Metering, Exposure Modes, and Histogram - Mastering the Nikon COOLPIX A (2014)

Mastering the Nikon COOLPIX A (2014)

Chapter 9. Metering, Exposure Modes, and Histogram

I’ve been using Nikon cameras since way back in 1980. It seems that with each new camera there have been improvements in metering and exposure modes. The Nikon COOLPIX A is no exception. With this camera Nikon has designed metering and exposure to work not only with still images, but also with video.

In this chapter you’ll learn how the exposure metering system and modes work. We’ll look at how each of three different light meter types is best used. We’ll examine the various modes you can use when taking pictures, including several exposure modes for when you want the camera to do most of the work while you enjoy shooting. Finally, we’ll take a detailed look at how the histogram works on the Nikon COOLPIX A.

The histogram is a new feature to people who are coming over to digital photography from film. This little readout gives you great control over metering and will help you get the most accurate exposures you’ve ever made. It is very important that you understand the histogram, so we’ll look at it in detail.

This chapter is divided into three parts:

Section 1: Metering: The Nikon COOLPIX A provides three major light metering systems: Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot.

Section 2: Exposure Modes: The Mode dial is loaded with exposure—or shooting—modes, such as Auto exposure (Auto), Programmed auto (P), Shutter-priority auto (S), Aperture-priority auto (A), Manual (M), and User settings U1 and U2. In addition, there are 19 Scene modes that give inexperienced users command of a certain style of shooting.

Section 3: Histogram: The histogram is a digital bell-curve readout that shows how well an image is exposed. It’s an important tool for advanced photographers. This chapter discusses how to read it and better control your exposures.

Let’s get started by looking into the three exposure metering systems.

Section 1: Metering

(User’s Manual, Page 85)

The basis for exposures in the Nikon COOLPIX A is a meter that flexibly examines a wide area of the frame to provide a correct exposure. There are three modes: Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot. Matrix is the most popular.

When you use Matrix metering, the camera can set the exposure based on the distribution of brightness, color, distance, and composition. Most people leave the light meter set to Matrix and enjoy excellent results. Others use Center-weighted metering because they are used to that older style of light meter. The Spot meter is very useful when you need to meter a very small area of the frame for more accurate subject exposures in difficult lighting conditions.

Let’s look more closely at each of the COOLPIX A’s three exposure metering systems. Figure 9.1 shows the Quick Menu set to Matrix metering, with Spot metering and Center-weighted metering available.


Figure 9.1: Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot metering

Use the following steps to change the metering mode:

1. Press the i button and select Metering from the Quick Menu, then press the OK button (figure 9.1, image 1).

2. Select one of the three meter types from the menu (figure 9.1, image 2). The name of the meter type will appear above the small picture on the Quick Menu screen. My camera is set to Matrix metering.

3. Press the OK button to choose the meter.

Now, let’s examine the three meter types to see which you will use most often.

Matrix Metering

The Nikon COOLPIX A contains a color Matrix metering system that’s one of the most powerful and flexible automatic exposure meters in any compact camera today.


Figure 9.2: Matrix metering mode symbol on Live view screen

In figure 9.2, images 1–3, you can see the Matrix meter symbol on each screen (the red arrow in image 3 points to the symbol). This is the factory default meter.

How does matrix metering work? Through complex mathematical formulas, there are characteristics for many thousands of images stored in the camera. These characteristics are used along with proprietary Nikon software and complex evaluative computations to analyze the image that appears on the monitor. The meter is then set to provide accurate exposures for the majority of your images.

A simple example is when the horizon runs through the middle of an image. The sky above is bright, and the earth below is much dimmer. The metering system evaluates this image and compares it to hundreds of similar images in the camera’s database, then it automatically selects and inputs a meter setting for you.

The meter examines four critical areas of each picture. It compares the levels of brightness in various parts of the scene to determine the total range of EV values. It then notices the color of the subject and surroundings. It also determines how far away your lens is focused so it can determine the distance to the subject. Finally, it looks at the compositional elements of the subject.

When the meter has all that information, it compares your image to hundreds of image characteristics in the camera database, makes complex evaluations, and comes up with an exposure value that is usually right on target, even in complex lighting situations.

Center-Weighted Metering

If you’re a bit old-fashioned, having been raised on a classic center-weighted meter and still prefer that type, the COOLPIX A’s exposure meter can be transformed into a flexible center-weighted meter with a variable-sized weighting that you can control.


Figure 9.3: Center-weighted metering mode symbol

Figure 9.3, images 1–3, show the Center-weighted metering symbol on the Live view screen (the red arrow in image 3 points to the symbol). The Center-weighted meter in the COOLPIX A meters the entire frame but concentrates 75 percent of the metering into an invisible circle in the middle of the frame. The other 25 percent of the frame outside the circle provides the rest of the metering.

Where’s the Circle?

You can’t see any indication of a circle on the monitor, so you’ll have to imagine it, like I did in figure 9.4.


Figure 9.4: Center-weighted metering mode circle (75 percent)

Center-weighted metering is similar to Matrix metering but without the extra smarts. In fact, on several test subjects I got similar meter readings from Center-weighted and Matrix. However, Matrix metering should do better in difficult lighting situations because it has a database of image characteristics to compare with your current image; it examines color, distance, and where your subject is located in the frame.

Spot Metering

Often only a spot meter will do. In situations when you must get an accurate exposure for a very small section of the frame, or if you must get several meter readings from various small areas, the COOLPIX A can, once again, be adjusted to fit your needs. The Spot meter evaluates the small area of the moveable focusing rectangle, so it is indeed a spot meter.


Figure 9.5: Spot metering mode symbol

Figure 9.5, images 1–3, show the Spot metering icon as displayed on the Live view screen (the red arrow in image 3 points to the symbol). The COOLPIX A’s Spot meter consists of a small circle surrounding the AF point.


Figure 9.6: Spot metering size

The Spot meter barely surrounds the AF point box on the monitor (figure 9.6). The Spot meter follows the AF point around the monitor, so you can move the spot with the Rotary multi selector and meter around the frame.

When your COOLPIX A is in Spot meter mode and you move the AF point to some small section of the subject, you can rest assured that you’re getting a true spot reading. In fact, you can use your Spot meter to determine an approximate EV range of light values in the entire image by taking multiple manual spot readings and comparing the values. If the values exceed eight or nine EV stops, you will need to decide which part of the subject is most important and meter for it.

On an overcast day you can usually get by with no worries since the range of light values is often within the recording capability of the sensor. On a bright sunny day, the range of light can be twice as much as the sensor can record.

