Understanding Exposure Basics: soft light versus full sun « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Understanding Exposure Basics: soft light versus full sun

Which Lighting do you Prefer for Bald Eagle Images?

Do you like images made in cloudy conditions, like Image #1? Or do you prefer those made in full sun, like Image #2? Why?

What’s Up

Monday was more of the same but for the fact that I ditched my rope and walked from home to the end of the pier and back, an even 4.0 miles. On Friday afternoon, I got a text from multiple IPT veteran Greg Hritzo. He had been to the Galapagos with me in 2007. On Sunday afternoon, he dropped by with wife Jenni for a pool deck dinner. It was great catching up.

I was glad to learn yesterday that Geri George’s Canon 100-400mm II lens sold right after the second price drop. Kudos to US Open quarterfinalists Nick Kygrios and Frances Tiafoe. Each was an underdog who defeated a much higher ranked player in a thrilling match. Things on the Homer/Kachemak Bay IPTs are tightening up. If you are seriously considering joining me, please get in touch soon.

Today is Tuesday 6 September 2022. The schedule for today: finish this blog post, take an early rope flow walk, get back to doing some serious work on my 2021 taxes, swim 1/2-mile, nap, and do my bursts. And watch some more tennis. Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope that you too have a great day. This blog post took about 90 minutes to prepare and makes one hundred sixty-five days in a row with a new one.

Please remember to use the B&H and Amazon links that are found on most blog pages and to use the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout when purchasing your new gear from Bedfords to get 3% back on your credit card and enjoy free second-day air FedEx. Please, also, consider joining a BAA IPT. You will be amazed at how much you will learn!


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BIRDS AS ART Image Optimization Service (BAA IOS)

Send a PayPal for $62.00 to birdsasart@verizon.net or call Jim at 863-692-0906 and put $62.00 on your credit card. Pick one of your best images and upload the raw file using a large file sending service like Hightail or DropBox and then send me the link via e-mail. I will download and save your raw file, evaluate the exposure and sharpness, and optimize the image as if it were my own after converting the raw file in Adobe Camera Raw. Best of all, I will make a screen recording of the entire process and send you a link to the video to download, save and study.

Induro GIT 304L Price Drop

Amazingly, we have two, brand-new-in-the-box Induro GIT 304L tripods in stock. They are $699.00 each (were $799.00) and the price now includes the insured ground shipping to the lower 48 states. Weekday phone orders only: 863-692-0906. Order yours here while they last.

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Please remember that if an item — a Delkin flash card, or a tripod head — for example, that is available from B&H and/or Bedfords, is also available in the BAA Online Store, it would be great, and greatly appreciated, if you would opt to purchase from us. We will match any price. Please remember also to use my B&H affiliate links or to earn 3% cash back at Bedfords by using the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout for your major gear purchases. Doing either often earns you free guides and/or discounts. And always earns my great appreciation.

Brand-New and As-Good-As-Ever Bedfords BAA Discount Policy

Folks who have fallen in love with Bedfords can now use the BIRDSASART coupon code at checkout to enjoy a post-purchase, 3% off-statement credit (excluding taxes and shipping charges) on orders paid with a credit card. The 3% credit will be refunded to the card you used for your purchase. Be sure, also, to check the box for free shipping to enjoy free Second Day Air Fed-Ex. This offer does not apply to purchases of Classes, Gift Cards, or to any prior purchases.

Money Saving Reminder

Many have learned that if you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H and would like to enjoy getting 3% back on your credit card along with free 2nd Day Air Fed-Ex Air shipping, your best bet is to click here, place an order with Bedfords, and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If an item is out of stock, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell phone at (479) 381-2592 (Central time). Be sure to mention the BIRDSASART coupon code and check the box for Free Shipping. That will automatically upgrade to free 2nd Day Air Fed-Ex. Steve has been great at getting folks the hot items that are out of stock at B&H and everywhere else. The waitlists at the big stores can be a year or longer for the hard-to-get items. Steve will surely get you your gear long before that. For the past year, he has been helping BAA Blog folks get their hands on items like the SONY a 1, the SONY 200-600 G OSS lens, the Canon EOS R5, the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and the Nikon 500mm PF. Steve is personable, helpful, and eager to please.

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Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers whom I see in the field and on BPN, are — out of ignorance — using the wrong gear, especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads. And the same is true in spades when ordering new camera bodies or lenses. My advice will often save you some serious money and may help you avoid making a seriously bad choice. Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. If you are desperate, you can try me on my cell at 863-221-2372. Please leave a message and shoot me a text if I do not pick up.

This image was created on 19 February 2021 on Homer/Kachemak Bay IPT. Probably crouching a bit, I used the handheld Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens (at 547mm) and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 2500. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/1600 sec. at f/6.3 (wide open) in Manual mode. RawDigger showed that the raw file brightness for this image was perfect; there were 38,000 OvExp pixels (out of 51 million) in the brightest area of the sky. I could have added at least 1/3-stop more light. AWB at 10:42:56am on a then cloudy morning.

