Learning to Think Like a Pro In The Field « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Learning to Think Like a Pro In The Field

The situation: Ring-billed Gull on piling near pier, Jamesport, NY. Created with the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS EF USM AF lens (hand held at 24mm) with the Canon EOS-1D X digital SLR . ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 2/3 stops: 1/60 sec. at f/16 in Manual mode.

Central sensor/AI Servo Rear Focus AF and recompose. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial. Be sure to click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

Learning to Think Like a Pro In The Field

While visiting my Mom on Long Island in January, I learned from friend Mike Lotito that the gorgeous adult Iceland Gull had returned to his winter haunts of the past few years at the end of Pier Avenue in Jamesport, NY. I had missed the bird in previous years and was buoyed by the fact that Mike told me that it had been present at high tide the last few days.

Alas, the bird was not there when I arrived never showed up on January 15, 2013.

As there were lots of Ring-billed and a few Herring Gulls around I decided to try and make soup from a stone. I had a loaf of bread with me and created some nice flight images of the ring-bills with the hand held 300 f/2.8L IS II lens and the 1D X. I will share a few of those with you here soon. I would not even consider photographing the gulls that landed on the green pilings as they all had saw-off tops. But when the winter plumage bird in the image below landed on one of the yellow posts I decided to get to work as these poles had rounded sort of concrete tops that might almost be a rock. In any case they were much less obtrusive than the tops of the green pilings.

As always, there is a ton to learn by studying the image above. First note that I set up to the right of the post that the bird was on so that I would not have the white railing in the background and even though doing so resulted in the bird’s body being angled slightly towards me. Slightly towards is generally preferable to slightly away. Next, notice that I pulled out the leg tabs and spread the tripod legs a bit effectively lowering the lens. That was done to effectively move the background farther away from the bird so that the rough water would provide the softest possible background. Note that I did not get so low as to include either the horizon or the sky in the background.

While converting the RAW file for the image above in DPP clicking on the Distortion box under Lens tab/Len Aberration Correction/Tune to instantly correct the curved horizon (due to barrel distortion at the wide angle setting). That is just one of the many advantages of converting your Canon RAW files in DPP (Digital Photo Professional). Learn about our DPP Raw Conversion Guide here.

Ring-billed Gull yawning, Jamesport, NY. Created with the tripod-mounted Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Autofocus lens and the Canon EOS-1D X digital SLR . ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 2/3 stops: 1/400 sec. at f/7.1 in Manual mode.

Go For the Gulls

“Go For the Gulls” was the title of an article that I wrote for the now-defunct Birder’s World magazine. The thrust of the article was that gulls make great practice subjects for nature photographers (including top professionals :)). I have said and written often, “If you point your lens at a gull chances are that within a few minutes they will do something neat.” The Ring-billed Gull above did exactly that with a protracted yawn. I created about 15 images in just a few seconds. There were many excellent images in the series other than the one that I chose to share with you here.

To determine the correct exposure I began by reading 2 1/3 stops off the light grey sky, photographing the gull, and checking the histogram. See more on that below. Note that 2 1/3 stops off the light grey sky worked out to 1 2/3 stops as framed? If you understand why, please share with us by leaving a comment.

[Not a valid template]

NIK 15% Discount

A 30% layer of Detail Extractor and Tonal Contrast fine-tuned via a Regular Layer Mask really brought this image to life. As regular readers know, Color Efex Pro has drastically changed my digital workflow and little by little I have begun using Viveza to solve sticky image optimization problems and Silver Efex Pro fo fast, dramatic B&W conversions. You can save 15% on all NIK products (including Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, and Viveza) by clicking here and entering BAA in the Promo Code box at check-out. Then hit Apply to see your savings. You can download a trial copy that will work for 15 days and allow you to create full sized images.

Digital Basics

If you’d like your images to look as good as mine, you can learn my complete digital workflow in our Digital Basics File that also includes dozens of great Photoshop tips, Layer Masking for Dummies, all of my Keyboard Shortcuts, and tons more. Digital Basics, a PDF that is sent via e-mail, will be the best $25 you ever spent on your photography. Your purchase includes free updates.

