How to set exposure when you are by yourself when you are the talent.

Update is use this now: X-Rite Passport Video B&H | Amazon

When you are the talent and you are filming yourself without any help you can run into issues like setting the exposure. I could not find a way to do this with the EOS Utility software to simulate someone half way pressing the shutter button to find the right exposure.

In this video I’m using my 18% gray card to find the perfect exposure for my studio setup.

One of the biggest things I learned from the exercise is if you don’t have your exposure spot on, it can mess with your skin tone colors. For instance just being a couple F stops off can make you look like you have a sun burn.

When I went to use the gray card it occurred to me that the metering modes can change the exposure a lot so I started looking in to it more and more. What I did was to take a series of photos in aperture priority mode so all I was changing was the aperture and not the 1/50 second shutter speed or the ISO which I had at 200.

These are the metering modes on Canon T2i 550D, these can only be used when shooting pictures you can not select them when shooting video, it appears when you are in video mode it uses one of the middle two:

  • Center-weighted Average Metering
  • Spot Metering
  • Partial Metering
  • Evaluative Metering

It appears to me in my studio setting the most accurate metering I can use in video mode is the middle two: Spot Metering, Partial Metering. See the T2i 550D manual on page 86 for an illustration of what they look like.

I think I finally have the exposure and skin tone color done within camera correct now.

  • Auto Lighting Optimizer: Standard
  • Highlight Tone Priority: disable
  • Picture Style: Standard
  • 1/50 second shutter speed
  • f/3.2
  • ISO 200
  • Custom White Balanced with white side of gray card.

Check out my 18% gray card photos here on Flickr:
18% Gray Card T2i 550D Evaluative Metering


  • I thought 4.0 was OK. At that setting I could no longer distinguish the creases in the black cloth, and your background looked perfectly black on my computer screen.

  • @Jerad, thanks for your pick. I need to stop some of the spill from my DIY softboxes on to the black sheet and also pull the black sheet tight to get rid of the wrinkles.

  • IMO the best setting is 4.0 The only thing I don’t get is on your bullet list, you have at the bottom “White balanced,” can you explain if you mean auto WB or did you custom WB with the gray card?

    I enjoy your videos. Thanks.

  • @Kalex, I will revise it above, I should have wrote that I custom white balanced it, I used the white side of the gray card to do this.

  • I thought that 3.5 looked the best. 4.0 started to mess with the color a bit.

    Just a question: How are you compressing your videos to go to the web. Is there a way you could post up a “raw” video from the camera for download. I would like to see something that hasn’t been compressed other than what compression comes from the camera. I would like to put it on a studio monitor and see what it looks like.
    Love the Videos!

  • I am pretty certain in video the camera uses Evaluative metering. So what you could do is zoom in on the gray card so it fills the frame and then zero out your meter. You can take that picture while shooting video no point in going back and forth. Alternatively you can just look at the meter reading and leave those settings without taking a picture.

  • On my calibrated monitor, 3.2 or 3.5 looked good.
    You could’ve shot at f/2.5 at ISO 100 and got the same result.
    Of course, your dof would change…

  • I liked 3.0 or 3.5 the most on my calibrated monitor. I’d second the input with ISO 100 and f2.5, and I’d try to reduce saturation by one step maybe… Keep up the good work, well done!

  • “Custom White Balanced with white side of gray card.”

    Why white? Gray will work to, won’t it? Doesn’t gray or black also reflect equal amounts of RGB?

    I set exposure using a digital calibration target (white|black|gray), taking a picture and then reading the histogram. I keep taking pictures of the target, and when the exposure is correct in the histogram, I use that picture as the source for setting the custom white balance. Is this method wrong?

  • “I keep trying new things until it feels right to me.”

    I respect your approach. There is a science behind proper exposure, and one of the problems with DSLR video shooting is that some of the essential tools that you’d find on a dedicated video camera are missing, i.e., zebra lines. Thus, we can “eye it,” which is a bad idea, IMO. I say that even though I do it sometimes. Trying to judge exposure on a little LCD screen is not ideal. So your idea of using the 18% gray card is a step in the right direction, but I think you’re approach is still a little subjective. Maybe you are using a nice 7″ Marshall monitor on your T2i, with a hood to cut down the effect of ambient light changing how things look on the monitor. Great. But if you don’t have that kind of monitor in your budget, you can use the T2i’s histogram to judge exposure, and to be sure be sure you are not blowing out the highlights. That’s no longer subjective. You can still choose to blow out the highlights, but it won’t be by accident. And if you use a digital calibration target (white|gray|black) to set the exposure, and then set a custom white balance, you’ll have pictures of the calibration target that can be sampled to make any corrections that may be needed in post.