This is a continuation of the series about shooting in "Medium.," a term I made up for shooting in JPEG format, but still getting many of the advantages of shooting in Raw format. This episode is about getting the right exposure.
Every once in a while, someone will post a set of images on one of the online forums with a tale of how they saved the day by saving their files in Raw format. Usually, it concerns a shot that is terribly underexposed but, since the file was saved in Raw format, they were able to fix it. "Thank goodness I was shooting in Raw.
"This shot would have been lost in JPEG."
Let's start by talking about getting the right exposure in general when working with digital cameras. Exposure metering, sensor technology, and in-camera processing get better with each new generation of cameras. For most shots, I use the default metering, which examines the whole picture and makes a fairly accurate guess. In most situations, this works pretty well, as can be seen in the picture above.
But there are situations like the one in the shot below that require a little thought before pressing the shutter release. In this scene, the range of light values between the indoors and the outdoors appears too wide for the camera to handle. What to do in a case like this?
One way is to take several shots at different exposures and assemble them later, using the correctly exposed part from each picture. This requires a tripod and some special software. Another way would by to set up some strobe lights in the darker areas and trigger them from the camera's built-in flash. Not very practical.
But if you're just taking a quick shot and want to get the widest range of values in your picture, start by following this rule:
"Expose for the highlights, post process for the shadows. You can always pull some detail out of the shadows, but a blown highlight is forever."
Let's see how this works in the photograph below.
The first step in getting the right exposure is to learn to correlate what you see in the camera's viewfinder with what the finished image will look like. The DMC-FZ18 has a beautiful, big LCD viewfinder and a little electronic viewfinder that you can use when it's too bright to use the LCD. In addition, you can set the camera to give you a quick review of each picture after you shoot it. Watch this review carefully as it sometimes will differ from what you see in the viewfinder. This can be hint that one of the camera's settings is incorrect. Don't ignore it.
The next step is to learn to recognize tricky scenes like the one above and to make the decision about which part of the picture needs to be correctly exposed. You may have to set the camera for spot metering or, if the camera has an exposure-lock button, just move the camera around until you see the exposure you want and then press the exposure-lock button. (Before trying this on the FZ18, go to the camera's setup menu and set the exposure-lock so that it only locks the exposure, but not the focus as well.)
Then experiment. With both the camera and with your computer's software. Take lots of pictures in different lighting conditions. Unlike the old days of film, it's all free, and the feedback is instantaneous.
So what's the message about Raw vs JPEG? Simply that with the newer cameras, you don't always need to shoot in Raw format to get great results. Many beginners on seeing the Raw option are given the impression that this is the only way to get good results. Not true. For most people, shooting in JPEG is more than enough. I use it. Shooting Raw is for people who've pushed the results in JPEG as far as they can and are willing to spend the extra effort in working with Raw to get that little bit extra.