April 29, 2015

A Complete Guide to Correctly & Creatively Exposing an Image

In this helpful lighting tutorial from cinematographer Eve Hazelton, we learn five ways to expose an image, as well as how aperture, shutter speed, ISO, filters, and lighting can be used creatively to change the tone of a scene.

Even if you're an experienced filmmaker who knows how to expose an image, Eve still reminds us that exposure doesn't always have to be just about getting a clean picture. Her point about shutter speed was particularly interesting, because most beginners (and even some seasoned pros) don't think of shutter speed as a creative tool, but it absolutely can be.

Eve has a bunch of other great lighting and cinematography tutorials and I highly encourage you to check them out. Also, if you want a more in-depth lesson, you might want to take a look at the newest version of her hour-long masterclass which breaks down three dimensionality and depth, the psychology of cinematography, as well as the complete lighting process. She's offering it as an instant download for $75 on her website.

To get an idea of what her masterclass entails, her's the promo:

Your Comment

28 Comments

Sorry... But this video is not correct. varible ND filters DO have a creativitet impact. It has a lot to say about reflections. On water, glass, and most important skin... skin needs to have some kind of reflections. and therefore ND (polarizer filter) can be a very bad choice to use when dealing with people. There you need true ND filters.. and not Variable NDs (polarizer).

April 29, 2015 at 4:30PM, Edited April 29, 4:31PM

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Absolutely right!

April 29, 2015 at 6:02PM

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ND filters and Polarizers are not the same thing. ND filters, variable or otherwise, strictly effect the amount of light coming into the camera. Apart from color shifts and lower contrast caused by come cheap ND filters, they should have little impact on your image apart from exposure. Polarizers on the other hand, pass light of a specific polarization and blocks waves of other polarizations. In doing so, it can reduce unwanted glare and reflections and increase saturation. She was correct, an ND filter isn't really used creatively, but it does help facilitate you using other aspects of the camera (shutter, aperture) creatively in order to achieve a desired effect.

April 29, 2015 at 8:01PM, Edited April 29, 8:20PM

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Brad, you have been mistaken and are partially incorrect in your statement. I'm going to have to agree with Dennis here and I'll explain why...
Yes, standard ND Filters & Polarizers are two totally different types of filtration...

Here is where you're wrong.
You say, "ND filters, variable or otherwise, strictly effect the amount of light coming into the camera"
Well, that's true of standard ND filters or even ND Grads.
Not the case with Vari-ND's however.

How is it you think "ND Variable" filters, like the one featured in the video, accomplish their "variable" densities? Magic?

All kidding aside, it's actually a rather ingenuous creation.
A Variable ND is actually created by stacking 2 individual
"Linear Polarizers" on top of each other.

You demonstrated an understanding of how Polarizers work in your comment, so picture this...
When the Linear Polarizers are running parallel with one another they offer maximum transmission and full polarization of the incoming waves. As they are rotated they exhibit an ND-like effect of becoming less transparent and more opaque. Starting at around ND .3, the closer they are rotated to 180* (Perpendicular to each other) the more extreme the effect gets, until it's pretty much fully opaque. The polarizers work together to create the "variable densities" as opposed to relying on non-variable ND's created by applying multiple coatings to optically superior glass.

As Dennis said, even though it's unintended, you will most definitely be making a creative impact when using a Vari-ND, as it will exhibit all the typical effects of a linear/circular polarizer.

Eve, might have simply underestimated the viewer i.Q. and how ridiculously keen we are too detail, or it was a simple oversight and we've all learned a little. Either way, she did a great job with this video.

April 30, 2015 at 9:53AM, Edited April 30, 9:53AM

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J.M. Anderson
Director of Photography
279

Some variable NDs will have a big impact, but the good quality variable NDs I have tested used a reversed circular polarizer as their frontmost filter, these have a much less dramatic impact on polarized light. Try taking your circular polarizer and putting it on your lens in reverse. It doesn't have the same effect. At most it will have a gentle biasing of the light from blue to amber, depending on the angle. I don't really use variable NDs all that much and assumed that most good quality variable NDs used the same type of construction. I may be wrong though.

