Exposure Fine Point Answer and Explanation/You Will Not Learn This Stuff Anywhere But Here… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Exposure Fine Point Answer and Explanation/You Will Not Learn This Stuff Anywhere But Here...

What’s Up?

I am just a bit jet-lagged. I have been getting to bed early and getting up very early, between 3 and 4am, but have been getting a ton of work done. I got home late Monday and fly to Guayquil, Ecuador for my Galapagos Photo-Cruise leaving early on Sunday morning. Yikes! What a life I lead. And how blessed I am.

I made time for a long meditative (B-B-S-T-S) swim on Tuesday and Wednesday and plan the same for the next three days. I have been enjoying an ice bath each night and have gotten back into my core exercise routine. I have answered hundreds of e-mails over the past few days but am still far behind. The 2016 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT that was announced here in yesterday’s blog is approaching a sell-out and we have two spots sold already for the 2017 trip! If you are serious about joining us in 2016 it would behoove you to call or to e-mail immediately so that we can save you a spot. We do have lots of single room supplements available.

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Selling Your Used Photo Gear Through BIRDS AS ART

Selling your used (or like-new) photo gear through the BAA Blog or via a BAA Online Bulletin is a great idea. We charge only a 5% commission. One of the more popular used gear for sale sites charges a minimum of 20%. Plus assorted fees! Yikes. The minimum item price here is $500 (or less for a $25 fee). If you are interested please e-mail with the words Items for Sale Info Request cut and pasted into the Subject line :). Stuff that is priced fairly–I offer free pricing advice, usually sells in no time flat. In the past few weeks we have sold nearly everything in sight. Do know that prices on some items like the EOS-1D Mark IV, the old Canon 500mm, the EOS-7D, and the original 400mm IS DO lens have been dropping steadily. You can see the complete listings here. The Used Gear Listings are quite slim as a slew of mostly intermediate telephoto lenses (mostly old 100-400s) along with a 300 II sold within the past week. There are still two old 100-400s priced to all along with some great super-telephoto lenses listed including a Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS and a Sigmonster.

You can see all of the current listings here.

Brand New Listings

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro Lens

Michael Zajac is offering a used Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro Lens in mint condition with the tough carrying case and the front and rear lens caps for $999.99. You can contact Michael by e-mail or by phone at 732-979-6644 (eastern time). The sale includes insured shipping via either UPS or Fed-Ex Ground to US addresses. Your lens will not ship until your check clears.

I have owned and used this lens for many years for flowers, frogs, butterflies, dragonflies, large insects, and lots more. The 180 gives you lots of reach as well as a narrow angle of view.

Near-mint Canon EOS-1D Mark IV Camera Body with Extras

Michael Zajac is also offering a used Canon EOS-1D Mark IV camera body in excellent plus/near mint condition with a low shutter counts for $2099. The sale includes the original box, all included accessories, the dual charger, 2 batteries, the RRS L Bracket (a $183.00 value), and insured shipping via either UPS or Fed-Ex Ground to US addresses. Your camera body will not ship until your check clears. You can contact Michael by e-mail or by phone at 732-979-6644 (eastern time). The sale includes insured shipping via either UPS or Fed-Ex Ground to US addresses. Your lens will not ship until your check clears.


This image was created on the last morning of the 2015 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT with the hand held Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens and the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 2/3 stops off the light-toned sky: 1/2000 sec. at f/4.5.

Center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Shutter button AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure (as is always best when hand holding). As originally framed, the selected sensor was squarely on the bird’s face. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #1: Atlantic Puffin with fish braking to land by nest.

Exposure Fine Point Considerations…

In the “The 400 DO II/7D II Combo: Saving the Best for Last (in more ways than one…)” blog post here, I wrote, Serous students are invited to study the exposure data carefully and try this one on for size: Why only +1 2/3 stops off the sky in image #1 but +2 1/3 stops off the sky in image #2? Please be specific.

Several folks were on the right track by noting that the sky in the puffin image was brighter (bluer) than the sky in the murre image but nobody wound up giving a clear answer despite the fact that I responded to many of the comments with helpful hints…. As a group, some progress was made:

1-The ambient light level for the murre image was 2/3 stop less than it was for the puffin image. How do we know that for sure? The exposure values for the two images (1/2000 sec. at f/4.5) are the same but the ISO is 2/3 stop higher for the murre image.