Don’t let the numbers make you nervous. Just remember that spot metering is often a trade-off. You can either have the highly specific ability to ensure that a certain portion of an image is exposed with spot-on accuracy, or you can average several manual readings to get the correct exposure throughout the frame (Zone System). The choice is yours, depending on the shooting situation.

If you spot meter the face of a fair-skinned person who is standing in the sun, the shadows around the person may contain little or no data. They will be underexposed and look quite dark. If you spot meter from the shadows instead, the person’s face is likely to blow out to mostly white. We’ll discuss this in more detail in section 3 of this chapter, which explores the histogram.

Settings Recommendation: Use the Spot meter to get specific meter readings of small areas on and around the subject; then make some exposure decisions yourself, and your subject should be well exposed. Just remember that the Spot meter evaluates only for the small area that it sees, so it cannot adjust the camera for anything except that one tiny area. Spot metering requires some practice, but it is a very professional way to expose images.

Section 2: Exposure Modes

(User’s Manual, Page 52)

My first Nikon, back in 1980, was an FM. I remember it with fondness because that was when I first got serious about photography. It’s hard for me to imagine that it has already been 33 years since I last used my FM! Cameras were simpler back then. The FM had a basic center-weighted light meter, a manual exposure dial, and manual aperture settings. I had to decide how to create all aspects of the image because the camera had only one mode: Manual (M).

Later I bought a Nikon FE and was amazed to use its A mode, or Aperture-priority auto. I could set the aperture manually and the camera would adjust the shutter speed for me. Luxury! The FE had two modes: Manual (M) and Aperture priority (A).

A few more years went by and I bought a Nikon F4 that was loaded with features and was much more complex. It had four modes, including the two I was used to (M and A) and two new modes: Shutter priority (S) and Programmed auto (P). I had to learn even more stuff! The F4 was my first P, S, A, M camera.

Does this sound anything like your progression? If you’re older than 40 years, maybe so; if not, you may just be getting into the digital photography realm with your COOLPIX A, and I ought to stop reminiscing and get to the point.

Today’s cameras are amazingly complex compared to cameras only a few years ago. Let’s examine how we can use that flexibility for our benefit. The COOLPIX A is also a P, S, A, M camera. That’s the abbreviated progression of primary shooting modes that allow you to control the camera’s shutter speed and aperture yourself. In addition, the COOLPIX A has 19 Scene modes and an AUTO mode for when you just want to take good pictures without thinking about exposure. Let’s examine each in detail.


Figure 9.7: Mode dial set to AUTO (green camera symbol on Mode dial)

There is just one control on the COOLPIX A to set the AUTO, SCENE, P, S, A, M, U1, and U2 modes. It is a convenient control called the Mode dial (figure 9.7). Let’s discuss each exposure mode in detail.

Programmed Auto (P) Mode

Programmed auto (P) mode is designed for those times when you just want to shoot pictures and not think much about camera settings but still want control when you need it. The camera takes care of the shutter speed and aperture and uses the exposure meter you selected to create the best pictures it can without human intervention. You can override the aperture by turning the Command dial.


Figure 9.8: Mode dial set to Programmed auto (P)

Figure 9.8 shows the Mode dial set to Programmed auto (P) mode. This mode got its name because it uses a software program that’s built in to the camera. It tries its best to create optimal images in most situations.

However, even the user’s manual calls this a “snapshot” mode. P mode can handle a wide variety of situations well, but I wouldn’t depend on it for important shooting. It can be great at a party, for example, when I want some nice snapshots. I don’t have to think about the camera and can just enjoy the party. To me, P mode stands for Party.

Programmed auto is a good mode to use when you want to let the camera control the aperture and shutter speed while you control the flash. In a sense, it’s like AUTO mode except you decide when to use the popup Speedlight instead of letting the camera decide. It also lets you override the aperture in an emergency. You may need more depth of field and decide to use a smaller aperture. The camera allows you to do that by turning the Command dial. When you do, the aperture is under your control, and the camera controls the shutter.

P mode comes in two parts: Programmed auto and Flexible program. Flexible program works similarly to Aperture-priority auto (A) mode. Why do I say that? Let me explain with an example.

Get Down, Grandpa!

Suppose you’re shooting at a family party, and suddenly you see a perfect shot of Grandpa dancing on the dinner table and Grandma standing on the floor behind him with her hand over her mouth. You (being a well-trained photographer) glance down at your camera and realize that the f/2.8 aperture won’t give you enough depth of field to focus on Grandpa and still have a sharp image of Grandma, who by this time is tugging at his pants leg. With only seconds to spare, you turn the Command dial clockwise. The COOLPIX A realizes that it is being called upon to leave snapshot mode and give you some control. It displays a small P* (P with an asterisk above it) on the Live view screen to let you know it realizes you are taking over control of the aperture. Since you are turning the Command dial clockwise, it obligingly starts cranking down the aperture. After a few clicks of the dial, the aperture is now at f/8. As soon as the COOLPIX A detected you were turning the Command dial, it started adjusting the shutter speed to match the new aperture. With only seconds before Grandma starts dragging Grandpa off the dinner table, you compose the shot, press the Shutter-release button, and the COOLPIX A starts grabbing frames. You get several shots in the few seconds it takes Grandma to get Grandpa down from the table. A family memory, captured!

What you did in my imaginary scenario was invoke the Flexible program mode (P*) in your COOLPIX A. How? As soon as you turned the Command dial, the COOLPIX A left normal P mode and switched to Flexible program mode. Before you turned the Command dial, the COOLPIX A was happily controlling both the shutter speed and the aperture for you. When you turned the dial, the COOLPIX A immediately switched to Flexible program mode and let you have control of the aperture. It then controlled only the shutter speed. In effect, the COOLPIX A allowed you to exercise your knowledge of photography very quickly and only assisted you from that point.

When you enter Flexible program mode (P*), you control only the aperture, and the COOLPIX A controls the shutter speed. If you turn the Command dial clockwise, the aperture gets smaller. Turn it counterclockwise to make the aperture larger. Nikon gives you control of the aperture only in Flexible program mode. Can you see why I say Flexible program mode acts like aperture-priority (A) mode?

Beware the Extra Clicks

If you turn the Command dial counterclockwise until the aperture reaches the maximum size (f/2.8), the camera starts counting clicks but does nothing else. To start making the aperture move again, you have to turn the dial back the same number of clicks (up to 15).

It’s confusing to have the camera stop letting you control the aperture just because you turned the Command dial past wide open by several clicks—until you turn it back the same number of clicks. It’s no big deal, really; just be aware that this will happen so you won’t think the camera is malfunctioning.

