Toying With Light

On our Discord earlier this week. This image caught my eye taken by Scott from @toyingwithlight and I (Bev) felt it was the perfect example of literally toying with light. So I invited Scott to share his process and workflow of using the Exposure Triangle with you all and this is what he said.

The perfect exposure triangle

Behind the Scenes Workflow

This week’s Stuck in Plastic workshop challenge focused on light, triangles, and the number 3.

We were reminded that photography is all about light, that the very word translates to “light drawing”.  And that as photographers we control how light is exposed to the film or digital sensor by using what we call the “Exposure Triangle.”

Remember that the Exposure Triangle comprises aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  These three camera and lens controls work together to control how much light is captured.

For my submission I used light and shadow, implied triangles, and deliberate camera settings to aim for a 3D effect:

Desired effect with my metering and a photographic eye

My exposure?  f/4 and 1.3 seconds at ISO 100.

For me, the how and why I got to those settings is much more important than the actual numbers themselves.  Let me share how I did that.

ISO

I begin with ISO. For LEGO photography, my ISO is always set to 100 maximum image quality. This is my camera’s lowest setting, and results in the least grain/noise.

Since I also always shoot on a tabletop tripod for absolutely steady shots during long exposures, I never need to boost ISO to compensate for low light situations.

The tripod also allows me to compose and frame very deliberately and precisely.  I cannot overstate how important this is to my work.

Aperture

Next, I set my aperture. In a departure from most macro/close-up photography, I usually shoot wide open (i.e. my lens’ maximum aperture of F/4) to minimize depth of field.

I always manually focus on my desired point of interest (usually my subject’s eyes). This becomes the sharpest part of the image, helping draw the viewer’s focus, with the rest of the picture transitioning to a soft blur. This is purely an aesthetic choice.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the one variable that I adjust during the shot to get the exposure I want. But I hardly ever notice the actual shutter speed; I really don’t care what the number is.

What I do care about is the exposure that it results in. By shooting in live view, I see adjustment results in real time and stop when it looks right to me.

I make my adjustments by first setting my camera to Aperture Priority (usually indicated as A or AV on the camera’s dial). This is a semi-automatic mode where the camera adjusts the shutter speed to set an exposure based on the chosen aperture.

I then turn the Exposure Compensation dial to brighter or darker the image to my taste. For my camera, each click of the dial is 1/3 of a stop (so three clicks is one stop, making the picture either half or twice as bright depending on which direction I’ve dialled).

For my mostly-black scene, I knew that the camera would overexposure to achieve an average middle grad tone, So I dialled in negative exposure compensation until it looked right to me (i.e. black parts of the scene actually looking black, highlights not blown out, and my point of interest somewhere in the middle).

In my case my adjustment was -2 stops, only 1/4 as bright as what the camera would have shot in automatic mode.

Comparison

For comparison’ sake, I’ve gone back and reshot the scene using the camera’s metering without any adjustment. Technically, the image is fine.
It’s just not what I had in mind for the shot.

Comparison: Using the camera’s metering without adjustments

Summary

I like to keep the technical things simple on a shoot, so that I can focus on the creative aspects.

So let’s recap my approach to the exposure triangle:

*ISO: as low as possible to maximise image quality.

*Aperture: as desired to control depth of field.

*Shutter Speed: as required to get the desired exposure, adjusted using exposure compensation and live view.

Different styles of shooting may call for a different approach, but this works for me.
Hope it helps!

Best,
Scott
@toyingwithlight

Behind the Scenes

Studio set up

Just for fun, here’s a quick behind the scenes look at my mini-studio setup.

My shooting surface is a piece of black ceramic floor tile: easily the best $7 I’ve spent on photography.  I’ve stacked it on plywood subfloor panels so that it is level with my camera on the tabletop tripod.

My main light is a LitraPro LED with softbox, positioned with a Platypod gooseneck arm on a Platypod Ultra tripod base that I’ve secured the plywood.  Fill light is provided by a recipe card that I’ve folded and positioned just out of frame.

The background is the rear wall of a basement nook that I’ve painted black.  Simple, but effective.

Cheers.

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