Yet more on exposure today. You may think this is all overkill considering your camera can do a lot of the work now, but you’d be surprised. Especially in some oddball situations (night sky and snow for example), your camera’s light meter won’t be as helpful as you’re used to it being.
That said, today, the Zone System. If you want to go in-depth on this, pick up Ansel Adams’ The Negative anyplace that sells books on photography (or Amazon). It was his concept, and it still holds up all these decades later.
Here’s the basic idea for black and white photography, though the same principles hold true for color. Think of the scale of light to dark, starting at total black (referred to as zone 0) to total white (zone 10) with neutral gray in the middle (zone 5). You’ll see a lot of images like the one below used to describe this in texts
The essential goal is that when you’re looking through the viewfinder, try and determine what part of your image would correspond to Zone 5, the neutral gray, neither too light nor too dark. Then set your camera exposure to the “correct” exposure for that spot (e.g. on your light meter, the middle hash mark).
By doing this, the things that should be dark will appear darker in the image, and similarly the bright things will look bright. It’s a little easier conceptually when you’re thinking of it in terms of B&W as that makes the concept of the exposure (read: amount of light) more straightforward, but as I said, it applies to ANY photographic image. You just have to think of what’s neither a high nor a low, but a mid-tone, and base your exposure on that.
There is quite literally TONS written on this subject, so I’m not going to try to be comprehensive. You can find a ton online, and oodles of books on the subject. But I’m still partial to Adams’ original explanation … the proverbial horse’s mouth always seemed the best place to go for it.
I’ll just leave you with an image unrelated to anything, but one that was exposed well and that I’m fond of.