Shutter-Priority Auto (S) Mode

Shutter-priority auto is for when you need to control the shutter speed while the camera maintains the correct aperture for the available light. You turn the Command dial to adjust the shutter speed, and the camera controls the aperture.


Figure 9.9: Mode dial set to Shutter-priority auto (S)

Figure 9.9 shows the Mode dial set to S for Shutter-priority auto mode. If you are shooting action, you’ll want to keep the shutter speed high enough to capture an image without excessive blurring.

Shooting sports, air shows, auto races, or any quickly moving subject requires careful control of the shutter speed. If you shoot a bird in flight, you’ll want to use a fast shutter speed that allows for just a tiny bit of motion blur in its wings while stopping the body of the bird.

Sometimes you’ll want to set the shutter speed to slow settings for special effects or time exposures, such as a small waterfall in a beautiful autumn stream. See figure 9.10 for both effects.


Figure 9.10: Fast shutter speed to stop bird and slow shutter speed to blur water

To change the shutter speed, simply rotate the Command dial to any value between 30 seconds and 1/2000 second. Turn the dial counterclockwise for faster shutter speeds and clockwise for slower speeds. The camera will automatically adjust the aperture to maintain a correct exposure.

Watch Out for Camera Shake!

Be careful when the shutter speed is set below 1/125 second. Camera shake becomes a problem for many people at 1/60 second and slower. If you are careful to stand still, brace your arms against your chest, and spread your feet apart with one in front of the other, you’ll probably be able to make sharp images at 1/60 to 1/15 second.

Surprisingly, your heartbeat and breathing is reflected in your hands during slow shutter speeds. At speeds slower than 1/15 second most people cannot take sharp pictures without having the camera on a tripod. If you are going to shoot at slow shutter speeds, buy a nice solid tripod. You’ll make much nicer pictures.

The picture of the small waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (figure 9.10) was taken at a shutter speed of several seconds. It is virtually impossible to hold a camera perfectly still for several seconds, so a shot like that would be unachievable without a tripod.

Aperture-Priority Auto (A) Mode

Nature and macro shooters, and anyone concerned with carefully controlling the depth of field, often leave their cameras set to Aperture-priority auto (A) mode (figure 9.11).


Figure 9.11: Mode dial set to Aperture-priority auto (A)

Aperture-priority auto (A) mode allows you to control the aperture while the camera takes care of the shutter speed for optimal exposures. To select an aperture, use the Command dial. Turn the dial counterclockwise for smaller aperture openings and clockwise for larger aperture openings. The minimum aperture on the COOLPIX A is f/22, and the maximum is f/2.8.

Notice in figure 9.12 how different aperture settings can affect the depth of field (range or depth of sharp focus).


Figure 9.12: Large aperture to blur background and small aperture for deep depth of field

The aperture directly controls the depth of field (DOF)—or zone of sharpness—in an image. DOF is an extremely important concept for photographers to understand. Simply put, it allows you to control the range or depth of sharp focus in your images. In the bird image in figure 9.12, the DOF is very shallow, and in the scenic autumn shot it is very deep.

Manual (M) Mode

Manual mode takes a big step backward to days of old. It gives you complete control of the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity so you can make all the exposure decisions, with suggestions from the light meter. Figure 9.13, image 1, shows the Mode dial set to Manual mode (M).


Figure 9.13: Mode dial set to Manual (M) (image 1); analog exposure scale in the Information display (image 2) and Live view (image 3) screens

In figure 9.13, images 2 and 3, notice the analog exposure display. This display has a plus sign (+) on the right and a minus sign (-) on the left. Each dot on the scale in image 3 represents 1/3 EV step, and each square on the scale represents 1 EV step (1 stop).

When you are metering the subject, a bar will appear underneath the analog exposure display and extend from the zero in the center toward the plus side to indicate overexposure, or toward the minus side to indicate underexposure. You can gauge the amount of over- or underexposure by the number of dots and lines the bar passes as it heads toward one side or the other. In figure 9.13, image 3, the bar indicates that the scene is overexposed by one stop. Your goal is to have nothing showing on either side of the 0 below the exposure indicator scale.

You can adjust the aperture with the Rotary multi selector, and you can adjust the shutter speed with the Command dial. When you’re in Manual mode, you control the aperture (for depth of field) and the shutter speed (for motion control). If the image needs a little more depth of field, just make the aperture smaller, but be sure to slow down the shutter speed or your image may be underexposed. If you suddenly need a faster shutter speed, then set it faster, but be sure to open the aperture to compensate.

You are in complete control of the camera and must make decisions for both the shutter speed and aperture. The camera meter makes suggestions, but you make the final decision about how the exposure will look. Manual mode is for taking your time and enjoying photography. It gives you the most control of how the image looks, but you need more knowledge to get correct exposures.

It is especially important that you understand how to use the aperture and shutter speed before you set the camera to Manual mode (M), or you will get bad pictures.

Settings Recommendation: As a nature photographer, I am mostly concerned with getting nice sharp images with a deep depth of field. About 90 percent of the time my camera is set to Aperture-priority auto (A) and f/8. I started using this mode in about 1986 when I bought my Nikon FE, and I’ve used this setting ever since.

However, if I were shooting sports or action, I would set my camera to Shutter-priority auto (S) most often, which would allow me to control the speed of the shutter and capture those fast-moving subjects without a lot of blur. The camera controls the aperture, so I would have to concentrate only on which shutter speed best fits the subject’s movement.

I use Programmed auto (P) and Manual (M) modes only for special occasions.

When I want to control the camera absolutely, I use Manual mode. I’ve even been known to carry a small blanket with me so when I’m shooting in Manual mode I can toss it over the back of the camera and my head. That way I can feel like Ansel Adams or another view camera artist. I admit that people (especially kids) seem to find that hilarious. Well, I bet they don’t know how to use Manual mode!

I probably use Programmed auto (P) mode least of all. I might use it when I am at a party and just want to take nice pictures for my own use. I let the camera make most of the decisions, but I can quickly jump into Flexible program (P*) mode when the situation calls for a little more aperture control.

Some people have recently switched from using a basic point-and-shoot camera to the more powerful, compact Nikon COOLPIX A. Most point-and-shoot cameras have a full auto mode and some scene modes that represent common photographic opportunities. If you have come over from the point-and-shoot world, you might enjoy using the Auto or Scene modes while you learn the more advanced uses of the P, S, A, and M modes. Let’s look into how these extra modes work.

Auto Exposure Mode

The Auto exposure mode is for when you want to get the picture without thinking about how the camera works (figure 9.14). All you need to be concerned about in Auto mode is how well the image is composed and whether the battery is fully charged.


