Outdoor Exposure

3 Stops Over

Pre Note

These images were shot on an Arri Alexa Classic with Nikon Nikkor-S photography lenses; in this case, I used a 35mm f2.8 lens. The images were very lightly processed in DaVinci Resolve. I placed an Alexa Log to Rec.709 LUT [ARRI_LogC2Video_709_davinci3d] on the clips and added a little magenta to balance out the Alexa’s natural green tint. The exact tint was created in the Gain wheel, which is 1.04 R, 98 G and 1.06 B.

After shooting these tests, I went out a second time and did a retest to ensure the results were repeatable and accurate. They were.

Exposure

When I’m shooting a test or a scene for a film, one of the the technical aspects I take heavily into consideration is exposure. Certain exposures lead to distinct results. I tend to place overall outdoor exposure into seven categories:

1. Extreme Over Exposure (+4 to +7 stops)

2. Intermediate Over Exposure (+1.5 to +3 stops)

3. Slight Over Exposure (+.05 to +1 stops)

4. Base Exposure (At key)

5. Slight Under Exposure (-.05 to -1 stop)

6. Intermediate Under Exposure (-1.5 to -3 stops)

7. Extreme Under Exposure (-4 to -7 Stops)

When exposing outdoors, I tend to expose based on the overall scene; I don’t light for just specific elements/objects like I would indoors. The sun is lighting so much of the scene, that I let it become my guide when I’m using the meter. For example, if the sun is reading at a T/64, I’ll insert my 6 stops of ND for a T/8 on the lens and work accordingly.

Each exposure choice results in different looks. Exposing at Key to about one stop over leads to a look that is vibrant with good mix of deep shadows and well-preserved highlights.

1/2 Stop Over
ISO 800, 6 stops of ND [Tiffen Circular], f/8 on the lens. The meter read f8/11.

Since that display of well-preserved highlights isn’t as clearly portrayed in the first image, I captured a second image with a wider range of tonal values.

1/2 Stop Over
ISO 800, 6 stops of ND [Tiffen Circular], f/8 on the lens. The meter read f8/11.

Notice how smoothly the highlights roll off the two white water dumbbells. The shadows are dark but not too dark. It’s the look of a well-balanced image that doesn’t go too over or too under. Here’s the same shot about two stops over.

2 Stops Over
ISO 800, 5 stops of ND [Tiffen Circular], f5.6/8 on the lens. The meter read f11/16.

Now, let’s turn back to the original image. I’m going to show you that same image except it’s now one stop over exposed. I will place the original image below for comparison. If you look at the brightness values in the grass and wooden fence, you’ll see the values have changed.

1 Stop Over
ISO 800, 6 stops of ND [Tiffen Circular], f5.6/8 on the lens. The meter read f8/11.
1/2 Stop Over
ISO 800, 6 stops of ND [Tiffen Circular], f/8 on the lens. The meter read f8/11.

Over exposing an image by a stop and a half to two stops has a different effect. It causes the image to become bright, washed out and dry looking. Here’s a look at the same shot but two stops over. I’ll leave the image that’s half a stop over exposed below this new one for comparison. One looks brittle while the other looks lush.

2 Stops Over
ISO 800, 5 stops of ND [Tiffen Circular], f5.6/8 on the lens. The meter read f11/16.
1/2 Stop Over
ISO 800, 6 stops of ND [Tiffen Circular], f/8 on the lens. The meter read f8/11.

Both feel very different. So the question is what kind of look you’re going for. Are you going for a very well-exposed image that’s lush, saturated and has good tonal preservation? Or, are you going for a look that makes the scene look very dry, desaturated and has some tonal burnout?

Below are two examples from two different Westerns, both shot on film. The color of the locations are very similar, yet both are differently exposed. The first is from Hostiles and the second True Grit. Based on what I presented, how do you think each was exposed?

Hostiles
True Grit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s