Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

November 2005

Question of the Month

How do we meter for White?

A trumpeter swan and the untouched Histogram as it appears in Capture One.
Note that the white in this case extended rather far to the right side of the graph.

Having just returned from a scouting trip for possible tours to Churchill, Manitoba, for polar bears, we had a lot of experience photographing white subjects, and answering questions on How to shoot white from our fellow trip participants. While we did not have snow -- this year, if there is no snow on Halloween Night, October 31st, it will be the first time in living memory that there has not been snow in Churchill on that date! -- we did have a lot of white subjects, including polar bears, arctic fox, willow ptarmigan, snowy owl, and arctic hare. The exposure methodology for shooting all of these animals is the same as we would use for photographing egrets or white pelicans or virtually any other white animal.

The most important point to remember when photographing a white subject is that your meters read for middle tone. A meter does not know whether you're metering a white bird, a gray bird, or a black bird. For the meter, they're all the same, and the meter will provide an exposure that 'zeroes' in all cases, but that would make a white bird gray, a gray bird gray or middle-toned, and a black bird gray. Obviously, that's not right.

While evaluative or matrix metering is effective much of the time, Mary and I use SPOT METERING in MANUAL mode because we have absolute control over the process, and we never need to second-guess or hope that our meters are doing the right thing. We do not bracket, either, as the method we use practically insures that our exposures will be accurate. By the way, we cover virtually everything about metering - thoroughly understanding histograms, metering for black, for white, for all tonalities, are all covered in our Digital Complete Nature Photo Course every summer. My Digital Nature Photography Book, co-authored with my friend Rick Holt, will also address all of these exposure issues in detail. We will be selling the book as a PDF CD by the end of this year. But that's another matter... Let's address metering for white right now.

Mary or I metered the whitest part of the scene in all three of these images. Later, in Capture One I tweaked
the exposure,and using Levels, tightened the histogram and adjusted a slight Curve to increase the overall exposure.

Again, foremost, you must remember that metering white makes white gray, or underexposes the whites. After we spot-meter our white area and zero the exposure, we then purposefully overexpose that area by about one f-stop. On our histograms, that is pushing the histogram a bit to the right, but you could overexpose that area even further, pushing the histogram even further to the right, provided you don't take the histogram to the edge and create clipping. Personally, I don't like going to far to the right and although my histograms are often more 'centered' than pushed to the right -- which theoretically maximizes the amount of data in the image capture, I find that the images look more overexposed and featureless. Technically, my method is the wrong way, but by doing it this way -- only overexposing by one stop and letting the histogram sort of settle in the middle or middle-right of the graph I find I don't need to do very much tweaking in my RAW converter. And if I do tweak by moving the exposure to the right, I'm able to more carefully control the sense of 'whiteness' and overexposure, as opposed to trying to bring back detail on an image that, in the RAW capture, has a histogram that is already pushed to the right.


Previous Questions of the Month




 Camera Techniques

 In the Field

 What is our Digital Workflow in the Lab?

Who should go Digital,
and when?

What is our initial Digital Workflow?

Is Shooting in the RAW format worthwhile?

 Can you match the Histograms?
 How do I keep track of Digital Files?

  Is Digital Manipulation - a benign alternative to interacting in the natural world?

What is DEC? 

How can you capture a sharp image and angel hair on a windy day?  

 Is the Mark II the ultimate wildlife digital camera?

  Does the Visibledust cleaning system really work?

What do we really think about digital photography?

 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?

How long will film be around? 

  The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?

 What is the Difference?

 How can you save your shoulders?

  How do you shoot silhouettes?

 How would you meter these challenging images?

Why should you know Manual Mode? 

How would you meter these images?

 What is the best season to do a photo safari in East Africa?

Which Mountain Park is better for wildlife - Denali or Torres del Paine?

What is the best Car Window Mount? 

  How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?

 What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales?

 What is the Big Lie?
Tfhe truth about Kenya's Tourism--it is SAFE!

 Which binoculars do we just love to use?

 What is the best
Game Caller?

 What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?

 How Easy is Whale Photography?

  How do we carry our film when traveling?

What Film Lab do we use, and why? 

 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites? 

How can you reduce contrast and the effect of wind for flower and macro photography?

 Is an L-Shaped Camera Bracket worth the Money?
You bet it is!

 Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?

 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?

  Reciprocity Failure

 What is the Best Composition?

 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?

 Hyperfocal Distance

  How do you determine distances?

 Should you have a depth of field Preview button on your camera?

 Flash and Tele-flash Techniques

 What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?

 What the heck is a Plamp?

 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?

 How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 How did I photograph that flying wasp?

 What is the Fotronix's
Flash System?

What is the Most Important thing you can do before a Workshop?

How did I shoot the gliding Sugar Glider?
 Is NANPA for you?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?

 Is it time for a summer NANPA Summit?

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