2-Both the dark and light tonalities of the two subjects are for all practical purposes pretty much identical.


This image was also created on the last morning of the 2015 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT with the hand held Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens and the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. ISO 640. Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops off the white sky: 1/2000 sec. at f/4.5.

Center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure (as is always best when hand holding). Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #2: Common Murre braking to land at cliff nest.

Exposure Fine Point Answer and Explanation

Let’s start with a bit more on the sky. In the puffin image, the sun was a bit brighter and the sky was a bit bluer, still very light but definitely a bit on the blue side. Many folks referred to the sky in the murre image as “gray.” Yes it was dingy and darker and more overcast but the sky was not at all gray. it was pretty darned close to pure WHITE; here are the RGB numbers from the sky close to the bird: R: 242, G:243, B: 244. Very close to a pure WHITE. (Why so close to perfectly neutral? Because I used Click White Balance in DPP 4 during the RAW conversion process.

When photographing birds with some white plumage I generally start by taking a reading off the white sky and opening up 2 1/3 stops. For birds without any white feathers I will start at +3 stops off the white sky because WHITE tones need less light to be properly exposed than MIDDLE or DARK tones. In all cases you must check your histogram to ensure that you have exposed to the right without having any significant blinkies (over-exposure warnings) on the subject. With dark toned birds it is often correct to have lots of blinkies in the sky in order to ensure a proper exposure for the darker tones. But we digress.

We are now in a position to answer the question correctly, something that nobody (except for denise ippolito in a phone conversation) was able to do correctly. Here is the original question:

Why only +1 2/3 stops off the sky in image #1 but +2 1/3 stops off the sky in image #2?

Here is the correct answer in full:

As I have been teaching here an elsewhere for years, when the sun is out at full strength, the camera’s metering system is pretty smart. You will rarely need more than +1/3 stop or -1/3 stop exposure compensation (EC) to come up with a properly exposed image. When the sun, however, is not out at full strength, the meter gets really dumb. The softer the light and the closer the entire scene comes to being pure WHITE, the stupider the meter becomes. In the murre image, the light was soft and sky was nearly white (242, 243, 244) so the meter was really stupid. Experience has taught me that in these condition the correct EC is very close to +2 1/3 stops off the WHITE (not gray) sky.

With the puffin image, the sky was a bit bluer and brighter as there was a bit more sun and just a light haze in the air (rather than clouds as in the murre image). Thus, the camera’s meter was a bit smarter than it was in the murre image. The sky was not nearly blue and the sun was not out at full strength so one learns that the meter still needs lots of help. Not as much help as it needed in the soft light/white sky conditions in the murre image, but significant help. Help in the form or +1 2/3 stops off the very light blue sky.

Note that I did offer some clues in the original post when I wrote this for the puffin image:

Evaluative metering +1 2/3 stops off the light-toned sky: 1/2000 sec. at f/4.5.

And this for the murre image:

Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops off the white sky: 1/2000 sec. at f/4.5.

Are the Concepts Too Difficult?

At this point I can hear some folks thinking, “These concepts are too difficult to master. What does he expect from us? We are not full time professionals.”

They are missing the point that with digital photography you learn by estimating and then by checking your thinking and your results by evaluating the histogram.

Everyone can learn to do it by studying exposure theory in the original “The Art of Bird Photography” (ABP in soft cover) and the section on Exposure Simplified in “The Art of Bird Photography II” (ABP II: 916 pages, 900+ images each with our legendary educational captions on CD only).

My grandson Sam, then 13 and now in high school, learned to come up with the right exposure every time in less than five minutes when he visited the Galapagos with me several years ago by learning to analyze each histogram and add or subtract light as needed. He is admittedly a very bright young man. Jen shared with me yesterday that he scored a perfect 5 (out of 5) on an AP (college level) exam. But the fact is that you do not need to be brilliant to learn to get the right exposure every time with digital capture…. You just need to study and practice….


All of the images in the bear boat card above were created in Katmai National Park during the month of September.

Bear Boat/Bears Catching Salmon IPT: September 1-8, 2015 from Kodiak, AK/6 FULL & 2 1/2 DAYS: $6699. Happy campers only! Maximum 8/Openings: 3. Plus the leader: Arthur Morris.

This trip is a go.

