Exposure in Film Photography

Your camera probably takes care of exposure metering for you, setting either the shutter speed or the aperture (or both) according to how much light the subject reflects, and the ISO setting or speed of the film you're using. But often there is misleading subjects around that can lead to exposure problems.

The key to anticipating such problems and minimizing the consequences is to understand that the meter in your camera is essentially unthinking - an obedient but stupid slave that obeys a series of simple rules. As long as you know the rules, you'll get good exposures every time.

These are the two basic rules that most meters obey.

  1. The tone of the subject averaged over a selected area is neither light nor dark but an intermediate shade.

  2. The middle of the picture is more important than the corners. If you're faced with a subject that breaks these rules, you must compensate and set exposure manually, or intervene in some other way.


  • There are several ways of doing this. The simplest is to find an area of the landscape that does obey the rule, and meter from there. On a white sand beach, you might close in on a grey rock, take a reading, set exposure manually or store the meter reading in the camera's memory, then move out to recompose the picture as you want it.

  • The other commonly-used method is to meter the scene normally, then apply some compensation to take account of the subject's unusually light or dark tones. In snow, for example, you might choose to set the camera's exposure compensation dial to +1 or x2. This would have the effect of overexposing the film by one stop, so that the snow comes out realistically white, not grey.

  • You can also use hand-held meter that allows you to measure the incident light - the light falling on the subject - rather than reflected light. By comparison, built-in meters gauge the brightness of reflected light only. To use an incident light meter, stand at the subject position and direct the diffusing dome at the camera, not the light source.

More about film photography

Copyright © 2008-2021 BasicCameraPhotography.com. All Rights Reserved

BasicCameraPhotography.com is a participant in the Amazon Serivce LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Contact Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy