March 17, 2009

Exposure Tips

Copyright Scott Bourne 2004 - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Scott Bourne 2004 - All Rights Reserved

If you’re having trouble getting the right exposure, here are some basic tips that might help you solve your problems.

a. Use matrix or evaluative metering. Your camera’s manual will tell you how to set this preference. It takes into account a wider area of scene information and attempts to balance the exposure to better compensate for contrasty light.

b. Assuming you’re shooting with digital cameras, and most of you are, expose for the highlights. That means, don’t overexpose. Once you lose information in the highlights it’s gone forever.

c. Use your histogram, Looking at your camera’s histogram you can determine whether or not you’ve exceeded your camera’s dynamic range. If there is a great deal of information that has pushed past the extreme right or extreme left of the histogram you should adjust your exposure.

d. Expose to the right. This means get as much information in your histogram window as you can without going past the point of no return. Remember that the histogram is broken up into sections. Each section to the right contains twice as much information as the section before it.

e. Pay strict attention when it’s contrasty light. When there are large differences between the brightest bright spot and the darkest dark spot in a scene, you need to be very careful that you don’t exceed your camera’s dynamic range. Adjust your exposure carefully.

f. If you don’t have a meter remember the Sunny 16 rule. The correct exposure for an average scene taken on a typical sunny day at f/16 is one over the ISO. So if you’re using ISO 200, to apply sunny 16, shoot at 1/200th of second at f/16.

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Join the conversation! 39 Comments

  1. This post could lead to a discussion about HDR … are there going to be any posts about it in the future?

  2. This post could lead to a discussion about HDR … are there going to be any posts about it in the future?

  3. Thanks, Scott. I thought I understood histograms, but your comment “Remember that the histogram is broken up into sections. Each section to the right contains twice as much information as the section before it.” has me confused. I always assumed that a photo that had (for example) a little gap between the side of the histogram and the graph itself, on the left, and twice that gap on the right, was functionally the same as one that twice the gap on the left as the right. Let me see if I can do this graphically:

    “I__histogram_______I” would be the same as “I_______histogram__I”

    Not true?

  4. Thanks, Scott. I thought I understood histograms, but your comment “Remember that the histogram is broken up into sections. Each section to the right contains twice as much information as the section before it.” has me confused. I always assumed that a photo that had (for example) a little gap between the side of the histogram and the graph itself, on the left, and twice that gap on the right, was functionally the same as one that twice the gap on the left as the right. Let me see if I can do this graphically:

    “I__histogram_______I” would be the same as “I_______histogram__I”

    Not true?

  5. I recently read (from a reliable resource – Andrew Rodney) that the histogram on SLR’s is actually pulled from the jpg thumbnail and not the raw file, so how reliable is said histogram in the larger scheme of things?

  6. I recently read (from a reliable resource – Andrew Rodney) that the histogram on SLR’s is actually pulled from the jpg thumbnail and not the raw file, so how reliable is said histogram in the larger scheme of things?

  7. The expose to the right issue is very controversial and generates tons of flame wars, back and forth and tons of opinions – right and wrong. My job here is to teach what I believe, based on my experience. I don’t plan to get into arguments. Take the information and do with it what you will. But if you don’t expose to the right, you’ll soon learn that your images can and will suffer for it when you get into tough lighting situations. Just try it before you decide not to believe it.

  8. The expose to the right issue is very controversial and generates tons of flame wars, back and forth and tons of opinions – right and wrong. My job here is to teach what I believe, based on my experience. I don’t plan to get into arguments. Take the information and do with it what you will. But if you don’t expose to the right, you’ll soon learn that your images can and will suffer for it when you get into tough lighting situations. Just try it before you decide not to believe it.

  9. I’ve only been doing this for a little while so I’m still learning much. Is it wrong to overexpose part of an overall picture in order to correctly expose a subject that is not as dark. I find myself using manual mode 99% of the time in order to override bright backlighting. I love the effect bright backlighting has on my portraits but if they’re going to look bad printed or something please let me know.
    Check out my website to see examples.

  10. I’ve only been doing this for a little while so I’m still learning much. Is it wrong to overexpose part of an overall picture in order to correctly expose a subject that is not as dark. I find myself using manual mode 99% of the time in order to override bright backlighting. I love the effect bright backlighting has on my portraits but if they’re going to look bad printed or something please let me know.
    Check out my website to see examples.

  11. Scott can you explain something to a beginner; Point B & D seem to be contradictory to me. B seems to state that you want to expose to the left (underexpose) to make sure you don’t blow out hightlights because once you loose information its lost forever. D says the opposite in that you want to expose so that you get the exposure as much to the right on the histogram without blowing out the highlights? If your trying to accomplish D aren’t you going to risk breaking point B by maybe accidently clipping some of the highlights?

  12. Scott can you explain something to a beginner; Point B & D seem to be contradictory to me. B seems to state that you want to expose to the left (underexpose) to make sure you don’t blow out hightlights because once you loose information its lost forever. D says the opposite in that you want to expose so that you get the exposure as much to the right on the histogram without blowing out the highlights? If your trying to accomplish D aren’t you going to risk breaking point B by maybe accidently clipping some of the highlights?

  13. In support of Scott’s point of exposing to the right, I’ve found this article extremely useful: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/expose-right.shtml

  14. In support of Scott’s point of exposing to the right, I’ve found this article extremely useful: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/expose-right.shtml

  15. Seems to me the problem lies within the terminology. “Expose to the right” seems to suggest that you are trying to do the opposite of B. In that you are trying to avoid clipping the shadows, which in most instances would inevitably result in blown highlights. This is what I always thought it meant.

    After reading the above and the comments, I think it is really a modifier of the “avoid blown highlights” rule. Basically, avoid blown highlights, but try to find be JUST under that mark.