Tracking: Zone/AF-C Bird/Eye Detection AF was active at the moment exposure and performed perfectly. Click on the image to view a hi-res version.

Image #1: Adult Bald Eagle on stump in soft light

Exposure Basics Part I

As I have been teaching for more than three decades, when the light is soft and an image averages to lighter than a middle tone, the meter in your camera will be relatively dumb. You will need to add lots of light (typically from one to three stops or more) to the exposure suggested by your camera to come up with a workable exposure. Learn how I came to this realization on pages 62 and 63 of The Art of Bird Photography. I’ve long recommended that all serious photographers study the section on Applied Exposure Theory (pages 58-63) to gain a true understanding of exposure. This is true even today with the finest mirrorless camera bodies and their sophisticated metering systems.

Simply put, most folks do not have a clue.

This image was also created on 19 February 2021 on Homer/Kachemak Bay IPT. Again, probably crouching a bit, I used the handheld Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens (at 571mm) and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 800. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/2000 sec. at f/6.3 (wide open) in Manual mode. RawDigger showed that the raw file brightness for this image was within 1/6 stop of being perfect. AWB at 10:46:09am on a then sunny morning.

Tracking: Zone/AF-C Bird/Eye Detection AF was active at the moment exposure and performed perfectly. Click on the image to view a hi-res version.

Image #2: Adult Bald Eagle on stump in full sun

Exposure Basics Part II

As I have been teaching for more than three decades, when the sun is out at full strength and an image averages to a middle tone or darker, the meter in your camera will be relatively smart. You will only rarely need to add or subtract more than 1/3- to 1/2-stop of light to the exposure suggested by your camera to come up with a workable exposure. Why this is true is detailed on page 63 of the aforementioned The Art of Bird Photography. On pages 61 and 62 of the book, you can learn to use spot metering. Though I recommend against using spot metering for bird photography, understanding how it works will help to cement your mastery of exposure theory.

Image Brightness

While doing the research for this post, I learned how to determine the brightness of an image in Photoshop.

1- Convert the raw file.
2- Go Filter > Blur > Average Blur
3- Click on the Histogram tab and then select Luminosity from the dropdown menu.
4- The mean value will tell you the relative brightness of the image.

This value for Image #1 is 184. For image #2, it is 127. I know that pure white is 255 and the pure black is zero. If you know for sure what this value would be for a midtone, please leave a comment. Is it 128? And yes, I should know that, but I want to be sure.

The Huge Sony Exposure Advantage

With most camera systems (including Nikon and Canon), you need to make a test exposure first, and then evaluate the histogram to ensure coming up with a near-perfect, perfect, or dead-solid perfect exposure. Sony mirrorless folks with their bodies set up correctly can avoid this time-consuming step. They can control and perfect their exposures by turning the thumb dial until faint Zebras appear on the highlights live in the viewfinder before you press the shutter button. Case closed.

Homer 2022 Bald Eagle Highlights and Handholding Compositional Tips by Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Enjoy and be inspired by just a few Homer Bald Eagle highlight images. Hand holding intermediate telephoto lens will always yield slightly different compositions. Learn more about that topic in this short (3:14) video.

All images from Homer or Kachemak Bay, AK

2023 Homer/Kachemak Bay Bald Eagle IPTs

IPT #1: MON 20 FEB 2023 through the full day on FRI 24 FEB 2023. Five full days/20 hours on the boat: $5500.00. Limit 5 photographers/Openings: 3.

IPT #2: SAT 25 FEB 2023 through the full day on THURS 2 MAR 2023. Six full days/24 hours on the boat: $6600.00. Limit 5 photographers/Openings: 2.

IPT #3: FRI 3 MAR 2023 through the full day on TUES 7 MAR 2023. Five full days/20 hours on the boat: $5500.00. Limit 5 photographers. Openings: 4.

Save $1,000.00 by doing back-to-back trips.

These trips feature non-stop flight photography as well as many opportunities to create both environmental and point-blank portraits of one of North America’s most sought-after avian subjects: Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Other reliable subjects will include Sea Otter, Glaucous-winged and Short-billed (formerly Mew) Gulls.

In addition, we should see Common Murre, Black Guillemot, Pelagic Cormorant, two or three species of loons, and a smattering of ducks including two species of merganser, all three scoters, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Bufflehead, Harlequin, and Long-tailed Ducks. Close-range photographic chances for these species will require a ton of good luck. Some of these species, especially when in flocks, can, however, often be used effectively when pleasing creating bird-scapes.

If we need to be out early, we will be the first boat out. If conditions are great, we will stay out. And when there is a chance for sunset silhouettes, we will be in the right spot.

We will be traveling through gorgeous wilderness country; landscape and scenic opportunities abound.

