Exposure Quiz: You Are on the Spot and Have One Second to Get Ready. What Do You Do? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Exposure Quiz: You Are on the Spot and Have One Second to Get Ready. What Do You Do?

This Great Blue Heron was photographed on the recently concluded SW FLA BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tour with the hand held Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens with the Canon 1.4x EF Extender III (Teleconverter) and the Canon EOS-1D X Digital SLR camera body. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at zero as framed: 1/2000 sec. at f/7.1 in Manual mode.

One sensor left of and above the central sensor/AI Servo Surround/Rear Focus AF active at the moment of exposure. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version. If you own a 1D X be sure to check out the info on our EOS-1D X Autofocus Guide below.

Exposure Quiz: You Are on the Spot and Have One Second to Get Ready…

You just finished photographing the Great Blue Heron above, making sure not to clip the WHITEs on the heron’s neck. You look up and see the Boat-tailed Grackle below landing into the wind.

And remember, you have less than one second to adjust your exposure.

This Boat-tailed Grackle image was created on the recently concluded SW FLA BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tour with the hand held Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens with the Canon 1.4x EF Extender III (Teleconverter) and the Canon EOS-1D X Digital SLR camera body. ISO 400. What is your shutter speed? What is your aperture?

Central sensor/AI Servo Surround/Rear Focus AF active at the moment of exposure. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version. If you own a 1D X be sure to check out the info on our EOS-1D X Autofocus Guide below.

What Do You Do?

You have at most one second to adjust the exposure. You are at 1/2000 sec. at f/7.1 in Manual. mode. What do you do and why? I will let you know what I did in a day or three.

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95 comments to Exposure Quiz: You Are on the Spot and Have One Second to Get Ready. What Do You Do?

  • Loi Nguyen

    Hi Artie, Could you please give us a tutorial on how you meter off the sky to arrive at the exposure for the whites on the GBH in the first place. Thanks a ton. Loi

  • Chris Cooke

    Fortunately, I long ago gave in to the fact that in every pursuit there are those that will always stun us mere mortals with their ability, devotion and wonderful artistic ability and Arthur is one.

    I simply read everything he writes and produces with wonder and awe and feel privileged to have known him and his talent and generosity.

    Thank you Arthur.

  • Jon Rista

    I know I’m a little late to the game, but based on the previous quiz on exposure (Thinking like a Pro in the field), and some of the comments you made there…I’d open up the shutter. I remember you noting that your first course of action when you need to change exposure is to adjust shutter speed. In my recent bird photography (admittedly, only in my back yard), I’ve been practicing some of those techniques…and I find changing shutter to be the best option most of the time. I used to fear that…thinking I would allow too much blur, however that never really seems to be a problem until very slow shutter speeds. I think my new tropid helps…finally picked up a GT3523LS, and it is fantastic! So stable, and it really gives me a lot more freedom when it comes to shutter speeds.

    So, given that…and given the need to expose the under-side of the Grackle’s wings…I’d open up the shutter a bit more…2/3rds to 1 stop?

    • Jon Rista


      • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        The Gitzo 3532 LS is my favorite-ever tripod. I love mine. Did you purchase yours through the BAA On-line Store?

        • Jon Rista

          I actually purchased it on Amazon, however that was because I had a couple hundred dollars worth of Amazon Reward Points and a gift card that greatly reduced the price there. I picked it up for a little over $500 out of pocket. Sorry, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get it so cheap! 🙂

          • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

            I’d have done the same thing!

          • Jon Rista

            I would like to say, I just purchased ABP I and II from your store via the bundle deal. I am really looking forward to getting them! I can’t wait to learn proper exposure from all your many years of experience. I think I have exposing for whites down, but so many of the birds I photograph are dark, and I still struggle with getting exposure just right. Thank you for all the time you put into teaching us fledgeling bird photographers!

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Easy to get it right after the answer has been posted….

      • Jon Rista

        Well, true…although I had not seen the link to the answer at the time (I do now that it is directly below my comment). Oh well. I only ever have time to read on the weekends…maybe I’ll catch the next quiz when it’s posted.

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks to all who commented. Learn exactly what I did and why here.

