snapshots of daily life, but I must admit I just sort of take the photos on a whim. Some turn out amazing and others are obviously phone pics. I think I’ll try my hand at the homework and see if I can improve… I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series!

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Pink Ronnie July 12, 2012 at 10:13 pm

That’s awesome Katherine. I’m in the middle of writing the next post for the series – can’t wait to finish it! I’m also wanting to start a hashtag for the homework. Maybe #snapmehappy?
Ronnie xo

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katherine July 11, 2012 at 4:20 am

thank you for this tips i will try it today…

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Rin November 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Found it! Thanks Ronnie. I might try doing some of the homework although my husband bought me a fancy pants DSLR for my birthday and I should probs learn how to use it.

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Pink Ronnie November 19, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I love both my iPhone and my DSLR. Definitely useful to get a handle on both.
Ronnie xo

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Linda January 14, 2013 at 5:13 am

Love this Ronnie, thanks for sharing your tips …. I love that iphones help to capture the moment, real time, no fumbling with lenses, kelvin settings etc, just hold, touch snap … the digital polaroid !! Your images remind me of that, I am totally in love with your imagery! Can’t wait for more of these post ….. love a ‘how I process with vsco cam’ …. I still am yet to master this app :)

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Pink Ronnie January 15, 2013 at 1:08 am

I’ll make sure I include that in a post! :)
Ronnie xo

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Debbie February 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Hey Ronnie, I’ve just found your site via Becky Higgins – I love it! These tips are great, I look forward to reading your other posts! Just one question though, when I hold the iPhone camera up I get the grid pattern, and I get the square which locks on to the object of focus, but I can’t seem to move this square around – am I doing something wrong? If I try to move the square left-right it just scrolls to my photo’s, up-down it just doesn’t do anything? If I tap and hold in a different area of the screen the light/dark does change but so does the focus! Please help!!!! :-)

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Pink Ronnie February 5, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Hi Debbie,
Thanks for stopping by! You do have to tap and hold in a different area and yes, it changes the focus as well. If you need the point of exposure an point of focus to be different, you’ll need to use a third party app like the Awesome camera app which allows you to do that. Hope that helps!
Ronnie xo

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Debbie February 5, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Thanks Ronnie that makes complete sense! I will be practising away tomorrow :-) I loo forward to reading your blog and picking up lots of useful tips! x

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I love hearing from you!

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