Also featured is a professional leader, often referred to as the world’s most knowledgeable bird photography trip leader, who is conversant in Canon, Nikon, and Sony. You will learn practical and creative solutions to everyday photographic problems. You will learn to see the shot, to create dynamic images by fine-tuning your compositions, to best utilize your camera’s AF system, and how to analyze the wind, the sky conditions, and the direction and quality of the light. This is one of the very few trips Homer trips available where you will not be simply put on the birds and told to have fun. You will learn to be a better photographer. But only if that is what you want.

You will learn to get the right exposure when it is sunny, when it cloudy-bright, when it is cloudy, when it is cloudy-dark, or when it is foggy. Not to mention getting the right exposure when creating silhouettes.

You will learn to make pleasing blurs working in manual mode and to create silhouettes working in Shutter Priority mode.

Most importantly you will learn to pick your best flight images from tens of thousands of images.

You will enjoy working with the two best and most creative boat captains on their sturdy, photography-spacious, seaworthy, open-deck crafts.

The second and third IPTs are the only Bald Eagle workshops that feature an incredibly helpful first mate.

Only five photographers (not the usual six), plus the leader.

Small group Photoshop, Image Review, and Image Critiquing sessions.

All images from Homer or Kachemak Bay, AK

What’s Included

One four hour or two two-hour boat trips every day (weather permitting), all boat fees and boat-related expenses (excluding tips), ground transportation to and from the dock and back to the hotel each day, in-the-field instruction and guidance, pre-trip gear advice, small group post-processing and image review sessions, and a thank you dinner for all well-behaved participants.

What’s Not Included

Your airfare to and from Homer, AK (via Anchorage), the cost of your room at Land’s End Resort, all personal items, all meals and beverages, and tips for the boat captain and/or the first mate.

Please Note

On great days, the group may wish to photograph for more than four hours. If the total time on the boat exceeds 20 hours for the five-day trips, or 24 hours for the second trip, the group will share the additional expense at a rate of $225/hour.

Some folks may wish to rent their own vehicle to take advantage of local photographic opportunities around Homer.

Deposit Information

A $3000 non-refundable deposit/trip is required. You may pay your deposit with credit card or by personal check (made out to BIRDS AS ART) and sent via US mail only to Arthur Morris. PO Box 7245. Indian Lake Estates, FL 33855. Your balance, due 90 days before the date of departure, is payable only by check as above.

In Closing

I have been going to Homer off and on for close to two decades. Every trip has been nothing short of fantastic. Many folks go in mid-March. The earlier you go, the better the chances for snow. The only way to assure that you are on the best of the three trips is to sign up for all of them. Can you keep up with me? If you have any questions, or are good to go for one, two, or all three trips, please let me know via e-mail or give me a call on my cell phone at 863-221-2372.


With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

9 comments to Understanding Exposure Basics: soft light versus full sun

  • avatar Jeff Walters

    #2 is the beaut in this comparison. I know the cloudy skies can be like a nice soft box but in this case the background and pose just isn’t as special to my eyes as the beautiful blue background and commanding pose in the sunny blue shot. As always thanks for sharing. Stay sharp!

  • avatar James Saxon

    Image #2, love the head against the blue sky, colors in the background and log the eagle is perched on which makes the darker feathers on the body “pop”. Thanks for sharing.

  • avatar Steve

    I like the greater contrast and more colorful background in image #2, but I think that the eagle in #1 looks like a politician at a press conference who’s just been asked a question he’s not prepared to answer.

  • avatar Veit

    It was great re-reading pages 58-63 on Applied Exposure Theory in your book. I had forgotten most of it (OK, all). But it did pose this question: If I use zebras (or blinkies in my Fuji X-H2s) to expose to the right until I can’t see zebras any longer, as taught in your RawDigger guide, I should get the best possible exposure, even although it may not be a theoretically perfect exposure. Would you agree with that?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Veit, Thanks for the plug. I believe that all serious photographers should know that stuff cold. Well less than 1% do. First off, blinkies (highlight alerts) are not at all similar to Zebras. In addition, nothing about Zebras (or blinkies) is taught in the RawDigger guide. Zebras only work if the Zebra levels on your camera is set up properly. I wish that I could help more but you are very confused about lots of things. Where do you live?

      with love, artie

  • avatar Pat Fishburne

    #2 for sure, the blue color really makes the head pop!

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. I definitely prefer image 2, the one in full sun. I know it’s often harder to get a good exposure in full sun, especially for birds that have white as well as dark plumage, and shadows can be a problem, but I still prefer the saturation and contrast of image 2 (which has no distracting shadows and is perfectly exposed), and I prefer the pose and composition as well.

  • Artie
    I am partial of the sunny day photo showing the blue sky and the Eagle shows a bit more in his pose, more tail feathers and the head angle is slightly better the yellow seems to stand out more, the blue background just pops the image, NOT that image #1 isn’t bad i just love Eagles and everything about them, and it is amazing when sitting on the river banks watching gulls and GBH or ducks whatever it is when an Eagle approaches they all give him space and respect, of course not wanting to be dinner.
    Thank you

    Always with love b

  • avatar Ralph Fletcher

    Both very lovely, Artie. I prefer the white head against the blue sky.

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