MP4 Photoshop Video Tutorials

Many of the techniques used to optimize the image above, most notably, some Digital Eye Doctor stuff, are detailed in our MP4 Photoshop Video Tutorials, especially in the King Penguin Image Clean-up Video. Click here for more info or here to see the entire series. In each of the videos you will see me working in Photoshop while you hear my voice guiding you along the way step by step.

The rear of my 1DX with the out-of-focus gull and pier in the background. Created with the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS EF USM AF lens (hand held at 90mm) with the Canon EOS-1D X digital SLR . ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop as framed: 1/60 sec. at f/10 in Manual mode.

Central sensor/AI Servo Rear Focus AF and recompose. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial. Be sure to click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

The Back of the Camera

Even when you click on the image above to see the larger version, there does not seem to be any data in the fifth box of the histogram…. See below for the actual story.

This is a tight crop of the rear LCD. Yeah, I know, I need to clean the LCD screen every now and then.

The Histogram

A closer look at the histogram reveals data well into the fifth box in all three channels. This is exactly what you want your histogram to look like so that the WHITEs will open with the RGB #s between 230 and 235 as I recommend. Though WHITEs as high as 254, 254, 254 are not technically over-exposed they may appear detail-less even after the application of a Linear Burn and Detail Extractor from NIK Color Efex Pro 4. My practical approach is a far better one than the theoretically correct approach.


The Iceland Gull never showed up.

Fort DeSoto Morning In-the-Field Workshop

Fort DeSoto In-the-field Workshop: FEB 25. Pre-dawn -10:30am. Limit 16/openings: 5. Includes a great working lunch: $275.

On Monday morning, February 25, Denise Ippolito and I will be co-leading a morning In-the-field Workshop at Fort DeSoto, south of St. Petersburg, FL. We should get to photograph a variety of very tame herons, egrets, gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Spoonbills possible. There will be lots of individual and small group instruction. We will cover exposure and histograms, seeing the situation, creating sharp images, and lots more. Each registrant will have a personalized gear and set-up check. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn.

A great working lunch at the Sea Porch Café on St. Petersburg Beach is included. All are invited to bring a laptop along for image sharing at lunch. After the workshop, all are invited to send us three 1024 wide or 800 tall JPEGs for critiquing. Call 1-863-692-0906 to register or send us a Paypal. Either way, be sure to note that the payment is for the Fort DeSoto In-the-Field Workshop.

Weekend Creative Nature Photography Seminar, Tampa, FL: February 23 & 24, 2013: $149 Limit: 50/Openings: 2

Best to register soon as there are just 4 seats left. The In-the-field Workshop above follows the Weekend Creative Nature Photography Seminar. You are invited to join Denise Ippolito and me on the weekend of February 23-24 on the outskirts of Tampa, FL for a great weekend of fun and learning. Learn to improve your photography skills, your skill at designing images in the field, your creative vision, and your image optimization skills. Sunday critiquing session. Click here for additional details and the complete schedule.


On all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or leave a comment regarding any typos, wrong words, misspellings, omissions, or grammatical errors. Just be right. 🙂

Support the BAA Blog. Support the BAA Bulletins Shop B&H

We want and need to keep providing you with the latest free information, photography and Photoshop lessons, and all manner of related information. Show your appreciation by making your purchases immediately after clicking on any of our B&H or Amazon Affiliate links in this blog post. Remember, B&H ain’t just photography!

If you are considering an item for purchase or comparison shopping be sure to place an item in your cart to see the too-low-to show the actual price. In many cases the prices are so low that B&H is forbidden from publicizing them!

Tamron Rebates Nikon Camera Rebates Olympus Camera Rebates Sigma Lens Rebates Printer Rebates You go to B&H Rebates & Promotions

Shop Amazon

Consider doing all of your Amazon.com shopping using the search link below. You’ll be getting the same low prices and great service that you are accustomed to and at the same time, supporting my efforts in the Bulletins and on the Blog to bring you great images, timely product news and info, and tons of free educational articles on an almost daily (and sometimes almost back-breaking) basis 🙂 Just type your search in the little white box and hit Go.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

LensCoats. I have a LensCoat on each of my big lenses to protect them from nicks and thus increase their re-sales value. All my big lens LensCoat stuff is in Hardwood Snow pattern.
LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers. I have four tripods active and each has a Hardwood Snow LegCoat on it to help prevent further damage to my tender shoulders 🙂 And you will love them in mega-cold weather….
Gizo GT3532 LS CF Tripod. This one replaces the GT3530LS Tripod and will last you a lifetime. Learn more about this great tripod here.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.
BreezeBrowser. I do not see how any digital photographer can exist without this program.
Delkin Flash Cards. I use and depend on Delkin compact Flash Cards and card readers most every day. Learn more about their great 700X and 1000X cards here or about my favorite Delkin card here.