  • Dear Artie thanks for your quick respinse. If I’m in the right track, maybe you did something similar but changing something different, I don’t use CANON..so I don’t know how quick can you change your ISO settings…one other alternative is to keep aperture and speed and quickly change your ISO to gain a littlbit of more light to get more light in the under wings of the new shot, (ISO 800 or even 1000).



    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      No time to change ISO with any camera system that I know of. You always need to do two things to do that….

  • Shane Shacaluga

    I would have opened the aperture to f5.6 and keep SS at 1/2000 Not sure if thats quick to do on the 1DX but I assume so.

  • Mark A Jordan

    Hello again. Second guess. Having metered for the first shot in manual mode, maybe your thumb dail was set to change the shutter speed. If so in less than a second you could have slowed your shutter speed down a few clicks to 1/800th of a second. The Boat-tailed Grackle was landing, so it was not flapping it’s wings to cause any blurring. This would increase the exposure while being sharp. Now I am not an expert, so I would not have done that in less than a second. But you could.

  • Michael Henry

    I would leave the exposures the same. I seem to remember somewhere / sometime you said that in circumstances where quick judgement is needed the most important thing is to get the image before it goes away. As others have mentioned you have already set up on manual to get a good exposure on a sunny day which should work reasonable well when you move the camera to get a shot of the bird down sun against the sky. Although if you had more time I would add a stop or so with a black bird.


    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I did say that but here I thought that I had time to add the needed stop by going three clicks slower on the shutter speed…. And I was right!

  • Artie

    You kept your values because you are using manual..and it was set to not clip the whites on the Herons neck…so you exposed for the whites. You should get good details in the following image

    Maybe the result would be littlebit dark under wings because I see the whites a littlebit stronger..so in that case, slow the speed 1/1600…


  • Neil Hickman

    Second try! The information on the first shot says you are at “Light bird on middle tone” (p 60 Making good exposures – The Art of Bird Photography”). Says “shoot at metered exposure” which is what you did. You want to go to the next scenario down “Dark bird on light background”. This says add 1 1/3. That’s what I said in my first answer by going to my Custom 1, but you said “too slow”. Only other way I could do it quicker would be spin the thumb wheel to add + 1 1/3. However this has taken a week to think out and not 1 second. I’ll be fine in another 20 years!

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Sorry Neil. You are both confused and wrong :(. There is no exposure compensation in Manual mode….

  • Marvin Pfeiffer

    Adjust the exposure in one second? My main concern in that instance would be getting on the bird quickly enough for my focus to adjust. That task would occupy my one second all by itself. You’re using your thumb to rear focus, so adjusting the wheel is out of the question anyway. The only way to adjust exposure in that scenario would be to reduce the shutter speed using your index finger on the front dial but that’s going to be tricky because you need it on the shutter button. You’re already at 1/2000 so a couple of clicks to the left would open that up and still let you freeze the action. If you’re metered correctly on the GBH though, I still think I’d be fine leaving things as they are.

  • No altering of the setting is needed. The exposure is set for the whites of the egret. The brightness of the whites is pretty much the same as the sky araound the “black bird”. So the dynamic range of the sensor is covering the blacks of the Boat-tailed Grackle.

  • Using my Nikon I would open up the exposure 2/3 of a stop.
    I would do that by rotating my main command dial 2 clicks to the port side.
    The result would be an exposure of 1/1250 of a second at F7.1

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Pretty darned good. As usual, we were only 1/3 stop away. Heck, usually we are right on the button despite me Canon you Nikon. See you on the Hooptie soon. Two signed up for three trips plus one more for Friday morning.

  • Artie,

    I am guessing exposure setting should be the same.
    Considering strong shadows I am assuming light is little strong.
    We should be underexpose whites and overexpose the blacks for details.


  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    It’s funny how many folks are either way off base or very confused…. And that group includes folks who I know to be pretty good photographers. I will be commenting on all the comments and letting all know exactly what I did within two days. For now, I am withholding all judgment 🙂 (or judgement in the UK….)

  • Add as many stops of exposure bias as the turn of the wheel would allow in such a short period of time. Would hope for +2 or more. Reason, very dark bird against very bright sky.