April 30, 2015 at 11:04AM, Edited April 30, 11:22AM

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It's hard to find real specific information on the various Vari NDs out there, and I don't have much time to dig too deeper... however it seems that many of the professional grade vari NDs do have a Quarter Wave plate as the first element followed by two linear polarizers... or in other words.. a reversed circular polarizer at the front followed by a linear polarizer.

The benefit of this is that it causes the linear polarized light from reflections/glare to become circularly polarized. Therefore neither of the linear polarizers will completely eliminate this light and this reflected light will be mostly left intact. However, it will get a slight blue or amber shift.

My limited experience with vari NDs have been of this nature and I never noticed a real noticeable effect to my reflections. I can only assume that Eve has had similar experience. However, since this is not the case with all vari NDs it would be in the best interest of the viewer that she clarify that. So what she said wasn't untrue,.. just incomplete.

April 30, 2015 at 6:44PM

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The quality of variable NDs in this conversation doesn't matter. They still have a polarising effect being two polarisers working against each other.

They definitely effect skin tones depending on time of day, angle. Best to be avoided when shooting people.

April 30, 2015 at 9:39PM, Edited April 30, 9:39PM

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Really guys...?

Wow... I mean... it's just a quick video to show how to change exposure. Tough crowd.

April 30, 2015 at 6:48PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1157

CORRECT!

April 30, 2015 at 5:03PM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
616

What Dennis said about ND filters, also in regards to any possible problems with extra glass on lens that results in Double image...
And no talk on ISO effect on dynamic range?!
I guess shaving your hair in a funny way is enough to call yourself a Cinematographer nowadays?

April 29, 2015 at 4:43PM

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Oh please... this was a great video that covers a lot of ground and makes simple camera controls easy to understand for beginners -I don't think it's trying to be more than that and at least she wasn't as pretentious sounding as yourself.

April 29, 2015 at 5:11PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1292

Or as pretentious sounding as yourself.

April 29, 2015 at 6:04PM

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@Steven - Thank goodness for a ray of sunlight, I thought maybe we had met the end of the world or everyone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. If all these guys/gurls are as smart as they seem why don't they make their own video and leave this "incorrect" one for the rest of us!

May 1, 2015 at 6:10AM, Edited May 1, 6:12AM

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Kayode
851

What on earth does her hair have to do with anything? What a spiteful thing to say.

April 29, 2015 at 6:05PM

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Dennis was incorrect about the ND filters. Stacking filters is fine as long as you use quality filters and don't stack more than 2 or so. You can run into ghosting problems with some filters like hot mirror filters but that can usually be resolved with using the correct stack order and making sure your filters aren't too far apart. ISO can effect dynamic range, but that varies from camera to camera.

April 29, 2015 at 8:08PM, Edited April 29, 8:16PM

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Edit to my previous post. Some but not all variable NDs will have similar effects to a regular polarizes. My admittedly limited experience with variable ND filters were with ones that had a a reversed circular polarizer as their frontmost filter. These do not really have the same impact as a regular polarizer but will have a gentle biasing of the light from blue to amber, depending on the angle.

So just be mindful of what Variable NDs you get. I personally am not a big fan of them. I love my Firecrest NDs though. :-)

April 30, 2015 at 11:27AM

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Eve Hazelton: 2 DP credits on IMDB, including underwater work (one with a cast of 14 and a crew of about 25, the other with a cast of 38 and a crew of about 90)

Hallel Rosenberg: 1 short film DP credit on IMDB, with a cast of 2 and a crew of 8

How quaint. But I bet your hair looks fantastic!

April 30, 2015 at 9:33PM

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A bit of misinformation here. Changing your frame rate absolutely affects your exposure with a digital camera. The frames have less time to expose so the exposure on each frame is reduced. The result from shooting an image at 120fps vs 24fps - shutter speed held constant - is a reduction in exposure of the image. Shooting with a phantom camera at 1000 fps requires an enormous amount of light for this reason - not because the shutter speed changes.

April 29, 2015 at 9:26PM, Edited April 29, 9:25PM

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DPTomWells
DP
74

Yes and no... It's not so much the frame rate but the shutter speed that directly effects the exposure. Once you start using higher frame rates then the need for faster shutter speeds becomes necessary. It probably would have been worth her mentioning the difference between shutter speed and shutter angle since more affordable cinema cameras like the BMCC use the latter.