Figure 9.14: Mode dial set to Auto exposure mode (green camera icon)

When using Auto, many of the COOLPIX A’s internal modes become fully automatic with no way for you to adjust them. For instance, here are some important camera features that become automatic when Auto is selected on the Mode dial:

• White balance

• AF-area mode

• Metering mode

• Active D-Lighting

• Picture Control

• Exposure and flash compensation

• Built-in Speedlight flash

In effect, you relinquish control of the camera functions for a guarantee that some sort of picture will be provided. In most cases the COOLPIX A will provide its normal excellent images when you select Auto. However, in difficult circumstances the camera is free to turn up the ISO sensitivity and Active D-Lighting to get a picture, even at the expense of image quality.

If an alien spaceship lands in the local superstore parking lot, I might be convinced to use Auto since I am going to get a picture no matter what. I don’t have to think about anything except framing the subject and pressing the shutter-release button.

If you want to loan your camera to your grandmother and she has no interest in how cameras work, the COOLPIX A will happily make nice images for her in Auto mode. While you are learning to use the more advanced functions of the camera, you might also benefit from using this mode for a while. You’ll usually get better pictures when you control the camera, but the COOLPIX A has some very efficient software if you don’t want to take control yet.

Scene Modes

Scene modes are considered “creative photography” modes by Nikon. They allow beginning photographers to invoke the camera settings they would probably use if they had more experience. These modes allow you to make consistently good images; later, as your experience grows, you can use the P, S, A, M modes to take more creative control over your images.

Since the Nikon COOLPIX A has thousands of images stored in its Matrix metering system, I wouldn’t be surprised if each mode uses a subset of stored image types that more closely match the selected scene mode (only hundreds of images). This might hold true in Matrix metering mode. I have no way to prove this, so don’t quote me!

If you choose to use scene modes, do so with the understanding that you can eventually learn to control the image to a finer degree with the P, S, A, M modes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the more powerful features of the COOLPIX A. You can always fall back on the scene modes if you feel uncomfortable. With the P, S, A, M, Auto, and Scene modes on the Mode dial, Nikon has given us the best of both worlds in one camera—full or partial automation, or complete manual control. What flexibility!

The Nikon COOLPIX A provides 19 distinct scene modes designed to give inexperienced users control over certain styles of photography. Let’s look at a list of the various scene modes and then examine each of them in more detail:

• Portrait

• Landscape

• Child

• Sports

• Close up

• Night portrait

• Night landscape

• Party/indoor

• Beach/snow

• Sunset

• Dusk/dawn

• Pet portrait

• Candlelight

• Blossom

• Autumn colors

• Food

• Silhouette

• High key

• Low key


Figure 9.15: Selecting a Scene mode

Here are the steps to select a scene mode:

1. Set the Mode dial on top of the camera to Scene (figure 9.15, image 1).

2. Turn the Command dial while you examine the monitor (figure 9.15, image2).

3. A graphical representation of the edge of a dial with symbols will appear in the top left of the monitor (figure 9.15, image 3). When you turn the Command dial, each click displays a different Scene mode on the monitor, with a small icon and a word that describes the effect. The Scenemode display appears for about four seconds before the monitor turns off. Quickly turn the Command dial again to see more Scene modes. My camera is set to Portrait Scene mode.

4. When you have selected the Scene mode you want, wait four seconds and the Live view screen will appear (figure 9.15, image 4). The Scene mode is indicated with a symbol at the top left of the screen and the word Scene at the bottom of the screen. Take your pictures.

Now, let’s look at the scene modes. In each of the following 19 sections, I have included a figure similar to figure 9.15, image 3, showing the Scene mode symbol. Keep in mind what camera controls to use and that the same scene mode symbol will appear in the Live view screen (figure 9.15, image 4) when the camera is ready to take pictures.

Portrait Scene Mode


Figure 9.16: Portrait Scene mode

Portrait scene mode is for when you are taking pictures of people or static subjects. Its icon looks like a lady wearing a hat (figure 9.16). The camera tends to emphasize a shallow depth of field (large apertures) so only the subject is in sharp focus, which is a flattering way to draw attention to the subject and blur the background as much as possible. If you are taking pictures of friends (alone or in small groups), use this mode. It adjusts the color so that excellent skin tones are emphasized.

Landscape Scene Mode


Figure 9.17: Landscape Scene mode

If you are spending a day in the mountains, use the Landscape scene mode. Its icon looks like a couple of mountain peaks with a square around them (figure 9.17). Landscapes are usually best photographed on a tripod at small apertures so the entire scenic view is nice and sharp. The Landscape mode uses smaller apertures for more depth of field. This is sort of like using Aperture-priority auto (A) mode, but you don’t have as much control because the camera decides which aperture to use.

Child Scene Mode


Figure 9.18: Child Scene mode

Child scene mode tries to balance the need for saturating colors in children’s clothes and any colorful backgrounds while not overly saturating skin tones. Its icon looks like a child wearing a cap with his arms raised (figure 9.18). The primary emphasis of this mode seems to be making skin tones look good while giving you a fast enough shutter speed to capture a moving child and a small enough aperture to have some depth of field. It seems to be a balanced mode when it comes to shutter speed and aperture.

Sports Scene Mode


Figure 9.19: Sports Scene mode

Since sports usually involve people and other subjects moving at a rapid pace, the Sports scene mode emphasizes faster shutter speeds. Its icon is a person who is running (figure 9.19). Because you don’t want slow shutter speeds at a car race or air show, the camera will use the fastest shutter speed the light will allow, and it will open up the aperture to keep the exposure reasonable. Expect a shallow depth of field in Sports mode. This mode is similar to using shutter-priority (S) mode, but you have less control over specific shutter speeds.

Close Up Scene Mode


Figure 9.20: Close up Scene mode

Other names for Close up scene mode are flower mode or macro mode. Its icon is a flower (figure 9.20). It is designed to let you to take closeup pictures of flowers, insects, and other small items. It seems a bit neutral and tries to balance a shutter speed that is fast enough to cut down on camera shake while providing enough depth of field to sharply focus the subject. It acts somewhat like Programmed auto mode (P). After focus is acquired, it locks on the subject.

Night Portrait Scene Mode


Figure 9.21: Night portrait Scene mode

Night portrait scene mode is similar to Close up scene mode in that it tends to use medium apertures and shutter speeds. Its icon looks like a small person with a star on the right side of his head, and it is surrounded by a square frame (figure 9.21). The mode seems to follow these rules: if a person is shooting handheld at night, it is best to balance the shutter speed and aperture so the shutter speed stays fast enough to handhold the camera while the aperture stays open as much as possible to let in the maximum amount of light. It seems to emphasize large apertures more than fast shutter speeds.