Join me in Katmai National Park, AK for seven days of photographing Coastal Brown Bears (grizzlies) catching salmon, fattening up for the long winter. Other subjects will include Mew and Glaucous-winged Gulls in flight and dip-feeding on salmon roe. Did I mention that we live on a boat and that the food is great? Most of our photography will be done in a variety of famed locations: Geographic Harbor, Kinak Bay, and Kukak Bay. We once had 39 bears fishing the creek at Kukak….

It is mandatory that you be in Kodiak no later than the late afternoon of August 31, 2015 September to avoid missing the float planes to the boat on the morning of September 1. With air travel in AK being what it is, with the chance of fog or other bad weather–being on Kodiak on August 30 is an even better plan). I will be on Kodiak on August 30 to avoid any potential disaster. That said in my nearly a dozen bear boat trips I was delayed only once but since I was day early as noted above there was no harm, no foul.

We will take one or more float planes to the boat mid-morning on September 1. We will photograph bears fishing that afternoon and every day for the next six days (weather permitting of course). We should have bears catching salmon every day. In addition, we will get some nice stuff on Mew Gull and Glaucous-winged Gulls dining on roe and the remains of predated salmon. We may–depending on where the concentrations of bears are–get to photograph Harbor seals and some hauled out Steller’s Sea Lions (an endangered species). Halibut fishing (license required) is optional. On September 8, our last morning on the boat, those who would like to enjoy one last photo session will do so. The group returns to Kodiak via float plane midday. Most folks will fly to Anchorage and then continue on red-eye flights to their home cities.

The eight days will consist of six full days (Sept 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7) of photography featuring lots of Coastal Brown Bears catching salmon as above plus a variety of other natural history subjects plus some nice scenic photography that I forgot to mention above. Plus the first afternoon and the last morning.

What’s included? 8 DAYS/7 NIGHTS on the boat as above. All meals on the boat. (The food is quite excellent.) National Park fees. One night’s double occupancy lodging on Kodiak; arrive: Sept 1/depart: Sept 2. The thank-you-in-advance dinner on Sept 1. In-the-field photo tips, instruction, and guidance. An insight into the mind of a top professional; I will constantly let you know what I am thinking, what I am doing, and why I am doing it. Small group image review, image sharing, and Photoshop instruction on the boat.

What’s not included: Your round trip airfare to and from Kodiak, AK (almost surely through Anchorage). All necessary lodging other than the cost of your double occupancy room on the night of August 31 should you opt to arrive early–we can arrange that in advance for you. We will let you know the cost of a single supplement for the one night if so desired. The cost of the round-trip float plane to the boat on September 2 and back to Kodiak on September 9. The cost of a round trip this year was $500. The suggested crew tip of $210.

Is this an expensive trip? Yes, of course. But with 6 full and two half days, a wealth of great subjects, and the fact that you will be walking with the bears just yards away (or less….) it will be one of the great natural history experiences of your life. Most folks who take part in a Bear Boat IPT wind up coming back for more.

A $2,000 per person non-refundable deposit by check only made out to “Arthur Morris” is required to hold your spot. Please click here to read our cancellation policy. Then please print, read, and sign the necessary paperwork here and send it to us.

Your deposit is due immediately. That will leave a balance of $4699. The next payment of $2699 will be due on February 15, 2015. The final payment of $2000 is due on May 1, 2015.

I hope that you can join us for this wondrously exciting trip.

By e-mail from Bill Keown, veteran of three bear boat trips!

Hi Artie, What a great trip! With the exception of the one bright sunny day it was just great. Very different from my first trip in June where we only had the bears clamming; the fishing bears were amazing! As always I learned a lot and enjoyed the group immensely. All the Best, Bill


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7 comments to Exposure Fine Point Answer and Explanation/You Will Not Learn This Stuff Anywhere But Here…

  • avatar Nikhil

    Hi Art,

    Thank you very much for explaining it in detail. As always you have always been a great inspiration.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Thanks, Artie. Is the meter always stupid on the dark side in low light? Phrased another way, do you always have to add more light to what the meter says in lower ambient light? Or can it be stupid the other way as well?

    • avatar David Policansky

      ps I’ve never noticed the meter’s being stupid the other way in low light, but I’ve missed other important things before. 🙂

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      It depends on the tonality of the BKGR, the lighter the stupider the meter….

  • avatar David Peake

    Thanks Artie,
    I will think about your explanation some more and get some more practice.
    Kind regards