A single Shutter speed like 1/60 will always have the same exposure, because it is a measure of how long the frame is exposed. 1/60 of a second is 1/60 of second no matter your fps. Shutter Angle, on the other hand, could be 180, 150, 90.. whatever.. but the amount of time the frame is exposed will vary depending on the FPS. That's because a 180 shutter angle has a different exposure time depending on frame rate. For instance a 180 shutter angle for 24 fps would be a 1/48 shutter speed and a 180 shutter angle for 30 FPS would be a 1/60 shutter speed. The shutter is open for less time at 30 fps but the shutter angle is the same.

However, since she did not mention shutter angle, I will just address the issue of shutter speed for now. Shutter speed is how long the shutter is open. If I shoot on a DSLR at 24 FPS then I will be using a shutter speed of 1/50 which is the closest I can get to a 180 Shutter Angle. 1/48 would be more precise, and I think that there may be some DSLRs with that option.

So that means that for every frame exposed the shutter is open for 1/50 of a second. If you have a DSLR that shoots 60 FPS, notice how you can't take the shutter lower than 50 or 60, but if you switch to 30 fps or 24 fps, you can usually take your shutter down to 30 or so. If your DSLR could shoot 100 FPS, then it would most likely not allow you a shutter speed below 100. Because 1/100 at 100 FPS would be a 360 Shutter Angle... and there is nothing greater than a 360 shutter angle. So it is not so much the frame rate but the shutter speed that really effects the exposure... which is what she said,.. however the FPS will dictate what shutter speed can be used.

So I think what she was getting at, is that if you have a 1/60 shutter speed and switch between 24, 30 and 60.. you're not going to see an exposure difference. She probably could have clarified that better.

April 30, 2015 at 10:31AM, Edited April 30, 10:42AM

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I believe we're having a heated agreement. Your last line sums up the point.

April 30, 2015 at 11:15AM

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DPTomWells
DP
74

This video is terrible. So much incorrect information. Would be prudent for No Film School to delete this post.

Unbelievable that this was posted in the first place.

April 29, 2015 at 9:42PM

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Conrad
133

If I didn't know about this stuff I would find this very helpful.

She speaks clearly, precise and covers a lot of the most important stuff.

April 30, 2015 at 5:37AM

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Viktor Ragnemar
Director/Cinematographer
1218

Why is the doorway on the right in the cold stairway shot distorted but not in the warm lit version. She said the lens was the same in each case?

April 30, 2015 at 11:31PM, Edited April 30, 11:31PM

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It could be me, but the video isn't talking about exposing CORRECTLY at all.
Only about what tools influence exposure.
I know compelling titles are important for a blog, but please don't overpromise and underdeliver...

May 1, 2015 at 1:08AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8842

@Dennis - the whole video is incorrect or an item in the video is incorrect?

May 1, 2015 at 6:07AM

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Kayode
851

My ears and eyes get pricked up when I see the word 'master' alongside a picture of someone in their 20's. The information disseminated in Eve's videos might be useful to someone with absolutely zero experience with lighting for film but, after watching these and several of her videos on YouTube, I see nothing that qualifies her as anything close to a 'master' as her "MASTERCLASS" titling would suggest.

The audacity of youth these days.

May 1, 2015 at 9:48AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1033

Title's a little misleading, IMHO. There is no mention of HOW to expose the image correctly, just the basic functions of a camera, lens and filter. If anyone's truly interested in exposing an image correctly, may I suggest you google "Ansel Adams Zone System".

May 2, 2015 at 10:03AM, Edited May 2, 10:03AM

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Bulent Ozdemir
Director | Filmmaker
80

Misleading title, and no advice at all on what the actual settings would be for a 'correctly' exposed image.

There really is some debate on this. For instance, the way that most chips record data follows a non-linear curve and is essentially logarithmic, so there is (and putting it very simply) less detail in the brighter areas, so when exposing for caucasian skin I like to slightly 'underexpose' the image. Some DPs prefer to 'overexpose' and thus slightly blow out skin imperfections.

Point being there really is no such thing as a 'correctly' exposed image.

Good primer here http://www.xdcam-user.com/2012/07/why-nailing-your-mid-range-will-make-p...

Happy shooting! ;-)

June 7, 2015 at 5:13AM

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Karel Bata
Director / DP / Stereographer
515