Night Landscape Scene Mode


Figure 9.22: Night landscape Scene mode

This mode is designed to be used with a tripod for exposures at night. If you want to shoot a moonlit landscape or a city view at night, this is the mode for you. Its icon is a building with a crescent moon (figure 9.22). When it’s dark outside the camera uses longer exposures, higher ISO sensitivities, and noise reduction. Various light sources have different colors, so the camera tries to “reduce ... unnatural colors,” according to Nikon. The popup flash and the focus assist light are disabled. The camera will fire an accessory shoe–mounted flash if you want to use one for special effects or fill light.

Party/Indoor Scene Mode


Figure 9.23: Party/indoor Scene mode

Party/indoor scene mode balances fill flash and ambient background lighting and adds red-eye reduction. Its icon is a short horn with confetti and bubbles (figure 9.23). This scene mode tries to overcome the look of excessively bright people and dark backgrounds by allowing more background light to register on the sensor. It’s great for shooting at events with people! Be careful if people are moving quickly because this mode uses slower shutter speeds, usually around 1/60 second, which can cause ghosting if the subject is moving too quickly.

Beach/Snow Scene Mode


Figure 9.24: Beach/snow Scene mode

Beach/snow scene mode is optimized to work well with the often-bright expanses of water, sand, or snow. Its icon is a beach scene and a snowman (figure 9.24). Use this mode when you are shooting by the ocean or when you’re enjoying a snowy day. It’s a landscape mode, so it will intensify the colors and sharpen the image a little more than normal. The popup flash and focus assist light are disabled.

Sunset Scene Mode


Figure 9.25: Sunset Scene mode

Sunsets often provide deep colors, so the Sunset scene mode is designed to emphasize them. Its icon is a horizon with a setting sun (figure 9.25). This mode uses smaller apertures and slower shutter speeds, so it may be best to use a tripod to keep from blurring the image from handheld camera shake. The popup flash and focus assist light are disabled. This mode increases the amount of sharpening.

Dusk/Dawn Scene Mode


Figure 9.26: Dusk/dawn Scene mode

Dusk and dawn often have nice color in the sky and muted color elsewhere due to darkness, so Dusk/dawn scene mode saturates colors a bit. Its icon looks like the Sunset scene mode icon, except the sun has fewer rays (figure 9.26). This mode works like Sunset mode, except it uses a cooler white balance of 4450K. (K stands for Kelvin, a system of color temperature degrees for color management. We’ll discuss kelvins and color management in the chapter titled White Balance.) Since the light is so low at dusk and dawn, you may want to use a tripod. The popup flash and focus assist light are disabled.

Pet Portrait Scene Mode


Figure 9.27: Pet portrait Scene mode

Pet portrait scene mode emphasizes faster shutter speeds to capture wiggling kittens and puppies. Its icon is a cat (figure 9.27). The depth of field is shallow to better draw attention to the pet. The color saturation and contrast is set to medium so the pet won’t have abnormally strong colors. However, the camera retains the ability to increase saturation when there is colorful pet clothing or a colorful background. It also increases sharpening a little to bring out the animal’s lovely fur and eyes (or beak, feathers, gills, claws, scales, etc.).

Candlelight Scene Mode


Figure 9.28: Candlelight Scene mode

This mode is designed to get delightful candlelight pictures at parties and for special effects shots. As expected, its icon is a candle tip with a flame (figure 9.28). If you can, use a tripod because the shutter speed will be slow to compensate for the low light. The camera uses a medium-cool white balance of 4350K to balance against the warmer color of candlelight. A little extra sharpening is provided in case you shake the camera in the dim ambient light. The popup flash is disabled. When focus is acquired, it locks on the subject.

Blossom Scene Mode


Figure 9.29: Blossom Scene mode

If you are a gardener or visit places with lots of flowers, you’ll enjoy this mode. It tends to emphasize color saturation. The icon is a tree with a flower on the left side (figure 9.29). Since you need a greater depth of field when you take pictures of landscape flower blossoms (not closeups), the camera uses smaller apertures. Use a tripod if the ambient light is low. The popup flash is disabled.

Autumn Colors Scene Mode


Figure 9.30: Autumn colors Scene mode

Who doesn’t love the beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn? Autumn colors scene mode tends to saturate the deep colors for lots of snap. The icon for this mode is a tree with a leaf on the right (figure 9.30). It uses smaller apertures to get a greater depth of field for those colorful landscape shots. If the light is low, use a tripod because the shutter speeds will be slow. The popup flash is disabled.

Food Scene Mode


Figure 9.31: Food Scene mode

Pictures of food should have nice color but not be overly saturated. Food scene mode uses medium color saturation and contrast to provide a natural look to food images. Its icon is a fork and knife (figure 9.31). This mode emphasizes smaller apertures to provide enough depth of field to get most of the food in focus. Use a tripod if you are shooting food images in low light.

Silhouette Scene Mode


Figure 9.32: Silhouette Scene mode

When you take a picture of a silhouette, the subject is dark and the background is well lit. Silhouette scene mode is not for taking pictures of someone standing in front of a window, since the camera disables the popup flash (for this type of situation, use Portrait or Night portrait scene mode). Instead, use this mode to take pictures of interesting foreground objects—like trees—silhouetted against a beautiful sunset or sky. Its icon is a sunset with a palm tree (figure 9.32). When focus is acquired, it locks on the subject.

High Key Scene Mode


Figure 9.33: High key Scene mode

High-key imagery is deliberately overexposed a bit to make the image look very bright. It almost seems to shine with extra light, to the point that some highlight detail is lost. The icon for this mode is the word Hi (figure 9.33). High key scene mode is often used with white subjects on white backgrounds for a bright, dreamy effect. The contrast is lowered slightly to save some highlights, and the brightness is automatically raised. The popup flash and focus assist light are disabled. When focus is acquired, it locks on the subject.

Low Key Scene Mode


Figure 9.34: Low key Scene mode

Low-key photography is all about the highlights. Reflections from shiny subjects do well as low-key subjects. The icon for this mode is the word Lo (figure 9.34). Use Low key scene mode when you want most of the subject to be dark and somber looking, with the highlights preserved. The camera raises the contrast to deepen the shadows and automatically lowers the brightness. Since the light is low, it’s a good idea to use a tripod when you shoot in this mode. The color saturation is set to medium, since dark images often do not emphasize color. The popup flash and focus assist light are disabled. When focus is acquired, it locks on the subject.

