Can you believe that this photo was taken by Nora when she was 13? Yep, 13 and shooting in manual exposure mode. No, she’s not a child photography prodigy, just someone who was taught a simple workflow for focusing and exposing properly for nature photography.
These two aspects of nature photography–focus settings and how to set camera exposure–are critically important to capturing a shot like this. Prior to shooting, Varina had already advised Nora to use her camera’s autofocus tracking mode and to keep focusing squarely on the bird’s eye in her viewfinder. When the cormorant emerged from the water with a big fish in its beak, Nora was ready. Or at least she thought she was ready.
When Nora saw the cormorant catching the fish, she grabbed her camera and started photographing the bird right away. Watching over her shoulder, Varina quietly suggested that she check her camera’s histogram. In the panic of the moment, she was worried that she’d miss the shot.
When she nervously glanced at the histogram on back of her camera, however, she saw that her photos were severely underexposed (above image). She made a very quick manual exposure adjustment and took several more shots as the bird swallowed the fish whole.
If she hadn’t taken that moment to check her histogram, she would have been left without a single shot of that fantastic moment. Quick thinking and her understanding of histograms in photography made for a beautiful action shot!
Even a 13-year old can learn to read a histograms in photography and make manual adjustments to her camera’s exposure. It’s easy! Here are some more images Nora took that day using her knowledge about focus settings and her ability to set camera’s exposure using histograms in photography.
So just how does one use histograms in photography to set camera exposure? Here is a simple case study that shows you how we do it for nature photography:
How to use histograms in photography
Take a look at this photo of Metlako Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. Besides the vibrant colors, you will notice that every part of this nature photo seems to be correctly exposed in camera. A histograms in photography can help us determine whether a photo is properly exposed, and if the photo needs exposure bracketing in order to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene.
If I wanted to expose this scene for the highlights, I would look at the bright water in the falls, and adjust the shutter speed until my camera’s histogram showed that I had captured detail in the bright areas of the image. Of course, this meant that the rest of the image was drastically underexposed.
If I wanted to expose this photo for the forest, I would look at the green foliage surrounding Metlako falls, and adjust the shutter speed until my camera’s histogram showed that I had captured detail in the green foliage. This meant that the highlight in Metlako Falls were over exposed and lacked details and contrast.
I can blend the image exposed for the highlights with one exposed for the shadows and mid-tone, and the result will be a natural-looking nature photo with nice details throughout the image.
Sometimes, we process a single RAW image multiple times in order to get proper exposure in different parts of the photograph.
Moments like this one motivated us to create our newest nature photography video course called Histograms Exposed. We will start on location and end with a beautiful product, demonstrating an effective nature photography workflow as we go. No more guesswork or hoping for the best. No more poorly-exposed or poorly-processed photos. Just the knowledge of histograms in photography working with the raw power of Lightroom to bring you high quality, professionally-processed nature photos every time.