Photographs evolve into out of darkness. Paintings begin with a white canvas. Our origins come from opposite ends of the spectrum and meet in the middle to create our images. This is all about how I like to use the origin of darkness to clarify my message in photography.

I spent so much time learning how to calculate the correct exposure, I didn't always get the 'right' exposure. Once you understand the fundamentals of how f-stops, iso and shutterspeed relate to one another, you can start playing outside the boundaries of 'correctness.' This was one of the times I decided to play with underexposing a picture.


Cathy pollenating our meyer lemon tree.
Cathy pollinating our meyer lemon tree.

We bought a lovely meyer lemon tree from Ricky's flower market in Union Square. After a few months under a grow light, it bloomed with fragrant flowers. Since we don't keep bees in our house, something had to pollinate the flowers. Cathy used a q-tip. This plant lives in one of our windows, but doesn't get enough light from the sun alone. We use grow lights to help our little plants get what they need.

My concept for this photo was to replicate the feel of the grow light in the short winter days. Underexposing the background of the image concentrates the viewers attention on the two main points of interest: the lemon tree flowers, and Cathy's face. I love how the light falls off behind her, and her head blends into the background. Her face floats next to the tree, and her gaze directs the viewers attention to her task, pollinating the lemon blossoms. Follow her eyes, then hands, to the young flowering tree. The delicate stems don't seem like they would ever be strong enough to support the full weight of ripe lemons. Fortunately, those are still several months away. Further along the branches of the tree, you see more flower buds waiting to burst forth with their promise of delicious fruit yet to come. A few more days, a little more light, and they will open up their own tiny worlds of possibility.

Underexposing photos is a great way to draw the viewer in to your message. It allows the photographer to remove distractions from the image. Only lighting the main subject and supporting subject gives you more concentration on exactly what is conveyed.

How do you control under or overexposure in your photos to get your message across?