4 Tools To Help Dial in a Perfect Exposure

Choosing a correct exposure can be difficult at times, especially in bright light. I've become pretty good and reading my LCD screen and using zebra stripes to figure out a correct exposure on the fly, but there are a few more options. Two of them I had not even heard of before. 

This great video by the Academy of Storytellers goes over the four main tools you can use in camera to choose a perfect exposure. 

1. Histogram

This is the go to tool for most photographers and videographers. It will give you a graph with shadows on the left and highlights on the right. You will easily be able to see when you can clipping data on either end. 

2. Zebra Stripes

This is my personal method for finding a correct exposure. I like that I can see my scene, and I can easily see what is blowing out. In many cases, objects like the sky will be blown out in spots, and that is ok. I make sure that my subject doesn't have any hot spots, for instance on a their forehead. 

3. Wave Form

The wave form works like a histogram with even more data. Not only does it tell you how much of the image is over or under exposed, but it will also show you the exposure for different areas of your scene. 

4. RGB Parade 

The RGB parade is a wave form split into the red blue and green channels. This allows you to see if individual color channels are being blown out, as well as the entire scene. 


I personally have not used the wave form or RGB parade, and to be honest I'm not sure our Nikon D750 cameras even have that option. That being said I will certainly start to use them as we get into color correcting our footage in Premiere. 


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Tom Lew's picture

Mr. Morris - what about a light meter? Started getting in the practice of using it and it has eliminated any "test exposure" shots in studio.

Every person who I have ever seen use a light meter has used it set their camera initially and then they use the LCD to actually dial it in. Even the people who claim they couldn't work without one.

I know I will make enemies saying this but I don't see the need for a light meter when the camera not only can show you the image but it can also show you histogram data which is far more beneficial than a single number on a light meter.

Michael Comeau's picture

Even if you use the LCD screen to tweak, a light meter can eliminate a lot of test shots and save a lot of time.

You would be surprised by what my assistants can come up with. It's especially a problem shooting video when the footage isn't able to be fixed in post.

Remember that raw files and film can easily be brought back from the dead. Video footage, especially from DSLRs has to be spot on.

Dylan Dog's picture

Hi Lee, so would you say that light meter is actually beneficial if you're shooting DSLR video?

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Some people have a lot of experience, but even in the film days the light meter was only a starting point.
When shooting medium format, first I would place a bet with my assistant on the exposure, loser (or furthest from the correct exposure) buys coffee.
Then I would shoot a polaroid at the meter's setting. Was that always 100% what I wanted? No. So after adjusting the settings I'd shoot the final Polaroid at the correct exposure.
If I was shooting 35mm I would bracket unless shooting C41. and with roll film, many times I would do snip tests because the lab might be off.
When shooting 4x5 or 8x10 it was 2 sheets on the correct exposure and 2 more sheets 1/2 + or - or maybe a full stop + or - then run the normal and adjust as needed.

Light meters are not the panacea that some here think. They take time to lean how to use properly and how to interpret what f4.5 at 1/400 means when the scene is not 18% grey. When to use incident and when to use reflected.

I have at least 3 meters that rarely are used unless shooting film or sometimes with strobe, seems like a waste of time to me.

The LCD is easier as it is what it is. Todays in camera meters are better than before, Zebras and Hist o grams help too.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Because you started when a light meter was essential (or you look at the little paper that came with the Kodak film, sunny = f8 at 1/ASA or was it 16?), you probably can use the zone system too. I use mine once or twice a year. :)

marknie's picture

I tend to side on Bryan Peterson's assessment instead of this one. The correct exposure is the "Creatively correct" one. It really just depends on your creative goals what a correct exposure is. There really is no one correct exposure.

1. Guess
2. Shoot
3. If it's too light, expose less; if it's too dark, expose more.

Or just let the camera decide. It'll do it far faster than you can.

I really don't understand what all the fuss is about.

Christopher Nolan's picture

This post makes me so angry, ..... how dare you post an article on something that is useful for only some people, ....... and you charge soooooo much money for me to access it!

Chris K.'s picture

I used to always have my trusty light meter on set from my film days...until False Color
I can't believe that this video didn't talk about False Color?????

Sure all the tools mentioned in this video is great while in post-or back in the 90's-but False Color is by far the most powerful, fastest, and most accurate exposure tool used by cinematographers today

Mr Hogwallop's picture

the only still camera I have seen with that feature is the Phase One, is it availble on other DSLR cameras?

Chris K.'s picture

It's pretty much a feature for professional cinema cameras (Red and Alexa-most cameras like the fs7 and c300 are just stuck with a histogram though) but mostly are used in production monitors.
Haven't seen it on a dslr

Nick Rains's picture

There's a cinematography iPhone app that has False Color as one of its tools - can't remember the name though, it's somewhere in my app list...

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Magic Lantern may have it IIRC...

After getting a Fuji X100s, I now really miss the live histogram in the viewfinder when going back and shooting with my Nikon D7100. Having this live exposure information in the viewfinder was a revelation.

Neo Racer's picture

Thats great my camera has none of that except histogram lol

5) Light meter. :3