Using the Help System in Scene Modes


Figure 9.35: Help system

If you are unsure of what a certain scene mode does, you can use the help system to get a short tutorial. Simply select one of the scene modes, and when you see the scene mode selection screen or Information display, press and hold the Playback zoom out/thumbnails button (figure 9.35, image 1, red arrow). A screen will appear with information about the current scene mode. I had Portrait mode selected when I pressed the button to see the help screen.

U1 and U2 User Settings


Figure 9.36: U1 and U2 user settings

You can adjust many camera settings and save them under U1 or U2 on the Mode dial. The screens you use to save the settings are shown in figure 9.36.

First you configure the settings (see the upcoming list) and then use Setup Menu > Save user settings > Save to U1 [or U2] to save them to the specified user setting. Please refer to the Save User Settings heading in the Setup Menu chapter to see how to save a user setting.

Later you can recall your settings by selecting U1 or U2 from the Mode dial. The following is a list of items that can and cannot be saved to a user setting:

Items that can be saved

• Selection of one Exposure mode (M, A, S, P, SCENE, Auto) per user setting

• Exposure and flash compensation (+/- EV settings)

• Flash mode (Front-curtain sync, Rear-curtain sync, Slow sync, Fill flash, no flash, etc.)

• Metering mode (Matrix meter, Center-weighted meter, Spot meter)

• Focus modes (Single-servo autofocus or AF-S, Full-time-servo autofocus or AF-F)

• AF-area modes (Face-priority AF, Wide-area AF, Normal-area AF, Subject-tracking AF)

• Bracketing (AE, WB, ADL)

• Shooting Menu functions (15 of 20 settings can be saved; the next list shows the five Shooting Menu functions that cannot be saved)

Items that cannot be saved

• Reset shooting menu

• Storage folder

• Release mode

• Manage Picture Control

• Interval timer shooting

• Settings on other menus (Playback Menu, Setup Menu, Retouch Menu, My Menu, and Recent Settings menu)

When you have saved a configuration of the listed items into a user setting, you can recall them by simply selecting U1 or U2 from the Mode dial. This allows you to set up your camera for two very specific purposes and switch to them quickly. It is very powerful!

Settings Recommendation: I use U1 for highest-quality NEF (RAW) shooting, and I use U2 for party JPEG shooting.

Section 3: Histogram

Back in the good old film days photographers didn’t have histograms, so we had to depend on our experience and light meter to get a good exposure. Since we couldn’t see the exposure until after we had left the scene, we measured our success by the number of correctly exposed images we created. With the exposure meter/histogram combination in the COOLPIX A, and the ability to zoom in to an image with the high-resolution monitor, our success rate is much higher than ever before.

The histogram can be as important, or even more so, than the exposure meter. The meter sets up the camera for the exposure, and the histogram verifies that the exposure is good.

If your exposure meter stopped working, you could still get perfect exposures using only the histogram. In fact, I gauge my efforts more by how the histogram looks than anything else. The exposure meter and histogram work together to make sure you get excellent results from your photographic efforts.

Figure 9.37 shows the COOLPIX A’s two histogram screens, each representing the brightness and color values of the picture it is shown with. Image 1 is called the RGB histogram screen, and it shows a series of histograms. On the top is a luminance histogram (weighted brightness, shown in white), followed by the red, green, and blue (RGB) color channels. In the screen on the right, the luminance histogram appears next to a small version of the picture. It works the same as the smaller luminance histogram at the top of image 1.


Figure 9.37: The two histogram screens

If your camera does not display the RGB histogram screen shown in image 1, put a check in the box at Playback Menu > Playback display options > RGB histogram. If it does not display the screen shown in image 2, put a check in the box at Playback Menu > Playback display options > Overview. You get to these screens by scrolling up or down with the Rotary multi selector when an image is displayed on the monitor.

Now, let’s discuss the use of a histogram in detail.

Understanding the Histogram

Using your histogram screens will guarantee a much higher percentage of well-exposed images. It is well worth spending time to understand the histogram. It’s not as complicated as it looks.

I’ll cover this feature enough to give you a working knowledge of how to use the histogram to make better pictures. Although this overview is brief, it will give you enough information to immediately improve your technique. If you want to learn more, you can find a lot of material on the Internet.

Light Range

The COOLPIX A sensor can record only a certain range of light values, maybe 10 or 11 EV steps. Unfortunately, many high-contrast subjects contain more EV steps of light than the COOLPIX A can handle in a single exposure. It is important to understand how your camera records light so you can better control how the image is captured.

The gray rectangular area in figure 9.38 represents an in-camera histogram. Examine it carefully! Think about it for a minute before reading on.


Figure 9.38: A basic histogram

The histogram is basically a graph that represents the maximum range of light values your camera can capture in 256 steps (0 is pure black, and 255 is pure white). In the middle of the histogram are the midrange values that represent middle colors like grays, light browns, and greens. The values from just above 0 to just below 255 contain detail.

The graph often looks like a mountain peak, or a series of peaks; in an RGB histogram, the more there is of a particular color, the taller the peak is for that color. In some cases the graph will be round on top, and other times it will be flat.

The left side of the histogram represents the maximum dark values that your camera can record, and the right side represents the maximum bright values. On both ends of the histogram the light values contain no detail. They are either completely black or completely white.

The height of the histogram (top of mountain peaks) represents the individual colors. You cannot easily control this value in-camera, other than changing to a Picture Control with more or less saturated color, so it is for your information only. We are mostly concerned with the left- and right-side values of the histogram, since we have much greater control over darkness and light.

Simply put, the histogram’s left and right directions are related to the darkness and lightness of the image, while the up and down directions (the valleys and peaks) pertain to the amount of color information (how many pixels for each color).

The left (dark) and right (light) directions are very important for picture taking. If the image is too dark, the histogram will show that by clipping off the light values on the left; if it’s too light, the values on the right will be clipped. This will be easier to understand when we look at well-exposed and poorly exposed images. Check out figure 9.39, then we’ll look at it in detail.


Figure 9.39: Three histograms: one underexposed, one well exposed, and one overexposed

When you see the three histograms in figure 9.39, does it make more sense? The histograms on the bottom represent the images on top. Notice that the underexposed image is all the way to the left of the histogram window and is clipped midpeak, and there is a big gap on the right side. Then note how both edges of the well-exposed histogram just touch the edges of the histogram window on the left and right. Finally, notice how the overexposed histogram is clipped on the right.

Now let’s look at some histogram details.