66 comments to Learning to Think Like a Pro In The Field

  • Jack Gooodman

    Artie, why not just use the spot meter on the camera and forget about all the extra adjustments?


  • Richard Wozniak

    What I meant by “using the exposure as framed” was that if you reframed the subject and then nulled the meter (or used auto) the result would be over exposure by one stop.
    Obviously if you meter off the sky and compensate by 2 1/3 stops the exposure will peg the whites at the right place as long as you don’t change anything when reframing.

    Incidentally, for a 2 1/3 compensation to be necessary to put some tone in white feathers surely the sky must have been pretty pale grey verging on off white? Which leads me to my next point….Using an area of even tone to gain an initial meter reading implies a considerable degree of experience in judging where that tone lies on the tonal scale relative to say, mid grey in order to make the correct compensation. The compensation would be quite different using say grass, or a grey sky or a white cloud?
    Without that experience most lesser photographers would struggle to compensate accurately enough to get any closer than a ball park exposure.
    This is fine for situations where there is no time to play around but once one or two ‘banker’ shots were in the bag, one would check the histogram and adjust to higher accuracy?
    If there is time, then metering the subject as framed and then adjusting the histogram to place the lightest important tones just short of the right hand end would seem the most accurate route to optimal exposure?
    Finally, I am finding that the latest Nikon Matrix metering system algorithms are getting very good at compensating in those difficult white /black situations. Do you agree and are you putting more trust in the meter than you used to – when they were little better than averaging meters?
    As ever, I always appreciate your views as it either validates what I am doing or makes me think again!
    Kind Regards

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I learn each camera well. I never trust the camera’s meter. I always trust the histogram.

      Yes, many folks do not have the experience that I have. That’s why I share everything that I know about exposure in ABP and in ABP II and here. But folks need to buy the books, study, and practice. No camera in the world is 1/10 as smart as I am when it comes to getting the right exposure. I make images at zero compensation about 10% of the time.

  • Richard Wozniak

    Sorry for the VERY late post but I just found it and it is interesting.
    My understanding is that you are metering off a mid grey sky to establish a base exposure and addind 21/3 stops to place the whites of the gull at at 230-240 (RGB nos) giving good detail in the whites.
    I presume that is the actual exposure that you used. Job done.
    The meter READING changed on reframing because the subject matter in the frame changed (from light grey sky to gull plus dark background) – but the correct EXPOSURE is still the original one off the sky +21/3 stops – assuming there were no blinkies in the white feathers OR you could take the reading as framed ang (as it is a darker overall) apply a lesser compensation – in this case 1 stop and still get a correct exposure. However using the exposure as framed would result in overexposure of the whites by 1 stop.
    Am I getting it?
    Kind Regards
    Richard (in the UK)

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You got it right up to the end…. You are in Manual mode so the actual exposure does not change unless you change the shutter speed or the aperture. Or the light changes. The exposure will be correct “as framed.” That’s the whole point of being in Manual mode. It’s back to the drawing board for you!

  • Jon Rista

    Well, I am a bit late to the game, and it looks like some lengthy discussions have gone on. I would like to test my own understanding of metering and exposure with a DSLR, so I hope you do not mind.

    If I understand what you are saying, Art, is that when you meter off a sky such as exists in your photo of the gull, you are metering off of something that is relatively bright. Since the camera meter aims to produce a “middle toned” exposure with its built-in meter, by metering off the whiteish sky, the camera will actually aim to produce a grayish exposure (if you actually exposed just the sky.)

    Thanks to your great body of knowledge regarding bird photography, you intuitively know that a bright sky or cloud of relatively neutral tone is 1 2/3rds to 2 1/3rds stop brighter than that “middle toned” gray that the camera meter aims for. In order to properly expose a scene of a bird that has a range of bright and middle tones, and shift the right-hand end of the histogram squarely in the middle of the right-most box of the histogram, you then need to compensate your exposure…in the case of the sky in the gull photo, by +2 1/3rd stops.

