Morning Light on Sea Cliff, Panther Beach
Pentax 6x7 / Kodak Portra 160
I’m metering my shots with a Pentax Digital Spotmeter. It’s a 1 degree spot meter and is used to measure the exposure of very precise areas. There are quite a few 1 degree spot meters available in a range of prices but I found the Pentax Digital Spotmeter to be the most simple to use, especially when paired with Ansel Adams’ “Zone System”
Kodak Portra can give a variety of looks when exposed differently. A lot of portrait photographers state that they over expose by 1-2 stops. For them it is as simple as that since they are either shooting in soft evening light or open shade both instances with a smaller dynamic range, or a situation where naturally over exposed highlights are ascetically acceptable. For landscape just adding 1 or 2 stops from your box speed to your ISO dial and shooting away is not going to work.
I have modified this method to my own purposes, all of these methods are borrowed from the masters of black and white film photography.
I expose my film so the scene falls within the face of the latitude curve of the film. The Zone System works perfect for Kodak Portra because Portra has about the same latitude as the black and white films it was originally intended to be used with. If you are unfamiliar with the Zone System I’d suggest doing a search for it, but in short there are 10 zones, 1 being complete black and 10 being complete white. For landscapes, equally important to exposure is texture and with Portra you start to loose texture in anything under zone 3 1/3 and over zone 7 2/3rd’s. For example in the image below I was standing in a medium deep shadow as the sunlight was just peaking over the cliffs behind me, illuminating the pillar in front of me. I wanted the detail of the texture of the rocks in my foreground as well as their steely gray color as the contrast of cool gray to the warm light on the pillar in front of me I felt was key to what drew me to stop and take notice. I needed to place the shadows “S” about 2/3 into Zone 3. Which would be above the toe of the curve where the color would be dark and untrue to what my eye was seeing. Getting beyond the toe of the curve would also give me greater spacial separation, the amount of latitude that can be rendered within a single stop, which would give me texture. That would then put my highlights “H” past the shoulder of the curve into overexposure. I used a ND grad filter to bring my highlights down off the shoulder of the curve into zone 7 and within the desired exposure range. I chose this example image because as you can see my highlights while not blown are slightly into the shoulder of the curve where there is less spacial separation causing there to be very little texture.
Equally important to all of this is simply paying attention to and learning to understand light. Light comes in many different colors in different times of day and in different conditions. It can make a rock look bright and vibrant or dingy and uninteresting. Also remember that the human eye adapts to light and “normalizes” it. If You stand under a canopy of green trees your eye will render it as normal balanced shade but your camera will see the green cast by the leaves from above. Try and keep in mind not just how you see, but how the camera will see light.
This has been asked a few times so I hope this helps clarify what I individually have answered.