Histogram Shape

Look at the image in figure 9.40. It is well exposed with no serious problems. The entire light range fits within the histogram window, which means that it’s not too light or too dark and will need very little or no adjustment.


Figure 9.40: Good image with normal histogram shape, no clipping

The image contains no more than 4 or 5 stops (EV steps) of light range. To finalize the image, I might increase the brightness in the trees a little, but otherwise it’s a good image with potential for immediate use.

Compare the histogram in figure 9.40 to the histogram in figure 9.41. Notice that the histogram in figure 9.40 is not crammed against the dark value side, but the histogram in figure 9.41 is all the way to the left. In other words, the dark values in figure 9.40 are not clipped on the left. This means that the camera recorded all the dark values in figure 9.40 with no serious loss of shadow detail.

Now look at the right side of the histogram in figure 9.40. It is not completely against the right side, although it is quite close. The image contains all the available light values. Everything between the two sides is exposed quite well, with full detail. A histogram does not have to cover the entire window for the exposure to be good. When there is a very limited range of light, the histogram may be rather narrow.

The image in figure 9.40 is relatively bland, with smooth tonal gradations, so it makes a nice smooth mountain-shaped histogram. This shape will not occur every time, since images contain quite a bit of variation in color information (shown in the peaks). Each prominent color will be represented with its own peak in an RGB histogram. The most prominent colors will have higher peaks, and less prominent colors will have lower or no peaks.

As we examine images with more color or light information, we’ll see that the histogram looks quite different.


Figure 9.41: Histogram showing underexposure (dark side)

Look at the image in figure 9.41. The dark values exceed the range of the sensor. The histogram is crammed to the left and is clipped. There are no gradual climbs like on a mountain range, from valley to peak and back to valley. Instead, the image shows up on the left side in midpeak. In this image the main subject is underexposed, and the histogram effectively reflects that.

The most important thing to understand when you see a histogram like the one in figure 9.41, with part of the peak clipped off on the left, is that some or all of the image is significantly underexposed.

Now look at the image in figure 9.42. A larger aperture was used and more light was allowed in. We can now see much more detail. But once again the range of light is too great for the sensor, so it is clipped off on the highlight side (right). The dark side (left) is clipped, too. This image simply has more light range than the camera can capture in one image.


Figure 9.42: Histogram showing excessive dynamic range

The image in figure 9.42 shows plenty of detail but is not professional looking and will win no awards. The range of light is simply too great to be recorded fully. Most of the sky detail is overly light, which is indicated by the clipping on the right side. Also, there are very dark shadows in the trees, so the left side is clipped. The most important thing to remember is that when you see a histogram that is crammed all the way to the right and left, there is a loss of detail in both the light and dark areas of the image. A good portion of the image in figure 9.42 is recorded as pure white or pure black and is permanently gone, or blown out.

Try to center the histogram without clipping either edge. This is not always possible, as shown in figure 9.42, because the light range is often too great and the sensor can’t contain it. If you center the histogram, your images will be better exposed. If you take a picture and see that the histogram is shifted way left or right, you can retake the photograph and expose in the opposite direction.

If there is so much light that you can’t center the histogram, you must decide which parts of the image are more important—the light or dark areas—and expose for them.

With an image like the one in figure 9.42 you can hold back some of the brightness in the sky with a graduated neutral density filter over the sky area. Or you could shoot multiple bracketed images at different exposures and combine them later in your computer. This technique is called high dynamic range (HDR) imaging.

Note: You can use the bracketing system built in to the COOLPIX A to shoot multiple images at different exposures. Then you can combine the images into one image with a much greater dynamic range.

If you are not experienced with shooting bracketed images and combining them in your computer, you might want to read Practical HDRI or The HDRI Handbook 2.0 (figure 9.43).


Figure 9.43: Practical HDRI by Jack Howard and The HDRI Handbook 2.0 by Christian Bloch

Both of these books are excellent for learning how to do HDR imaging. I own both of them and highly recommend them.

Luminance Histogram Differences

The luminance histogram (figure 9.44, red arrow) is, in a sense, a combined histogram of all three RGB channels. However, it is not a direct combination. It is a weighted brightness combination.


Figure 9.44: Luminance histogram (white)

Human vision is heavily weighted toward green, since most of nature is green. Therefore, the brightness of a luminance histogram is weighted like this: 59 percent green, 30 percent red, and 11 percent blue. This closely matches the way we see.

We are much better at perceiving small changes in brightness than small changes in color. Therefore, a weighted brightness, or luminance histogram, more accurately reflects the way our brain perceives the world.

Note: If you would like more detailed information on how histograms work, I recommend the following website, which has more detail:

If you spend some time reading the information on this website, you will have a much deeper understanding of your camera’s color system.

If you use the luminance histogram, you will generally get the best results. The only time most of us need to view the histogram from a single color channel (RGB) is to see if a strong color, such as red, has blown out in that one color channel, leaving no detail in that particular color.

The Nikon COOLPIX A has both RGB and luminance histograms. We have the best of both worlds!

The Histogram Represents a JPEG Image

Interestingly, the histograms presented by your Nikon COOLPIX A represent a camera-created 8-bit JPEG file. When you take a picture, the camera processes RAW image information from the sensor, then it takes the 14 bits of color information and compresses the color values into an 8-bit space, dumping extra color information. Since your eyes can see small changes in brightness much more easily than small changes in color, the removal of 6 bits of color information does not make a lot of difference in your picture, as long as the brightness is not affected.

However, since a RAW image from a Nikon COOLPIX A contains more color information than a JPEG, there is often a little more headroom in a RAW image. That is, if a histogram shows that the light or dark sides of the histogram are clipped (no detail), that clipping is based on a compressed JPEG created by the camera. If you shot the image in NEF (RAW) mode, there would be a little more detail in the dark and bright regions of the image than shown on the histogram.

This is a strong argument for shooting in RAW mode for high-contrast scenes. Your images will suffer less from loss of details in light and dark areas in RAW mode. Basically, the histogram is slightly conservative in how it represents the scene captured by the camera—if you are shooting in RAW mode. If you shoot only JPEGs, the histogram is accurate.

How Does the Eye React to Light Values?

The COOLPIX A, with its imaging sensor and glass lens, is a weak imitation of our marvelously designed eye and brain combination. There are very few situations in which our eyes cannot adjust to the available light range. Photographers always look for ways to record even a small portion of what our eyes and mind can see.

Since our brain tends to know that shadows are black, and we expect that, it is usually better to expose for the highlights. If you see dark shadows, that seems normal. We’re simply not used to seeing light so bright that all detail is lost. An image exposed for the dark values will look very weird because most highlight detail will be blown out.