  • Mark A Jordan

    Hello. Let’s see. Having your exposure set by metering on the water in the background (neutral grey) for the first shot of Blue Heron, the second shot is in the same light as the first. So I would just try to focus on the Boat-tailed Grackle and kept shooting uslng the same setting as the first. Then in DPP correct the exposure for the Grackle.

  • Deirdre Sheerr-Gross

    You sly fox…
    This is what you were trying to get us to understand last week on that FABULOUS SW FL IPT…
    So I’ll go out on a limb and see if some of it sunk in…

    First, I agree, this is not easy to pull off… and in one second, no less!
    But in Manual mode with exposure compensation….
    you could have taken some pre or periodic “test” shots, checking that there was information in the far right box on the histogram, to get a sense of the right exposure…

    Second, you’d need to realize that you’d need more light for the darker bird…
    So you’d open up your aperture and/or slow down shutter speed… and/or raise you ISO…

    BUT with just a second, you better react quickly, and hopefully instinctively (I’m not there yet)…

    I think, your best bet would be to turn your Shutter Speed/Index Finger/Main Dial and/or your Aperture Thumb/Quick Dial to the left letting in more light… a total of 2 or 3 “clicks” my be all you need… (Practice, and lots more practice… helps here in knowing what exactly you need to do… Of course, there are certain other things you need to consider like enough shutter speed, to catch the action …and DOF required to catch a sharp image of your subject which is effected by which lenses, settings and subject…?? (How am I doing?? did I mention practice!!)

    So I’d probably go, with this smaller bird, down to 5.6 and might take my shutter speed down to 1600… BUT with only one second you’d have to do these adjustments at the same time… Hats off to you Mr Morris… That’s if this is what you did ….and this answer is close to correct… Whatever this is how I learn…

    Whew…. Nice shots Artie… Thank you for a TERRIFIC week, once again… Just love it!!


    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You have learned a ton. Your reasoning is spot on as is your understanding of exposure for WHITEs and BLACKs.

  • kati

    I would meter on the bright sky keeping as much of the bird in the frame as possible.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Kati. You need to start studying exposure and working in Manual mode. I had only one second so there was no time to meter the sky…..

  • Joel Haas

    Lots of guesses without a comment by Artie suggests we are all off base. One last from me. I think Artie keeps the Canon main dial when shooting to show/adjust ISO. the quickest one-second response would be to push the center button and dial the main dial to the right two clicks, pushing the Iso from 400 to 800 or 1000.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Wrong and certainly not quickest 🙂

      • Joel Haas

        Wrong, correct. I thought I remembered that in the 1DMiii guide you setting CFnIV4 to ISO…you actually said set to white balance.

  • To answer the actual question, if I only had one second, I’d
    just shoot at my current setting.


    • BTW, the reason why I wouldn’t change anything is I would
      hope the reflection from the sand or water would be enough
      to expose enough of the bird, so I wouldn’t have to worry
      about changing my aperture, shutter speed, etc.


  • Jamie Medford

    Going to have a guess. GBH is correctly exposed so the whites on the bird would be brighter than the sky, just from experience with sunlit birds. I would open up the aperture to to 5.6, which is the quickest way I know to get more exposure, to get a few blinkeys in the sky and bring up the exposure of the crow without blowing the sky too much, and recover detail in the sky in post?

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      That would have worked but would have been a 1/3 stop darker than I went with. Your sky would have been fine as was mine.

  • Loi Nguyen

    Turn the dial wheel 4 clicks to open up, point, and shoot. The bird is dark, so you need to open up by 1 1/3 EV. He is coming straight at you, so 1/640 shutter speed is probably OK. You might under expose the bird a little bit, but hopefully it won’t be too bad and can be fixed in PP.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      The bird would have been fine as far as tonality. BTW, four clicks would have put you at 1/800 sec. so you were pretty close to a perfect answer.

  • Julian Mole

    Hi Arthur,

    Without having read anything else others have written, I would say that there’s approx. 2 stops difference in the correct exposures for each, if both are front lit. Provided I had time I would open up to f/5.6 on the thumb wheel and click 3 times on the finger wheel to give 1/800 sec, but probably the easiest thing to do is to spin the thumb wheel anti-clockwise very fast and know that it would stop at the wide open aperture of f/4.0 (a change of +1 2/3 stops) which gives an exposure only 1/3 under the ideal for a front lit black bird.

