Taking a great photo is all about managing light. Nothing is more frustrating than photos that turn out too dark, too washed out, or off-color. It’s a particular challenge for sellers who have to use artificial light rather than natural light due to time constraints or inclement climates. Luckily, your digital camera has a few handy tricks — exposure value (EV) and white balance — that can help you overcome these challenges and snap your way to better, brighter photos.
How Does EV Work?
Evaluative metering is the term used to describe how the camera divides an image into different zones for light metering — it evaluates the lighting conditions and makes adjustments to exposure based on the position of the subject, the brightness, direct light and backlighting, and a multitude of other factors. Essentially, evaluative metering performs the same functions as the human eye.
However, cameras are not as perfect at adjusting exposure as our eyes. In overly bright or underlit conditions, a little manual compensation is required. Exposure values are the numeric values (+1, -2, etc) which describe a particular combination of shutter speed and lens aperture. On most cameras the exposure values are measured at one-half or one-third stops. The default or no-compensation level is set at 0. By raising or lowering EV from 0, you adjust the shutter speed/lens aperture which allows either more or less light to reach the camera’s sensors, thereby brightening or darkening your photograph.
How to Use Exposure Values (EV) and Evaluative Metering:
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1. Even a basic digital camera should offer evaluative metering. Use your camera’s manual to locate the evaluative metering function. The icon typically looks like this [ (o) ]. Your camera may have other light metering modes such as centre-weighted averaging and spot AE point, but for now, make sure the regular metering function is selected (it is most likely the default setting).
2. You should also have an exposure value (EV) scale associated with the evaluative metering function on your camera. The icon for this scale will often appear as “+/-0”. Select this icon and you will see a simple scale with 0 in the middle and a +1 and +2 on the right or top, and -1 and -2 on the left or bottom.
3. Aim your camera and focus on the object you are photographing. Use the arrow keys (or equivalent) on your camera to move up or down the scale. Watch the camera monitor and you’ll see the shot you’ve composed become brighter as you move up or to the right of the scale, and darker as you move to the left or down the scale.
4. If you have a white object in your scene, use it to gauge when you’ve reached the appropriate brightness level, or place a white object temporarily in the picture to judge the light levels. When you’re satisfied with what you see, press the shutter button and you’re done!
Tip: When shooting in low light you’ll want to raise the EV to brighten the shot, but to do this the camera takes a longer time to gather light and take the photo. This can exacerbate “camera shake” (the tiny movements caused by even a steady hand or by the mechanics of the camera itself). To compensate, use a tripod and press the shutter button cleanly and gently. Most digital cameras have a timer function, in which case your finger wouldn’t even be pressing the tripod-mounted camera when the shot is taken.
How does White Balance work?
White balance is the balance between cool and warm light color temperature captured by your camera’s sensors. Color temperature describes the spectrum of light as it is measured in Kelvin, from “warm” light (low Kelvin) to “cool” light (high Kelvin). See the chart below for a range of common light sources and their relative temperatures:
2500-3500K Tungsten household lightbulb
3000-4000K Sunrise/sunset (clear sky)
4000-5000K Fluorescent lighting
5000-5500K Electronic flash
5000-6500K Daylight with sun overhead
6500-8000K Moderately overcast sky
9000-10000K Shade or heavily overcast sky
The lower the temperature of the light, the more of a warm or orange-ish color cast will be visible in your photographs. The higher the temperature, the colder or bluer your photos will appear. Using pre-set white balances allows your camera to accurately judge and compensate for the light temperature of your composition, and the result is a photo with truer, brighter colors.
How to Use White Balance:
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1. Not all digital cameras offer white balance customization, but most offer preset white balance settings that match commonly used light sources. Use your camera’s manual to locate the white balance function. The icon usually looks like a little lightbulb. Select it and you should see several presets from which to choose. You may also see an icon “AWB” which stands for auto white balance, which is the default setting.
2. What kind of light are you using? It is crucial that you match the preset white balance setting to your light source. Natural source presets typically include “daylight” and “cloudy.” Artificial presets may include “fluorescent,” “tungsten” (incandescent), and “daylight fluorescent” (halogen). Note how the color tint on your camera monitor will change if you flip through the different presets. Select the preset that matches your light source and snap your photo.
3. If your camera has a custom white balance setting, take advantage of it! Select the “custom” option icon and place a white piece of paper or cloth in the scene. Aim the camera so that the entire frame is filled with the white object. Press the “set” or “enter” button on your camera. The camera reads the white object and uses the data from it to set a custom white balance for your composition. Now you can continue to photograph your items.
Tip: If using a custom white balance, keep in mind that any changes to your composition will throw off the data used by your camera to make the custom setting. This includes any changes to your lighting and even alterations to backdrops, props and reflective surfaces. If you need to rearrange your scene, be sure to set a new custom white balance.
Using EV and White Balance together:
EV and white balance can be set totally independently of each other, but still used together for maximum results. If you raise EV to brighten a photo but neglect to adjust white balance, you may have a brighter photo that still has a blue or orange tint. Conversely, if you adjust white balance to match your lighting conditions but don’t adjust your exposure values to compensate for an underlit scene, your colors may be true but the photo may remain too dark overall.
Because EV compensation requires more fine-tuning than white balance, set your white balance first and adjust EV second.