Mastering proper exposure for basic DSLR video shooting and editing


Mastering proper exposure is essential for any DSLR video because of the limited latitude (dynamic range) of DSLR cameras. Unlike film cameras from your childhood, DSLR’s are unforgiving with shadows and highlights. 8mm film nicely ‘rolled off’ the whites in overexposed highlights. There weren’t any clipped highlights with, only natural sky as you would expect. DSLR’s work better in low light than film stock with their previously unheard of sensitivity. Even so, if something in the frame is too dark, there’s simply no information for the editor to pull out later when you’re raising the gain in post.


Another relic from the time of film were spot meters. These devices showed the relative reflectiveness of light from anything that you pointed it at. With this, you could determine what aperture to set your camera at to get proper exposure. Digital cameras such as DSLR’s actual contain a built-in spot meter. This meter lets you determine the difference between your camera’s current manual f-stop and the desired f-stop for proper exposure. If you center the spot meter over, say, the brightest part of someone’s face, and then adjust your aperture, ISO and/or shutter speed to get that spot within 1 stop of neutral exposure, then you won’t overexpose the subject’s skin.


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Although it’s simple enough to point at the subject and give them a neutral exposure, it’s important to remember there is no one right answer. Your DSLR will keep information in parts of the frame up to 3 stops underexposed and 2 stops over exposed. If you’re doing high key photography feel free to expose the brightest parts of the face 2/3rds to 1 1/3rd stops over. Or is it a dark, noir? You can safely expose subjects 1-2 stops under and still have some room to work in post. Get out there and experiment! Or consider hiring professionals to do it the right way the first time!

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