    That’s my answer. Now to read what others put! 🙂

    • Julian Mole

      PS. Nice capture on the Grackle, especially with so little time to adjust, but I have to say the Great Blue Heron fish toss photo is awesome! I t has some lovely pastel colours as well as great timing! 🙂

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks, but you just burned out the sky to smithereens.

      • Julian Mole

        Thank you for the lesson Arthur. 🙂
        Out of interest, is the Boat Tailed Grackle a truly black bird or just dark? (Just curious – as I have only ever seen them in photos)

        • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Not really sure. The males look black with a greenish and purplish sheen at times….

  • As the brighter (& featureless) sky would force a shorter exposure under evaluative metering, I’d dial in around +2 stops of exposure. The exposure would be 1/500 sec, still with f/7.1.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Poor reasoning as the sky does not influence anything in Manual mode. And you would have totally over-exposed the sky….

  • Graham Hedrick

    Chimp like a mad-man 🙂

  • Jim Kranick

    Perhaps I should say as far as you can rotate it with a single push. Not moving my finger and repeatedly pushing the wheel the four clicks that I get with my Canons. Does the wheel on the 1D X rotate more than that? Can you get all the way to 30 seconds with a single push? I know rotating the thumb wheel can go farther (more clicks) than the front wheel. That’s why I would change the shutter speed rather than trying to change the f/stop. You have a nice limit when you change the shutter speed.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Three or fours clicks would have worked. I went for 3 clicks with the shutter speed, down to 1/1000 sec. Well thought out.

  • Miguel Palaviccini

    First post didn’t go through. Lets try this again 🙂

    Doug. Proper exposure is based on the subject. Black and white subjects reflect light differently.

    Changing ISO isn’t an option for me (takes more than a second to do on a Nikon). In my opinion you need 1 1/3 to 1 2/3 stops more light.

    Two ways to do this. Decrease shutter. Nah. We need to freeze the grackle! Open up aperture it is! With the 300 2.8 and 1.4 you can open up to f/4. There’s the 1 2/3 stops! Don’t forget to focus and shoot!

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Miguel, You have a half decent understanding but you overdid it. Opening up 1 2/3 stops toasts the sky….

  • Miguel Palaviccini

    Doug, black and white subjects reflect light differently. So proper exposure for one isn’t proper exposure for the other!

    I shoot Nikon so changing the ISO in less than one second isn’t possible. Opening up the aperture is an idea, leaving you with enough shutter speed to freeze the action. With the 300 2.8 and the 1.4, you can open up 1 2/3 stops from 7.1 to f/4. If the grackle is close that may not be the best bet (too small dof). My guess though, is that this is the best option to freeze action and get correct exposure.

    If you decrease the shutter speed by the same amount, the shutter speed is to slow for this guy. Just my opinion, but that’s what I would do in one second!

  • David Policansky

    Great question, great images. Less than one second? I hope I would have increased the exposure by about 1-2 stops by turning the control dial of my 7D (the one by the shutter-release button, I never remember the right terminology for them all) with my right forefinger. But I don’t always react well with less than one second, although it has happened.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      One stop perfect. Two stops blows out the sky and probably the bird’s legs as well….

  • Loi Nguyen

    I would open up 4 clicks using the wheel dial with only 1 sec. The bird is coming straight and its a relative slow bird, point and shoot

  • Faraaz

    Using thumb, wheel open aperture one stop to 5.6 (two clicks). Index finger simultaneously one click to 1/1600s. I operate the shutter button with a dedicated middle finger so this takes virtually no time.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You matched my exposure but there was not enough time to do two things. But good thinking!

  • Jim Kranick

    Index finger. Off the shutter button onto the “Main Dial” pushing to the left as far as it will turn. Back to the shutter button. Shoot.

    This should give you four clicks of the dial increasing the shutter speed to 1/800 (1 1/3 stops). If you only get three clicks you will still get one stop more light. You are shooting manual right?

