The under / over exposure problems in photos

The eye is a marvelous piece of equipment. Working away making adjustments to the image in front of us without us even been aware of it. When we look at a sunset, with the naked eye, we see all parts of the scene in most cases. The iris closes when we look at the setting sun and clouds allowing us to appreciate the fantastic colours. The iris then opens when we lower our gaze and we see the details of the landscape.

Yet the limitations of photography over the last 100 years has established the representation of sunsets in photographs and even paintings as silhouettes against a brilliantly lit sky. We accept it without question.

Digital photography can change all this. We can now represent a sunset in a picture as we would see it in real life. It means a bit of work afterwards in the computer but its well within the scope of the amateur photographer.

Sunset, Inis Oir (the smallest of the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway).
When photographing a scene which has a very bright part and a very dark part the camera’s automatic exposure control will compromise. For example, the sky will be slightly overexposed and the ground underexposed. If the photo is opened in Photoshop the ‘Highlight/Shadow’ control can correct this and it does a great job. But it can have the ‘digitally altered’ look which is OK most of the time and I suppose is a good ‘quick fix’.

This photo had a great sky which was ‘burnt out’ when I adjusted the camera’s exposure to show the details in the foreground. When I reduced the exposure to correctly expose the sky the ground was a black featureless mass.

The solution was to take 2 photos at almost the same time. One to correctly expose the sky and the other to correctly expose the ground. Take the 2 correctly exposed bits and fit them together. Simple, if  you have Photoshop or similar. Happily, there are loads of inexpensive applications available nowadays, because of the popularity of digital photography, that are capable of doing this.

If you give it a try, remember, as you will be a little out repositioning the scene after you adjust for the second shot take more of the scene than you want at the start (wider lens setting) with the intension of cropping back when finished.

Sandwich the 2 photos in Photoshop with the white sky photo on top. You can easily select this white sky bit with the magic wand tool. Delete the sky. The sky in the under photo will now be seen. Slide the upper photo around till the horizons match up. A little bit of fiddling around the edges might be needed.

P.S. Some of the more sophisticated cameras have a feature called ‘bracketing’. This allows you to specify a range of photos each side of the ‘correct exposure’. With this setting enabled, as you press the shutter the camera takes the photo at the ‘correct exposure’, then will continue to take photos at progressively darker and lighter exposures. Depending on your settings and camera you could have 3, 5 or 7 photos going from light to dark. In many cases this range is sufficient to allow you to have the best of 2 of these photos. The advantage of this is it all happens in 1 or 2 seconds without you having to made adjustments between the shots.

Simple, fast, Impressionist Style Painting.

They’re brilliant, inspiring and the results spectacular – the painting demos we’ve seen on YouTube and elsewhere I mean. But if you are starting your career in Oil Painting they must seem daunting. All the colours, materials and techniques, wow! The sketch alone before you start is an gobsmacking obstacle.

This is a simple approach. Keep the materials to the absolute minimum. Especially the number of colours. Mixing colours produces millions of tints.
Remember, you are not trying to reproduce a scene as a camera does. Paint colours are not the same as the colours you find in a computer photographic application like Photoshop which are digital and pure as are the ‘rainbow colours’. The behaviour of pigments in paints when mixed effects the resultant colours. Some colour combinations produce beautiful new colours and others are horrid. The more different pigments in the mix the further you travel on the road to that dirty grey/brown colour.
The colours in this demo work well together. As there are only 3 (black and white are not considered as colours) the number of combinations is small – small enough for you to remember  what produces what.  These mixtures also produce ‘natural’ landscape colours found in Ireland. All parts of the painting have the same 3 colours only the proportions of each are different. For example, in the blue of the sky is mostly Cobalt Blue, but there is a little Yellow Ochre  and a smaller amount of Burnt Sienna. In the darkest parts of the ground are found the same 3 colours with less Cobalt Blue and much more of the other 2. There is also a beautiful harmony between the different areas of the painting.
The above video is in HD (you can play it in full screen) and in 4 parts. The other parts (2, 3 & 4) can be found on YouTube.

Try the technique demonstrated in the videos. Your comments are welcome.

The stuff you’ll need…

Oil Paints – Titanium White, Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Blue.
Brushes: As many as possible – Bristle, Filbert or Flat, No. 8 some smaller some a little larger.
Palette Knife: To save the brushes from paint mixing and subsequent cleaning to keep them clean for applying the paint.
Palette: Flat non absorbent surface.
Painting Surface: Oil painting paper, canvas or board. Beware some surfaces are sold as ‘Acrylic or Oil Painting’ these can be too absorbent for Oil Painting.
Media: Linseed Oil, Liquin and White Spirits. Two small containers one containing a solution of one quarter Oil, one quarter Liquin and half White Spirits. The other container White Spirits only.
Misc: Charcoal Stick, Masking Tape, Loads of Paper Kitchen Paper for cleaning brushes or anything else that gets inadvertently ‘painted’.