Break the rules of light exposure for best photo

There are times when the correct exposure
is not always the right one

On one recent evening I was on my way to shoot some portraits at a banquet room of a Golf Club. I showed up too early and no one was yet there, so with some spare time at hand I thought I'd look around. Even though the night was chilly, I went outside for a short walk. A half moon floated in the black night sky. A pair of bright white roof mounted floodlights were on the building In the middle course on the first green, a short distance away from the clubhouse and were pointed at two trees on the edge of the distant green. This brilliant illumination caused the trees to jump out from the adjacent darkness. ✓

Sometimes we take things for granted, but our human eye possess the capacity to see a immense tonal range from light to dark. I could make out the well-lit trees being a natural tone and color, while at the same moment, my eyes captured the detail of darker trees beyond. I could also make out the night sky along with detail on the brilliant half moon.

The sensors of digital cameras (and to a lesser degree film cameras) don't have the same sort of range. In severe lighting environments, one has to mentally pick and choose the subject to set up for. If you expose for the highlights, the shadows will drop off into darkness without detail. Go for the shadow exposure, and the highlights become burned out. As always, some Photo-shop tweaking to the image will help align these values somewhat closer, but those choices are pretty much limited (High dynamic range - or HDR - photography, now exists, but necessitates shooting a number of distinct shots of the same subject and blending them together using specific HDR software).

Lighted Trees Lighted Building
Trees of a Golf Country Club illuminated by clubhouse lights. Middle course first green illuminated by two brilliant white flood lights


I was intrigued by the scene, so I picked up my camera, set the exposure for the trees, and surely enough there were two highly-exposed trees lurking in the inky black darkness. I then decided to expose for the darkness. This called for using a long exposure time, much longer than could be hand held steadily. I braced the camera atop 5-foot-tall pole at hand and set the shutter speed to 1/30. I took a look at the image on the camera's screen and smiled. Just regular daylight exposure is normally required for shooting the moon, so any night shots that include any land and sky detail causes that big ball of cheese to become horribly overexposed. The resulting overexposure brought about a large bright glowing half moon sphere, devoid of detail.

All detail was lost on the dark line of trees farther back becoming just a silhouette against the dark night sky, except for a few delicate clouds and a few twinkling stars in the immense grayness. All color was bleached from the two closest trees by the brilliant white spotlights . Although they were not to a certain extent as overexposed as the moon, little detail existed with no color in them at all. In attempting to acquire the whole scene, the trees and moon may ("by the rules") have been considerably overexposed, but they presented the image with an eerily haunting feeling that surely would not have been captured had they been exposed "correctly".  New Article - Jan 11, 2011 -

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