Using a Gray Card: Two Minute Tips with David Bergman

This little gray card will help you get perfect exposures on every single shot. How? I’ll show you after the intro! if you want to get your exposures right, you need to first understand how cameras look at the world. They capture a more limited range of tones than our eyes. So the camera tries to expose for the middle. In the cameras perfect world everything is 18% gray, because that’s where our eyes actually perceive middle gray to be. Don’t think about that 18% number too much, and just accept it to be true for now. So let’s say you’re photographing someone against a dark background. It sees all of that darkness taking up the majority of the photo, and will try to lighten everything up, the person is going to be too bright. You really don’t mind if the background is too dark, because that’s how it actually looks in real life, but the camera doesn’t know that. I say if your camera wants 18% gray then give it what it wants. A photographic gray card is always 18% gray, regardless of the lighting situation you’re in. So what you want to do is put that gray card in the same lighting situation that you’re shooting to get your exposure. You don’t actually have to take a picture of it, but fill the frame with the gray color, and press your shutter button down halfway to activate the cameras meter. If you can’t fill the entire frame, use the center weighted, or spot meter setting, so it only reads the middle of the frame where it’s all grey. Now using manual exposure, adjust your settings until the arrow and your meter is dead center. That’s middle gray. So now you can put down the card and shoot away, as long as the lighting doesn’t change, then your exposures should be spot-on. Now of course you might want to make your images brighter or darker for creative reasons, but this will give you the best starting point, and you can adjust from there. This technique works in low light and bright, inside or out, and whether you’re using flash or just ambient light, carry a gray card in your camera bag, and it’ll help you get accurate exposures every single time! Hey next week I’m going to talk about getting perfect white balance, and you won’t want to miss it! subscribe to the Adorama TV youtube channel and get a whole bunch of free educational photo content delivered straight to your inbox, also follow me on social media. I’m @DavidBergman and I’ll see you back here soon. you

Comments 29

  • My gray card is 48 years old. Have used it since my 35mm film days…

  • Gray or grey?

  • David, maybe you or another reader can help me with a problem I'm having with gray cards. I shoot a lot of interiors and am almost always dealing with at least three different colors of light: sunlight from a window, tungsten bulbs from lamps and then my flash, with which I'm usually trying to over-power the ambient light somewhat, but without over-exposing the room. I always try to set my gray card where all three lights will fall on the gray card, which usually means across the room from me. (My camera is set to AWB.) My goal is to accurately reproduce the color of the room walls. Later, in Lightroom, I select the gray card in the photo to set the image's white balance. Most of the time this process works okay, but sometimes, the wall colors are obviously wrong — maybe too yellow or too blue. This happens often enough that I've quit bothering with gray cards. Is there anything I should be doing differently so the results are consistently accurate?

  • next for perfect white balance really????? come on.!!!

  • Very helpful, thanks.
    One question- while shooting photographs, will this gray card help setting the right white balance?

  • Also great for your white balance. So shoot a pic of the card.

  • Can we use a manual lense in canon eos R ..please ans…..please ….btw a another nice video.thank you😊

  • Agree I bring mine on every shoot.

  • Well explained. Thx

  • Please describe more about this matter spicily how to set it..!

  • Is it me or is it ironic talking about grey cards but using a mirror less camera? (Live evf)

  • I use the histogram in the Fujifilm viewfinder. It works just fine for me!

  • Or just use auto exposure bracketing. 3 shots, 1 stop difference.

  • The perfect white balance you can also achieve in PS there are many techniques to do it.. when i use it..i don`t use flat card.. WHY?? coz a human face is not flat as well… i use a DOME that is round like a face and the light can hit it also from different angles…

  • Works with Flash??!!! How?!
    My understanding is camera meter will not account for the flash because it does not know how much light it will get from the flash until the flash fires. Would you please explain that in a dedicated video? Thanks in advance.

  • FINALLY! A video about using a Grey Card for EXPOSURE! Not, for color balance.

  • The average Caucasian palm, tilted at a 45 degree angle, works very similarly to an 18% gray card. Check & note how your own palm compares, in case you run out of spare Caucasian palms.

  • Grey card for white balance – that'll be interesting. Thanks.

  • These TMT's are little golden nuggets of information

  • Wow his using canon mirrorless camera now not dslr 🤔😂📸📸

  • I used to expose the skin then stop down one.

  • It's a fallacy that camera meters meter for 18% gray. The ANSI standard that the Japanese camera manufacturers use is more like 12% gray. Thom Hogan wrote an article about this back in 2003. You'll have to use the Internet Archive (Google 'Wayback') and paste in the link and go to April 2003 archive to read his illuminating article.

    I wish he would reprint it.

  • Awesome 💞

  • Wow

  • I can't believe people don't understand basics. There is a difference between a gray card and white balance card. But, it's the world we live in today. Can't fix stupid.

  • Hi David, I have a question. I have a NIkon D5200 and am new to SLRS (used bridge cameras before). I've seen various tutorials on how to use a grey card for exposure but I still don't understand. When I am in manual mode, the function is stuck on shutter speed, so when I use the dial to change anything, it only changes the shutter speed. I can go into the menu and select ISO and exposure but to change the aperture, I need to change the camera to aperture mode, set it, then go back to manual mode.
    Next, I focus the camera on a piece of grey area,.
    Throughout all of this, the exposure is what I set it last, which is 0 by default. In other words, unless I change the exposure manually, it is always at 0 anyway (what it was last), no matter what mode I am in.

    So I still don't understand how to use an 18% grey card.

  • Where is the white card balance video

  • I love the fact that these are 2 minutes long. It’s absolutely perfect! However, when you shoot with a grey (gray) card, do you have to shoot raw? I thought that you have to have the software to correct the colors. I don’t have that but just the software that came with my computer. I’d like to do the correct colors when I take the pictures, not after. Please help.

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