The drama of underexposed photos (a.k.a. how to break the rules in photography)

If your camera has a Manual setting, chances are, when you first tried taking photos in this setting, you followed the cardinal rule of the keeping the needle of the exposure meter to the right of the center.

Wait… that sounds alien to you?

Exposure meter is the one with the -2…-1…0…1…+2 figures and there’s a needle that moves to the left or the right of the “0” as you change the aperture and shutter speed settings. In a nutshell, the needle should be positioned to “0” or to the right of the “0” to get good exposure.

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The photo above was taken with the needle a little to the right of the “0”. Somewhere near the “1”. The photo below was taken with the needle pointing nearer the “0” but still slightly to its right.

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The third photo, above, had the needle pointing exactly at the “0”.

In all three photos, sure enough, with the “proper” exposure setting, the subject (please don’t attach any religious significance to this cross that was given by Speedy’s mommy — it just happened to be the only object in the room that was opaque but with parts that let the light through) was well-defined. But, to my eye, the bright background was too overpowering and sort of washed out the cross.

Note that these photos were taken at the height of typhoon Ondoy when power was out and were were living on stored water. We were entertaining ourselves so we wouldn’t go nuts worrying about how long our water supply would last. In short, there was time to experiment. And I experimented to find out if less light would result in better photos. “Less light”, of course, didn’t mean controlling the lighting emitted by the candle. I wasn’t about to cut the wick with a pair of scissors. The candle could be moved farther away so there would be less light in the camera’s frame but I wanted the candle exactly where it was — beside the cross. The obvious solution then was to move the needle of the exposure meter to the left of the “0”. Take underexposed photos, in short, and break one of the cardinal rules of “proper” photography.

So, I changed the shutter speed setting, moving the needle of the exposure meter well to the left of the “0”.

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Too dark.

A little nearer to the “0”…

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Better but still a bit dark.

Now, just a little to the left of the “0”…

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I like this photo best. A bit of underexposure did the trick. The sphere of light cast by the candle is discernable and that was exactly what I was aiming for. :)

All photos were taken with the Canon EOS 40D. And a tripod. With the flash off, naturally.

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Comments

  1. d0d0ng says

    The last one is beautiful. There is just enough hint of light in the background to bring the powerful image of the subject.

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