Remember the gray card and how we used to use it to get the correct exposure back in the 35mm days?For some reason, once we went “digital”, we thought we no longer needed it. This article explains why it is still a useful tool.
This tip is so easy I am sure some of you out there will kick yourself when you finish reading. Like you, I still learn things and this tip was passed to me a year ago…after 20 years of shooting without it. Photography is a journey, not a destination. Don’t’ sweat when you learn something, just be happy you’re smarter because of it.
A gray card is a card that is 18% gray. Why this is important is because your camera assumes the world is, on average, 18% gray. And it’s right, part of the time. This is the main reason scenes are not exposed as you would like when using P or A or S mode; because your camera is programmed to assume the scene in front of it is 18% gray and it wasn’t 18% gray. To demonstrate this on your own, set your camera to P mode (gasp!) and take a picture of a white piece of paper. Now set your exposure compensation to +1 or +2 and take the same shot. Which one looks more like the white piece of paper?
The overexposed one. Because the piece of paper is not gray, but your camera tried to make it that way.
Enter the gray card! To use a gray card, hold it up in the light that is the same as the light hitting your subject, point your camera at it (preferably using spot metering mode for best results) and you now have a ‘perfect’ setting. This 18% gray card is what your camera assumes the world is; placing such a card in front of your camera now makes it able to meter the light with better accuracy. Perfect exposures. Or at least a great place to start.
Just like eating enough fiber or getting enough sleep, you know using a gray card is good for you(r photography) but you don’t do it all the time. I don’t do it all the time either. Why? My number one reason is the card is not always with me. A dedicated shoot I am being paid for? Of course it is there. But taking my daughter to school and seeing something worth shooting on the way? It’s not with me 100% of the time (also because I test many camera bags and it doesn’t always get packed into the right bag). Plus, who has time to pull out the card when the lighting is just right and the card is in your bag in the car? I’m as good at making excuses as the next guy.
Now what if I told you you could have a gray card with you all the time?
That’s right, as long as you have two hands, your gray card can always be with you.