Nailing Exposure Isn’t Always Important

For me, a photograph is something that should express an emotion or tell a story. I’m not very interested in using a zone system, or doing histagram analyses. These things have their uses, but not for how I do portraiture.  Nailing exposure is not high on my list of goals.

The following images of Andrea were shot on a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II camera using Illford HP5 Plus film. My camera did not have a light meter, so I used a handheld one.

I take what the light meter says and use it as a reference point, and unless the lighting in the scene changes dramatically, I’ll pretty much forget about nailing the so-called “correct” exposure and just shoot. Experience and my gut will guide me the rest of the way. And that will usually work out if I’m shooting with film because film gives you a wide margin for error.  And honestly, I like a little error now and then.

Now, for people who place a great deal of emphasis and importance (and maybe value) on precision when it comes to exposure, being so loose with it might sound like a mistake. You can’t blame them for feeling that way, because it’s likely rooted in their personalities. For many people, there’s a certain feeling of security that comes with meeting a standard, or making numbers match up, or knowing that an image, if nothing else, can’t be criticized for being technically “wrong” in terms of exposure.

But some of us really don’t function that way. Everyone wants some degree of acceptance and we’d certainly like to feel that we’re doing things correctly. But not all of us look to the status quo or the self-appointed guardians of technical correctness for validation. My sense of fulfillment comes from creating an image that I’m simply happy with. If anyone else likes it (or doesn’t) that’s their own business.

Mamiya RZ67 and HP5 1

Mamiya RZ67 and HP5 2

Mamiya RZ67 and HP5 3

Mamiya RZ67 and HP5 4

Mamiya RZ67 and HP5 5

You can see there’s nothing technically perfect about the images in this set.  Far from it.  But I’m very happy with these portraits, imperfections and all.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Amen, Brother. If it looks good to you, you’ve nailed it. As most of us acknowledge, photography is an art — so there’s no right or wrong, and there is no such thing as perfection.

    Keep up the good work !

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