    That is how I understand exposure in the context of DSLR camera metering. I guess my explanation is a little verbose, I’m not really sure how to condense that into a sentence or two. Would that be a valid explanation of why you compensated your exposure by +2 1/3rd stops?

    • Jon Rista

      I guess in answer to the question regarding why the “as framed” shot was only compensated by 1 2/3rd stop, I’d have to say because when you brought the gull into view, the dark features of the gull and darker tones of its perch would have changed what the meter saw as “middle toned gray”…apparently by -2/3rd stops relative to the brighter overall tone of the sky.

      • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Jon, Better late than never. YAW on all counts. Here is how I would condense what I am doing. I am metering off a large area with a consistent tonality and then working from there to create and image with the highlights, in this case, the WHITEs of the gull, well into the rightmost histogram box without any significant clipping. That is simply what I do 100% of the time. It is both short and sweet and pretty simple.

        As for your second comment, it was the darker tones of the water that changed the meter reading.

        • Jon Rista

          Ok, I guess that is good to explain “what” you do. I think there is a lot of intuition there, though, which is probably benefited by decades of experience. I thought you were asking about the “why” you do “what” you do, and I think the underlying mechanics of “why” might be helpful to more novice photographers.

          To that end, I do believe that the mechanics behind why it works, and why the darker tones of the water brought down your compensation to 1 2/3rd stops from 2 1/3rd stops, is the nature of a built-in camera meter to effectively “average” the metered areas of the scene (in the case of evaluative, the entire scene) and aim to expose such that the average tone is 18% Gray (which in the Zone system that others have mentioned would be a perfectly middle-toned gray.) The darker tones of the water helped change the average overall tone of the scene to middle gray relative to the brighter tones of the sky.

          If you meter an evenly toned white wall, and take a photo, the brightness of the wall in the photo would appear to be middle gray. To correct that discrepancy, you would need to boost exposure. In the case of a white wall, probably by a full +3 stops compensation (ir a three-stop longer shutter speed.) It would seem logical to me that metering off the sky would be roughly the same thing, no? If the average tone of the sky is brighter than the average tone of the full scene, you would need positive exposure compensation (longer shutter). If the average tone of the sky is darker than the average tone of the full scene, you would need negative exposure compensation (shorter shutter).

          I am not sure if I what I described before came across the same way…but that is how I understand the behavior of the meter built into a DSLR. I don’t have a 1D X, and I know it is highly advanced, involves full color, etc….so it may work differently. I believe my 7D supports color on a very basic level, and is better about metering within the capabilities of the sensor…but if I meter a white wall and take a picture with AWB, the resulting photo is underexposed relative to what it should be. Same thing if I meter snow, it ends up a dullish gray, rather than a brighter white. I would have to compensate both, either with +2 EC in Av mode, or a longer shutter in manual mode. I figured that was because of the nature of the meter itself…and its aim to achieve an average overall scene tone of approximately middle gray.

          Unless I’ve missed something somewhere, I do believe that explains the “why” of “what” you do as well…

          • Jon Rista

            “The darker tones of the water helped change the average overall tone of the scene to middle gray relative to the brighter tones of the sky.”

            Should be:

            “The darker tones of the water helped change the average overall tone of the scene **closer to** middle gray relative to the brighter tones of the sky.”

          • Jon Rista

            BTW, I should point out that I do not disagree with what you are doing. I believe it is entirely correct and valid, and that using manual mode when photographing subjects that may have a dynamic background with inconsistent tone is the best approach.

            I was just trying to make sure my understanding of in-camera metering correlated with your approach, and was able to explain why your approach works.

          • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

            Some of what you say is right on and some is hogwash :). Here is one for sure:

            “If you meter an evenly toned white wall, and take a photo, the brightness of the wall in the photo would appear to be middle gray.”

            If you have ever used Evaluative or Matrix metering to check on what you are saying, if you have studied the materials in the Exposure Simplified Section of ABP II, you would know that your statement is inaccurate. It is true for Evaluative metering when it is cloudy or foggy but not at all true on a sunny day, again, when using either Evaluative or Matrix metering which is all that I ever talk about here.

            So yes, you have missed one very important principle: when the sun it out the meter is a lot smarter than when the sun is in….