Your eyes can see a huge range of light, compared to a digital sensor. The only time you will see light values so bright that detail is lost is when you look directly at an overwhelmingly bright light, like the sun. Therefore, in a worst-case scenario, expose the image so the right side of the histogram just touches the edge of the histogram window, and the image will look more normal.

Settings Recommendation: Since the beginning of photography, we have always fought with being able to record only a limited range of light. But with digital cameras and histograms, we can now see a visual representation of the light values and can immediately review the image, reshoot it with emphasis on lighter or darker areas, or see that we must use HDR imaging to capture it at all. Learn to use histograms for consistently better exposures.

Computer Adjustment of Images (Postprocessing)

Looking at the image in figure 9.45, taken in midday with the sun overhead, we see an example of a range of light that is too great to be captured by a digital sensor, but the image is exposed in such a way that we can get a usable photo later.


Figure 9.45: Cabin picture with correct exposure but dark shadows, and its histogram

Notice in the histogram that the dark values are clipped and the dark details appear to be lost. But on the right side of the histogram you can see that the light values are not clipped. The camera recorded all the light values but lost some dark values. This image was exposed for the light side, and the shadows remained dark.

Since our eyes see this as normal, the image looks okay. If we were standing there looking at the cabin ourselves, our eyes would be able to see much more detail in the front porch. But the camera just can’t record that much light range.

If we want to get a bit more detail in the shadows, we can do it. Normally a camera does not give us enough control to add light values on the fly—except maybe with Active D-Lighting—so we use the histogram to get the best possible exposure and then adjust the image later in a computer. We need a way to take all this light and compress it into a more usable range.

We are now entering the realm of post-processing, or in-computer image manipulation. Look at the image in figure 9.46. It is the same image as in figure 9.45, but it has been adjusted in Photoshop to add more shadow detail into the histogram by compressing the midrange values. Notice that the entire histogram seems to be farther right, toward the light side. We removed some of the midrange, but since there was already a lot of midrange there, the image did not suffer greatly.


Figure 9.46: Post-processed cabin picture and its histogram (in-computer manipulation)

How this computer post-processing was done is outside the scope of this book, but it is not difficult. Buy a program like Nikon Capture NX 2, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, or another fine graphics program designed for photographers.

Your digital camera and your computer are a powerful imaging combination—a digital darkroom where you are in control from start to finish, from clicking the shutter to printing the image.

But, retreating from philosophy, let’s continue with our histogram exploration. Notice in figure 9.46 how the histogram edge is just touching the highlight side of the histogram window.

What if, instead, a small amount of clipping on the light side was allowed to make more room for shadow values? Sometimes a very small amount of clipping does not seriously harm the image. You must be the judge.

The greater apparent detail in this image is the result of compressing the midrange light values a bit in the computer. If you compress the midrange light values (remove color detail), it will tend to pull the dark values toward the light side and the light values toward the dark side, resulting in more apparent detail in your image.

It’s like cutting a section out of the middle of a garden hose. If you pull both of the cut edges together, the two ends of the hose will move toward the middle, and the hose will be shorter overall. If you compress or remove the midrange of the histogram, both ends of the graph will move toward the middle. If one end of the graph is beyond the edge of the histogram window (clipped), it will be less so when the midrange is compressed.

We are simply trying to make the histogram fit into the frame of the window. If we have to cut out some of the middle to bring both ends into the window, well, there is usually plenty in the middle to cut out, so the image rarely suffers.

Remember, this is done outside the camera in a computer. You can’t compress the values in-camera, but be aware that it can be done in a computer so you can expose your images accordingly with the histogram. Then you will be prepared for post-processing the image later.

Now that we have compressed the midrange values, figure 9.46 more closely resembles what our eyes normally see, so it looks more natural.

In many cases your progression from the shooting site to your digital darkroom can benefit if you shoot NEF (RAW) images. A RAW digital image contains an adjustable range of light. With a RAW image you can use controls in your post-processing software to select from the range of light within the big RAW image file. It’s like moving the histogram window to the left or right over that wide range of RAW image data. You select the final resting place for the histogram window, capture the underlying RAW data, and your image is ready for use.

This is a serious oversimplification of the process, but I hope it is more understandable. In reality, the digital sensor often records a wider range of light than you can use in one JPEG image. Although you can’t get all that range into the final image, it is there in the RAW file as a selectable range. I prefer to think of it as a built-in bracket, since it works the same way.

This bracketed light range within the image is present, to a very limited degree, in a JPEG image, but it is more pronounced in RAW images. That is why many people choose to shoot in RAW mode instead of JPEG mode.

Settings Recommendation: Use your camera meter only to get the initial exposure. Then look at the histogram to see if the light range is contained within the limited range of the sensor. If it is clipped on the right or left, you may want to add or subtract light with the Exposure compensation button or create a bracketed series of images for HDR combination. For most images, you should expose for the light side of the histogram. Let your light meter get you close, then fine-tune the exposure with the histogram.

You can use other monitor viewing modes along with the histogram, such as the Highlights (blink) mode so you can see blown-out highlights (put a check mark in the box next to Playback Menu > Playback display options > Highlights). This mode will cause your image to blink from light to dark in the highlight areas that are blown out. It is a rough representation of a histogram with clipped highlights, and it is quite useful for quick shooting. Using your light meter, histogram, and Highlights (blink) mode together is a very powerful way to control your exposures.

If you master this method, you will have a very fine degree of control over where you place the light range of your image. It is sort of like using the famous Ansel Adams black-and-white Zone System, but it is represented visually on the monitor of your COOLPIX A.

Manipulating histogram levels in-computer is a detailed study in itself. It’s part of having a digital darkroom. Learn to use your computer to tweak your images, and you’ll be able to produce superior results most of the time. Even more important, learn to use the histogram to capture a nice image in the first place!

A histogram is simply a graph that lets you see at a glance how well your image is contained by your camera. If the histogram is too far left, the image is too dark; if it’s too far right, the image is too light; if it’s clipped on both ends, there is too much light range for a single image to contain. Learn to use the histogram well and your images are bound to improve!

Author’s Conclusions

The COOLPIX A certainly gives you a lot of choices of light meters and exposure modes. You can start using this camera at whatever level of photographic knowledge you have. If you are a beginner, use the AUTO and Scene modes. If you want to progress into partial automation, use the P, S, or A modes. And if you are a dyed-in-the-wool imaging fanatic, use the M mode for full manual control of the camera. You have a choice with the COOLPIX A!

The next chapter is a subject of great importance to digital photographers: white balance. Understanding white balance gives you an edge over other digital photographers. Let’s proceed.