Creative Lighting and Exposure

One of the techniques I love to experiment with in photography is the creative usage of lighting and exposure — especially on the subject of flowers. Besides the obvious beauty, I discovered shooting flowers is a great way to help you learn how to use better lighting, exposure and composition.

When I look at a flower, I mentally break down all the different components and shapes: its colors, petals, stems, leaves etc. I see shapes and colors instead of the flower. By observing the flower this way, I am able to have different views of the flower rather than just seeing the one dimension view.

Oftentimes when I get ready to shoot; I usually have a visual image in my mind on how I want to post-process and what the result might look like. This gives me a better idea on the settings I would use when composing for a shot. For example, this series of dahlia flower was shot on a bright sunny afternoon. Knowing the light would be harsh and the flower colors would look too bright and flat. I decided to use the harsh lighting to my advantage and make the flowers look surreal and luminous. To achieve the look, I use f/6.3 (the largest opening available on my lens) to get a better shallow depth of field, and I use exposure setting lower than what my camera indicated as the correct exposure. By shooting it darker, I can later manipulate the light and color values better in Lightroom3.

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40 Comments on “Creative Lighting and Exposure

    • Well, hello there stranger! I missed you too. I still haven’t left for my solo road trip yet… guess I’m just a chicken about driving such long distance and exploring strange places on my own. This is when I wish I were a man. Maybe you care to join me? Sure sounds like you could use a vacation. πŸ˜‰

  1. I really like the green tones in the first image. The out-of-focus area has such a pleasing texture to it that I think works very nicely with the dahlia. Perhaps you should share your post-processing secrets in Lightroom Emily. I’m always curious how you get your interesting colouring in your images.

    • Thanks for the suggestion Mike. I would be happy to post my secrets of darkroom magic. Like you, I’m always curious about how some photographers process their work. You would be surprised what the original of this dahlia image looks like.

  2. Emily, these are really nice. Wouldn’t you know I almost posted that same flower today which I photographed this weekend. Great minds think alike. You have some great details here.

    • Using the right exposure is definitely crucial in bring out the best in a photo. Thanks for the compliment Holly. πŸ™‚

    • I’m always happy to share what I know and hope it would be helpful to someone. I know I learn a lot from all the talented people I’ve come across — such as yourself. Thank you so much for the nice compliment, Morgan. πŸ™‚

  3. Beautiful, Emily, and thanks for sharing about your process. I love Lightroom! What lens do you use? I hate washing out by shooting too light…but when images have dark noisy spots it drives me crazy, too–any tips on correcting for that? I was thinking of purchasing some neutral density filters which are supposed to make metering in such situations easier…have you ever tried them? Thanks, and best to you!

    • Lightroom3 is an amazing darkroom software. I do all the post-processing with it. I’ve never tried using a neutral density filter. I have thought about buying one but I guess I just like to see what limits I can push myself camera without having to get into using all those bells and whistles equipment.

      In my camera bag: I have a Nikon D90, polarizing filter, and a macro filter (it’s a great little filter for less than $20), I have a Nikkor 18-55mm, a Nikkor prime 50mm, a Nikkor 70-300mm (which I don’t use). Most of the times, I use the all purpose Tamron 18mm-250mm macro telephoto lens. (which I use for the dahlia shots) It’s a fairly good lens for the price and works well for what I do. The only negatives — it’s not very fast under low light conditions and sometimes the lens creeps when I am shooting downward. If I’m shooting in low light, I either use a tripod with a wireless trigger or use a high ISO if I have to hand held. Though I don’t like to use high ISO because of the noise so I try to avoid it when possible. I usually try to keep the ISO at 200-400.

      As for correcting the noise in Lightroom3, I use the noise reduction but this can make the image lose details and contrast. Sometimes if an image is too noisy, I would actually add more noise to it to make it look like it’s intentional. And in the end, my motto is — if it needs too much time fixing, the picture isn’t worth keeping. πŸ™‚

      • Thanks for the fantastic and detailed reply, Emily! I love macro filters and the 50mm, too–I’m thinking of getting another lens, can you tell me what you prefer about the dedicated macro to the 50mm with the macro filter? I LOVE the 50, but do wish there wasn’t so much chromatic aberration when I use it with the filter on. I have NOT figured out how to correct that well with Lightroom. I’m debating whether I should get a dedicated macro, or the much coveted 85mm 1.8 for portraits, as that seems to be what I shoot mostly lately. I do LOVE macros, though. Thanks for any input! And best to you!

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