PHOTOGRAPHING A WHITE SUBJECT
White subjects, by their nature, tend to reflect more light and are therefore brighter than everything around them. This creates an exposure puzzle that needs solving. Almost every time you photograph it white subject, it will be brighter than the surroundings. And often those surroundings are a much bigger part of the photo than the subject itself.
Take a look at the main photo for this tip. Two white birds, surrounded my a much darker forest setting. Assuming you use evaluative/matrix metering, the camera will base the required exposure mainly on the darker area. To avoid underexposing the forest, it wants to let in extra light…but when it does, the birds will most likely be overexposed.
Anything white – from a cockatoo to a wedding dress – can pose the same exposure problem. Left to control the exposure by itself (i.e. shooting in auto or even in AV or TV modes) the camera will often overexpose the brighter subject. What we really want is the opposite result…we don’t mind underexposing the background a little as long as we get the best exposure on the subject.
So…to make a long story short…when shooting a white subject we often need to take a darker photo than the camera wants us to. Difficult to do in Auto/Program modes where the camera is in control of the exposure. It can be done in Aperture Priority (AV) or Shutter Priority (TV) modes. In these semi-automatic modes, you can darken a shot using Exposure Compensation.
My personal approach is to control the exposure in Manual mode the way I do for everything else. All I need to do is get my lightmeter to the centre, and then set the shutter speed a stop or two faster to darken the exposure. The faster shutter speed has the added benefit of helping to ensure a sharper shot.
It’s actually really easy. Well, it’s easy for me because I have been doing it for 40 years! If you live near the Sunshine Coast and need help learning to control your exposure, you could learn it all at a Photography Essentials workshop or at a day of One-On-One Tuition. If you don’t live close enough, you can also check out the Photography School playlist on my Youtube Channel.