          • Jon Rista

            Hmm..ok. I guess I have a tendency to end up photographing on fairly or totally overcast days, so it is very likely my understanding is fairly skewed by that. (I’m really looking forward to spring, when we should have more sunny days.) I’ll have to do some more experimentation, and see how evaluative metering (which I use exclusively now, thanks to all your blogs, articles, threads on BPN, and eBooks! 🙂 ) works when the sun is out. I’ll get back to you… 😉

          • Jon Rista

            Regarding ABP and ABP II. Since I only use digital, is there any value in the original ABP for someone like me? Does ABP II have everything I need?

  • Jack Gooodman

    Artie, this is great of you to answer individual comments. You chastised me for using the term “under exposed.” I used it in the same sense Ansel Adams used it in determining what zones he wanted to place various elements of the image. I dont mean to nitpik the hard work you put into this site, Ansel (and Fred Picker) would deliberately under or over expose using the zone system. Digital is a little different but the zone system still applies.

    Jack Goodman

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Jack, Your understanding of chastise is quite different from mine: chas·tise (Verb) To rebuke or reprimand severely. Punish, especially by beating. later and love, artie

  • Don Lacy

    Artie, We ran out of room again yes he contradicts himself there slightly but he is also explaining the sunny f/16 rule which one uses when the light is stronger and thus more contrasty in softer light less compensation is needed if any which is my experience but yours differs . Also John is not the only one who explains exposure this way Bryan Peterson, Art Wolf, and Jim Zuckerman all teach the same thing they also teach to add more light get more detail on darker tones and subtract light for more detail in brighter tones when your subject is in stronger light.

    Regards and interested how the BPN discussion goes.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I am trying to explain and you are not at all willing to listen. You just wanna prove that you are right when you are wrong. The premise that I am pitching here is that when the WHITEs are right that the middle and darks are under. The “compensation” that you mention in your efforts to prove yourself right has nothing at all to do with my premise. I agree with what you are quoting from the three folks above but again, what you say they are saying has nothing to do with my premise.

      Hey don’t you shoot ask of them an e-mail and simply ask if this is true:

      “When WHITE is properly exposed in any light the middle tones are rendered one stop under and the dark tones are 1 2/3 to 2 stops under.”

      Let me know what they have to say.

      Have you looked at the diagram in ABP that I mentioned somewhere? It is pretty much impossible to refute. If you did, you might actually understand that what I am saying is 100% accurate. I will post this to BPN but don’t worry, if everyone there tells me you are right I will know that I am right and you are wrong :).

      It was Tim Grey who said something like this: How did it come to be that you know more about getting the right exposure than anyone on the planet?” Smart man.

  • Don Lacy

    “I stand by my statement, “When you have the correct exposure set for a WHITE tone the middle-tones are set at one stop too dark and the dark tones are set at 1 2/3 to 2 stops too dark.” That is true whether you are working in soft light or in bright sun. Artie”

    Artie if this were true then it would be impossible to take an image of say a Bald Eagle since according to your statement in order to get the tonal values of the white head correct the brown feathers would be rendered 2 stops under exposed in any lighting condition including soft overcast light. In fact your image here is a perfect example. Once you set the tonal value for the brown breast of the eagle at-1 the white head fell into the proper tonal range. Now according to your above statement this image would be impossible.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Don, Your argument is seriously flawed at best. You stated elsewhere that you understand advanced exposure theory but you continue to demonstrate that you do not understand even basic exposure theory. It is easy to deal with dark tones that are under-exposed in post-processing. In the image that you refer to you I did not “set the tonal value for the brown breast to -1” as you incorrectly inferred.

      But rather than reading my comments with an open mind you keep insisting that you are right. I have a wonderful policy that has worked well for decades: when I am wrong, I say, “I was wrong. You oughta try it.

      I would suggest that you get yourself copies of ABP & ABP II and start studying.

      ps: for folks who are just arriving, this is a continuation of a comment conversation that you will find below. We ran out of room there.

      • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        pps: All that you need to do to see that your argument is ridiculous is to look at the large crop of the histogram; the dark tones have a ton of room on the left, two boxes at least. I will admit that in bright sun that the histogram would be spread over all five boxes and that in some cases the dark tones may be clipped just a bit but that would not make creating a great image “impossible.”

