If you want to nail the exposure each and every time you need to carry a grey card. In the world of digital photography and the ability to instantly view our photos and check out the histogram many people think that a grey card is not necessary, however I beg to differ.
Sure, the metering system in modern day digital cameras is very good but relying on what the camera thinks is the best exposure doesn’t always result in consistent exposures. It is possible to take multiple photos of the same scene within a few seconds of each other and end up with a different exposure for each.
In addition to this there are also situations where the camera’s metering system gets the exposure total wrong, and mixed lighting and high contrast scenes are just two scenarios where this will happen.
The only way to ensure you get the consistent exposure you want is to set it yourself and the best way to do this is with a grey card.
Using a grey card correctly
Many people seem to be confused as to how to use a grey card to set the exposure, however it really isn’t that difficult. Okay, it may take some time and practice perfecting your technique to set the exposure quickly, however persevere with it, learn how to do it and your photos will improve. Trust me.
So how do I set the exposure using a grey card? The steps to using a grey card to set the exposure are as follows:-
1) Set the camera in the mode you want to shoot in, i.e. aperture priority, shutter priority or manual. Dial in the aperture you want to use if shooting in aperture priority mode, dial in the shutter speed you want if shooting shutter priority mode, and if you are shooting in manual mode select the aperture or shutter speed you want to use.
2) Set the metering mode to spot metering so it the smallest area is used to “calculate” the exposure.
3) Place the grey card in front of the subject, or if this is not possible(when taking landscape photos, cityscape shots or beach photos for example) hold the grey card at arms’ length and point the camera lens at it.
4) Adjust the appropriate setting until the exposure needle is in the middle of the range, i.e. showing a correct exposure. So, if you are shooting in aperture priority adjust the shutter speed, if you are shooting in shutter priority mode adjust the aperture and if you are shooting in manual mode you can choose either (depending on the effect you are after of course)
After step 4 you have dialled in the best settings for a correct exposure, now how simple is that?
When you go to take the shot with the settings you have just input it is likely the exposure needle will move from the centre of the scale and show an under exposure or over exposure. This is totally normal and there is no need to worry about this or adjust anything. When you take the photo and review it on the camera’s LCD screen or on the computer back home you will find the photo will be correctly exposed.
If you want to be creative and intentionally under expose the photo and make it darker than what it should be, or over expose the photo and make it lighter than what it should be you can also do this with the grey card. In these instances you simply follow steps 1 – 3 and when you get to step 4 change the setting until the exposure needle reads an under or over exposure (obviously depending on what you want to do) at the level you want it.
I am sure you have read that if you shoot in RAW then there is no need to go through the additional steps of setting the exposure with a grey card since it can all be done using photo editing software therefore you only need to get the exposure in the ball park and almost right, and then tweak it. Okay, you can use this approach with RAW editing software but, because of the inconsistency of exposures you are likely to have to edit every shot, and if you have taken a few hundred that is going to take a bit of time.
The other thing to consider is that if you shoot RAW and JPEG like I do then getting the exposure almost correct will mean the JPEGS (which I use without editing) will not be correctly exposed. This means I either have to try and edit the JPEG file (i.e. double the amount of work) or simply dispense with taking a JPEG file at the same time, which is not something I want to do because I often use the JPEG files before evening opening the RAW files.
A grey card will improve your photos period. When I started using a grey card I found my exposures instantly improved and I was able to get consistent exposures in any situation I was in. I also find my time editing images in the digital darkroom significantly decreased which left me more time taking photos, which I find more enjoyable than sitting in front of the computer screen. If you don’t have a grey card I highly recommend you get one.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.