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  • First off, I want it known, that I am not a professional photographer. I do though want my pictures to be the best I can achieve, and cherished by family and friends.

    When I took classes in analogue photography in my short college term, (I dropped out after two semesters) I learned the zone system for determining my exposure, and development times for my black and white photographs. Basically stated, I expose for the light available in the darkest areas in my composition, and develop, or 'process' in digital, for the lightest elements there. This requires readings from a light meter, or from two meters, with readings from both areas. There are two types of meter. One reads a specific area, and is called a 'spot' meter, the other reads the overall light the camera will see, and is called an 'averaging' meter.

    I now take predominantly digital photos, and I still use this basic method for choosing my settings for shooting, and later for processing my pictures. I learned with, and still use analogue film, though the techniques apply to both digital, and analogue equally.

    Currently, I'm using as my 'go-to' camera, an Olympus VG145 compact 14meg 'point-and-shoot'. The camera has manual settings, and the auto settings can be adjusted + or – for exposure. Each numerical step can be treated as a single 'f'' stop increase or decrease. The camera has an averaging meter that automatically adjusts the exposure based on the available light roughly near the center of focus. I also have several meters of both types, but rarely carry them with me. The Olympus was my choice for it's compact size, and weight, the fact that I don't need a bag full of equipment to achieve results I can be happy with, and it's agility in tight places. I ride a bicycle for most photo outings, and the small footprint of my mini fits me best.

    With only the one meter, I have had to make some adjustments to taking my readings, and the “Inner City Barn” (the above picture) is a good example of this adaptation. When I took an average reading of the whole scene, the reading included a lot of sky, and a harsh reflection from the larger tin roof on the barn. I knew that most of the detail I wanted in the grass and bushes were going to be lost (much like the trees in the distance), so I needed to expose for those areas. With only my 'averaging' meter (they act as a spot meter if they're used close enough to eliminate any other light source), I had to step forward, and focus on one of the darker grassy areas exclusively, with no other elements in the viewer, and without fully depressing the shutter button thereby taking a picture of just grass, then take note of the f- stop setting displayed on the screen. With this in mind, I took the shot after adjusting to 2 f-stops + for the dark areas. This would result in a wash-out of the details in the roof area that was reflecting so much light, which I corrected for in processing by 'burning' the areas where detail had been lost, to enhance the medium and dark features there.

    I never studied up on transferring this system from film to digital, It just came natural to me. There are tutorials online, some credit courses, some free, that can explain the application and theories for both digital and analogue much better than I can.

    If you acquire and use only one meter for digital, or for film photography, it should be an averaging meter. For digital, most cameras have one built in, and the readings are displayed either in the viewfinder, or on the LCD screen with a partial press of the shutter button. There's some footwork involved with only one meter, but the in-camera meter (an averaging meter) can suffice. A good spot meter may be needed for some macro, or close-up portrait photography, where the light and dark areas are too small to get an accurate reading with an averaging meter, but the averaging meter will work in most situations.

    I'm not trying to give a full tutorial here, but rather hope to peak some interest in learning more about taking pictures... I think most would find the results of the time invested quite satisfying. A well crafted 'snap shot' becomes a family treasure. The 'how to' of adjusting exposure is in the camera's operating manual, and education is online, at your fingertips.

    I've seen too many people buy an expensive camera, and run out to snap pictures, only to feel disappointed with the results, blame the camera, and then it ends up adding to the clutter of a junk drawer, instead of providing the pleasure it could have. Their assessment of the camera being; "It doesn't take pictures of what I see."

    Expensive equipment doesn't make great pictures, well trained, and well informed photographers do. Be not confused, as soon as you press a shutter button, you are a photographer, you may as well be an adequately educated, and highly empowered photographer. Learn all you can about taking, and processing pictures, you will love the results. The education is offered online for free! No excuses... in the words of one of my favorite movie characters, 'Grampa Sodie' in “Escanaba in da Moonlight”,- "If it's free, it's wort savin' up fer."

    Zone System

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Zone System is a photographic technique for determining optimal film exposure and development, formulated by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer.Adams described how the Zone System was developed: "I take this opportunity to restate that the Zone System is not an invention of mine; it is a codification of the principles of sensitometry, worked out by Fred Archer and myself at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, around 1939-40."

    The technique is based on the late 19th century sensitometry studies of Hurter and Driffield. The Zone System provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualize the photographic subject and the final results. Although it originated with black-and-white sheet film, the Zone System is also applicable to roll film, both black-and-white and color, negative and reversal, and to digital photography.
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