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Yes. In manual mode. You are on the right track but “as far left as it would turn” would be to 30 seconds….

  • My guess is–Do nothing? Manual exposure should take care of it as long as the light stays the same?

    A small typo–To match the GBH, shutter speed under the grackle should say 1/2000 instead of 1/200——

    “What Do You Do?

    You have at most one second to adjust the exposure. You are at 1/200 sec. at f/7.1 in Manual. mode”

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Good catch on the typo. Thanks. As far as guessing, that is not a good policy when it comes to getting the best exposure….

  • Hossam Sadek

    Go to F/4 or increase ISO to 1600. With the 1Dx you should have no problem at that “high” ISO

    • Hossam Sadek

      Ok now with the knowledge that you were at manual at 1/2000 shutter speed, I would not go with the ISO increase solution, I would either go to f/4 by turning the thumb wheel all the way to the left, or reduce the shutter speed with the index finger two clicks to 1/1250 speed. The idea is to increase the light to see the details do the black bird on the mostly white background.

      • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Your second suggestion is much better than your first one…. You suggest two different things.

  • Artie, I suspect that your Great-tailed Grackle is a Boat-tailed as, so far as I know, the Great-tailed does not occur east of the Texas coast.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Mike. You know that I know that the bird is a Boat-tailed Grackle. My harried brain pulled that one out of the hat. It has been corrected.

  • Neil Hickman

    Flick to Custom 1 which is my flight setting for dark bird, light sky which already has +2/3 dialled in and think about adding another 2/3.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Good ideas on the exposure but I am not buying the “Flick to Custom 1” bit–by the time you did that the bird is already on the ground. You need to do something in an instant that keeps your hand on the shutter button….

  • Ian Roy

    The GBH was properly exposed. Shot two dark bird lighter background. Doing nothing would correctly meter the sky and underexpose the bird. I would add light and open up by 1 1/3 – 2/3 aiming to expose to the right. this would stop the bird becoming dark and noisey with loss of detail.
    In post production i would then bring it back, if it needed using a curve in PS6, run a Detail and Tonal filter, then finish with a bit of noise reduction…. I think

  • Joel Haas

    The background for the Grackle is much whiter/lighter. Thus, add light and with only one second, reach the dial you are using for AV and crank down to f5.6.
    Don’t worry about embarrassing me, I’ve been wrong before and learn from my mistakes.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Joel, You gave one of the few “acceptable” answers but the background tonality had nothing to do with it….

  • Loren Charif

    Agree w/Doug; manual exposure is the key. This would likely be different in Tv or Av, since the backgrounds differ.

  • Doug Zoern

    Point, focus, and shoot.

    Proper exposure is proper exposure, since it was set for the GBH nothing to do.
    Reducing exposure risks dark detail, increasing exposure risks the light feet and/or the highlights around the head and shoulders.

    • Doug

      If I understand, the key is to understand exposure vs. metering. For each image the in-camera meter readings would have been different but the exposures were both correct. When starting from the meter reading, adjustments are needed to get proper exposure. The meter assumes everything is a mid gray (18%). When metering dark subjects the meter overexposes, trying to make the dark subject a mid gray. In this case dial back exposure to return the darkness to the dark subject (and prevent blowing out any light areas). When metering a light subject the meter underexposes, trying to make it a mid gray (18%). In this case increase the exposure to return the lightness to light subjects (and prevent loss of any dark details).

      The trick in this situation is that the exposure for the BTG is already set from the first image of the GBH. I make this assumption because Artie is pretty smart. When he setup, he had the light behind him and the wind was blowing over his shoulder. That means both birds were in the same light and the BTG was flying at him. Even though his meter reading moved when he framed the BTG he did not have to worry, his exposure was already set correctly.

      Proper exposure is the basis of the Sunny 16 rule and the use of gray cards.

      Now, much of this is from the film days but I think it still holds true in digital. An exception I could see would be an image with only dark and mid tones. In this case in digital you may increase exposure to capture more dark detail and then adjust in PP.

      • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Doug, You had lots to say but nothing on target or correct….

        As for your first comment, the black bird needs more light than the GBH.