        On a related note I remember running into John Shaw in the parking lot at Cape May Lighthouse State Park in NJ. I asked him if he handled his WHITEs differently in soft light as compared to bright sun. His response, “White is white.” That bears directly on your lack of understanding here.

        • Don Lacy

          Artie , I think we are talking past each other at this point and our not understanding what we are saying to each other I have thousands of properly exposed slide and digital images some of them even honored with IOW selection on BPN so I am pretty confident I understand exposure. I am not interested in being right or wrong just trying to understand your method of explaining exposure which contradicts everything I have read and learned on the subject and that is once one tonal value is set correctly the others fall into place which you state is not true.

          “On a related note I remember running into John Shaw in the parking lot at Cape May Lighthouse State Park in NJ. I asked him if he handled his WHITEs differently in soft light as compared to bright sun. His response, “White is white.” That bears directly on your lack of understanding here.”
          I know white is white what I am saying is that a scene will have less contrast in soft light then in bright light thus the difference between the brightest and darkest tonal values will have less stops am I wrong here. Also since you brought up john Shaw here is an excerpt from his Nature Photography Field Book found on page 25
          Place one tonality correctly, and all other fall into place . If this seems strange think of what happens when you meter a medium-toned object like a gray card or medium-green grass. When you do that, medium records as medium, dark records as dark, and light records as light. Which is what i stated and you said was wrong If you want feel free to move this over to BPN and we can get others insights if not as always i have enjoyed our conversation.

          • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

            Hey Don, It’s really funny that you brought up the stuff on Page 25 of John’s otherwise great book. I have long felt that that what he wrote there was a gross over-simplification at best. I hope that you are amazed that I know exactly what you are talking about. If you read to the part about Sunny f/22 in John’s book you will see that John contradicts what he wrote on page 25. What he is stating clearly there is that if you photograph WHITEs at the middle tone exposure that they will be one stop over-exposed. Do read that again.

            When and if I have some time I will cut and paste our conversation over to the General Photography forum at BPN. I would not be surprised if some there agreed with you but that would make them wrong and me right. 🙂 I have been there and done this with some very fine photographers.

  • Loi Nguyen

    There was no shadow of the camera and tripod, thus the sun is in, and therefore you must add light. In this case, the light is pretty weak, so you decided adding 2 1/3 is needed for a grey subject. The gull is large in the frame and is white, so you need to add less light than you would for a grey bird. In this case 2/3 EV is the answer (honestly, I’d have guessed that you need to substract a full EV, not 2/3)

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      The more you wrote the more trouble you got yourself into :). See today’s blog post for clarification!

  • Troy

    Hi Artie. Was the exposure difference because there is more pure white in frame in the gull photo compared to the grey sky exposure? (i took your as framed statement as a hint 🙂 )

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      No. Just the opposite actually… I will comment on everything below in a future blog post.

      • Troy

        Coming from the UK i’d take a cloudy sky exposure to be DARK grey if you know what i mean 🙂
        The cloud is also so changeable here that there’s often dark grey clouds everywhere but direct sunlight on the subject too, so i don’t often use that technique.

        • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Most cloudy skies are a lot lighter than a grey card…. Most folks see light grey as grey. But I am sure that you have some dark ones on that side of the pond.

  • Don Lacy

    Hi Artie, I will take a shot at this your exposure did not change what changed was the cameras meter values since you were now pointing it at a subject that had a different tonality then the sky. In other words once you set the shutter speed and aperture to expose the sky at the tonality you wanted it those settings would expose all other tonalities at their proper values as long as the light was the same. If you had pointed the lens at a medium tone subject after setting the values off the sky your meter would have been at 0 a dark toned subject would have metered at -1.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Don, You were right on track until the last sentence. And you would have been correct there had the sky been a middle tone. But it was actually much lighter than a middle tone…

      • Don Lacy

        Yes, it was lighter then a middle tone thats why you set the values at +2 1/3 if you would have set the value at 0 your histogram would not have had any info in the third box once you had the values set for the sky all other values fall into place. My last sentence was only explaining that once you have one tonal value set correctly in manual mode all other values will be correct as long as the light stays the same. Not sure why you think I thought a light tone like the sky should be metered at 0 instead of the +2 that you did use.

        • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Don, this statement is incorrect: “My last sentence was only explaining that once you have one tonal value set correctly in manual mode all other values will be correct as long as the light stays the same.”

          Why? When you have the correct exposure set for a WHITE tone the middle-tones are set at one stop too dark and the dark tones are set at 1 2/3 to 2 stops too dark. See pages 58-63 (and especially the diagram on page 62) in the original “The Art of Bird Photography” to gain a complete understanding of exposure theory.

          Lastly, I did not say, “you think I thought a light tone like the sky should be metered at 0 instead of the +2 that you did use” or anything close to that :).

          • Don Lacy

            ” When you have the correct exposure set for a WHITE tone the middle-tones are set at one stop too dark and the dark tones are set at 1 2/3 to 2 stops too dark”
            That would only be the case in bright light in overcast or softer lighting conditions the values are not as far apart and your now getting into advance exposure theory which I also understand 🙂 where you want to darken the tonal value of a white or bright subject to reveal more detail or add more light to a black or dark subject to also reveal more detail and that would be thinking like a Pro.

            Don, trust me, I am not trying to be a pain in the ass, but your statement, “That would only be the case in bright light in overcast or softer lighting conditions (sic: as) the values are not as far apart…” is also incorrect.

            I stand by my statement, “When you have the correct exposure set for a WHITE tone the middle-tones are set at one stop too dark and the dark tones are set at 1 2/3 to 2 stops too dark.” That is true whether you are working in soft light or in bright sun. artie

  • Faraaz

    Ah, quizzes!

    The exposure situation – the sky is 2/3 stop darker than the gull. So for a given exposure, ‘as framed’ would always be 2/3 stop lighter than what was originally metered (light grey sky in this case).

    If you read -1 stop off the sky, then as framed you’d be at -1/3.

    • Faraaz

      Forgot to include “For example” before “If you read -1 stop off the sky, then as framed you’d be at -1/3.”

      • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        A bit confusing for many reasons–for starters, the gull has many different tones…. See the next blog post for more.

        • Faraaz

          Indeed. I was referring to the whites on the gull, as this is what would be compared to the sky. Awaiting the next blog post!

  • David Policansky

    I have to confess that I find this post and thread quite confusing. When I was with you at Barnegat, Artie, an insight I thought I got from you was to use manual mode and meter the bird. That way, if the background changed–a patch of foam moved behind the bird, for example, or if it moved–then your exposure would still be correct. That made sense to me. Why is this case different (or isn’t it?) To echo Doug West’s question, why were you metering off the sky, or even off the water, and not off the bird?

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You are confused. What do you mean by meter the bird? I never meter the bird and I never teach anyone to meter the bird. I always teach folks to meter off something consistent, usually the sky as I did here and as we did at Barnegat.

      You have the consistency part correct though. See my reply to Doug. I always choose to meter off something large and of consistent tonality, like the sky. This case is in no way different. The sky 30 degrees up from the horizon was a light grey all the way. artie

      • David Policansky

        Thanks, Artie. We agree that I’m confused! By “meter the bird,” I mean point the lens at the bird and see what the reading through the lens is, and go from there. What would you do in the case where you’d metered the sky and then the sun poked through a hole and illuminated the bird more brightly but the sky in the distance didn’t change? Or vice versa (a cloud covers the sun)? Both things happened a lot when we were at Barnegat in December.

        • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          When you say “metering the bird” you should be saying “metering the scene as framed.” When the amount of light changes you obviously need to make a change in your exposure settings if you want to get a good exposure….

          • David Policansky

            OK, I’m going to go find my copy of APB I and do my homework. Thanks.

            Better would be to study Exposure Simplified in ABP II. artie

  • BTW, Artie, some reviews claim that the new gen Canon full-bodies (1Dx, 5DIII and 6D) all produce noise-free images upto ISO 3200 and quite useable photos at ISO 6400.

    Does this match with your findings in field tests?

    Thanks in advance.


    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Again Quazi, I don’t do tests :). When I need a high ISO to get the needed shutter speed I deal with noise if it bothers me. You cannot make blanket statements as noise in some images is more problematic than in others. In general, I am not overly concerned at all with noise. I have made some very nice images with the 1D X at 1600 and 3200. I have not used ISO 6400 much but I will if I need to!

  • Thanks Arthur for this thread.

    I have been using DPP with satisfaction for quite a while already and recently downloaded the latest update. The update offers lens distortion correction and HDR facilities. I love DPP and recommend to all Canon DSLR users mainly for 2 following reasons:

    1. It’s totally free to all Canon DSLR users including the updates.
    2. It’s easy, fast and produces nice colors.

    I say “nice” because there’s a difference between accurate and nice. Accurate is accurate that may not look nice to everyone’s eyes. DPP understands which color is necessary, where and thereby processes the images accordingly. Obviously it’s not 100% perfect (no application on earth is) but serves most of the purposes of Canon RAW shooters at no cost.

    I don’t feel like thanking Canon for the price tags of recently released gears but this stuff is really great. Thank you Canon for DPP.

  • Assuming some of these answers are correct…I have a question… instead of metering off the sky, why didn’t you meter off the water, or even the pier? Thanks, Doug

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I could meter off anything and get the right exposure. I like the sky because it is always there and because it is usually light grey or blue. All that you need to do is wind up with date halfway into the right-most histogram box…. You can do that by trial or error of become a student of exposure theory as detailed in the original (soft cover) ABP.

      • I’m still using AE and promised myself Manual this spring. Kinda funny cause that’s all I had when learning photography with a Pentax ME Super. Starting in high school. Doug

      • Hi Artie,
        Surprisingly long thread on your comment! Sounds like they do not know you use Evaluative meter and EV compensation? Your answer here is the one that caught my eye: “All that you need to do is wind up with data halfway into the rightmost histogram box….” Thank you.

        • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Thanks Al. It does not matter how you get there and it is not rocket science, but getting data halfway into the rightmost histogram box will give you something workable 100% of the time.

  • Maureen

    The camera meter recognized the overall tonality of the framed image as darker than the sky. Your meter reading from the sky was 2/3 stop lower than that of the framed image. Thus, your advice: The lighter the overall tonality, the more light you need to add.

  • Jack Goodman

    I would guess you underexposed a little more than is suggested by the composition because the gull itself is so white, probably around zone 8.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      When you are working in Manual mode you are never over- or underexposing so to speak. You set the correct exposure for a given subject in a given lighting situation and then the camera shows you the exposure of the image as framed when you look at the analog scale and note the level of over- or under-exposure….

  • Charles Scheffold

    The background behind the gull (water) is darker than the sky – that’s the reason for the exposure difference as framed.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Being succinct and confident is a good thing especially if you are right. I will withhold additional comment for now.

  • Denny

    I was happy to read this Artie. I have been doing quite a few shots of penguins at the Calgary Zoo, and when I exposed for the “proper” histogram, some of the whites show less detail than if I dial in 1/3 to 2/3 less compensation, and keep the highlights about where you have them in your great gull shot.


    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You must learn to work in Manual mode with penguins and all black and white birds otherwise the meter will be unduly influenced by large changing areas of black and white and your exposures will be all over the place. And most of those places will be bad places where do you not want to be…. Highly recommended: study the “Exposure Simplified” and the “Working in Manual Mode” sections in ABP II.

  • The exposure changed because you were in Manual Mode– which keeps aperture and shutter speed but changes the exposure depending on whether you are pointing to light or darker scenes. As long as the light doesn’t change, wherever you point will be the correct exposure if your sky exposure was correct. In Av mode the aperture and exposure compensation would stay the same, whether you pointed at a light or dark scene. The shutter speed changes to keep the same compensation. In other words in Av with exposure compensation set at +2 when pointed at a light sky, when pointing at a darker area, the exp. compensation would stay at +2 and the dark area would be overexposed. Probably overly wordy but anyway that’s my try at the explanation.

  • David Policansky

    Hi, Artie, and thanks as always. Well, I’m pleased that my first thought on looking at the image of your camera setup was, “he’s shifted the camera slightly to the right so the white fence won’t be part of the background.” I continue to put your lessons into practice. I don’t know if this is technically right if it’s right at all, but the white gull is brighter than the grey sky, so any given exposure will be less “underexposed” for the gull than for the sky. If I want to retain detail in the white part of the gull, I need less exposure than I’d need to retain detail in the sky.

    It’s a wonderful image; the orange inside the gull’s mouth is quite striking.