    I guess the only time this isn’t true is when entire scene would fit within the dynamic range of your camera, thus giving you lattitude to capture it all, and in that instance you would want to choose to expose to the right.

    Thus a choice between

    | x |
    | xxx |
    | xxxxx |

    and

    | x |
    | xxx |
    | xxxxx |

    the latter will provide you with more information to work with. The problem I have run into very few situations that would ever result in a histogram where you have that much lattitude to make choices in exposure. At least in my very basic photography experience, it seems like you have to make the choice to blow one or the other, and thus the “expose to the right” rule is not applicable much since you automatically do that by trying not to clip the highlights.

  16. Seems to me the problem lies within the terminology. “Expose to the right” seems to suggest that you are trying to do the opposite of B. In that you are trying to avoid clipping the shadows, which in most instances would inevitably result in blown highlights. This is what I always thought it meant.

    After reading the above and the comments, I think it is really a modifier of the “avoid blown highlights” rule. Basically, avoid blown highlights, but try to find be JUST under that mark.

    I guess the only time this isn’t true is when entire scene would fit within the dynamic range of your camera, thus giving you lattitude to capture it all, and in that instance you would want to choose to expose to the right.

    Thus a choice between

    | x |
    | xxx |
    | xxxxx |

    and

    | x |
    | xxx |
    | xxxxx |

    the latter will provide you with more information to work with. The problem I have run into very few situations that would ever result in a histogram where you have that much lattitude to make choices in exposure. At least in my very basic photography experience, it seems like you have to make the choice to blow one or the other, and thus the “expose to the right” rule is not applicable much since you automatically do that by trying not to clip the highlights.

  17. dang, ignore the above “diagrams” forgot to underscore for the blanks.

    should have been

    |___x________|
    |__xxx_______|
    |_xxxxx______|

    or

    |________x___|
    |_______xxx__|
    |______xxxxx_|

  18. dang, ignore the above “diagrams” forgot to underscore for the blanks.

    should have been

    |___x________|
    |__xxx_______|
    |_xxxxx______|

    or

    |________x___|
    |_______xxx__|
    |______xxxxx_|

  19. “…the histogram on SLR’s is actually pulled from the jpg thumbnail and not the raw file, so how reliable is said histogram in the larger scheme of things?”

    It depends on the in-camera processing settings. While these do not affect raw, they will influence the jpeg thumbnail, and thus the histogram. For instance if the saturation is cranked up the histogram and blinkies may indicate overexposure, but the raw file may be fine. Even on the standard settings I notice a difference between the jpeg histogram and the actual raw file. I keep my 5D set to neutral picture style because I think it gives me the most accurate histogram.

    It is very easy

  20. “…the histogram on SLR’s is actually pulled from the jpg thumbnail and not the raw file, so how reliable is said histogram in the larger scheme of things?”

    It depends on the in-camera processing settings. While these do not affect raw, they will influence the jpeg thumbnail, and thus the histogram. For instance if the saturation is cranked up the histogram and blinkies may indicate overexposure, but the raw file may be fine. Even on the standard settings I notice a difference between the jpeg histogram and the actual raw file. I keep my 5D set to neutral picture style because I think it gives me the most accurate histogram.

    It is very easy

  21. Whoops! I meant to add it’s easy to take some test shots to see this in action. Put the camera in manual, and only adjust picture styles/in-camera processing; compose the same scene every time. Compare the various histograms on the camera LCD. Yet is they were opened in a raw processor each with the same processing the raw files should all be the same.

  22. Whoops! I meant to add it’s easy to take some test shots to see this in action. Put the camera in manual, and only adjust picture styles/in-camera processing; compose the same scene every time. Compare the various histograms on the camera LCD. Yet is they were opened in a raw processor each with the same processing the raw files should all be the same.

  23. [...] Posted on 22 March 2009 by Steve Crane TWIPPHOTO.COM » Exposure Tips – TWIPPHOTO.COM If you’re having trouble getting the right exposure, here are some basic tips that might help [...]

  24. [...] Posted on 22 March 2009 by Steve Crane TWIPPHOTO.COM » Exposure Tips – TWIPPHOTO.COM If you’re having trouble getting the right exposure, here are some basic tips that might help [...]

  25. Hi Sarah I a not sure how relevant to basic exposure tips a discussion about an advanced subject like HDR would be, but we have covered it. http://twipphoto.com/archives/149 Also we’ve reviewed several HDR books. Use the Photo Book Review category on the right side nav bar to find those book reviews.

  26. Not true because the histogram is a logarithmic scale. Therefore your above example the one on the left has less information (bits) than the one on the right.

  27. Not true because the histogram is a logarithmic scale. Therefore your above example the one on the left has less information (bits) than the one on the right.

  28. Can someone double check this for me? I’ve always understood the histogram to be a linear representation of a “non” linear relationship. therefore logarithmic. But I’ve just done some reading and now I’m not so sure.

    “Exposing to the right” I’ve understood as technique for controlling noise and capturing maximum detail in the shadow areas. and Yes yes I know don’t clip. Exposing to the right is a shooting technique with the understanding that the photographer is going to change image file in post processing.

    Please someone correct any errors I’ve made. I’m in no way an expert on this.

    I’ve predicting a post in the future on histograms.

  29. Can someone double check this for me? I’ve always understood the histogram to be a linear representation of a “non” linear relationship. therefore logarithmic. But I’ve just done some reading and now I’m not so sure.

    “Exposing to the right” I’ve understood as technique for controlling noise and capturing maximum detail in the shadow areas. and Yes yes I know don’t clip. Exposing to the right is a shooting technique with the understanding that the photographer is going to change image file in post processing.

    Please someone correct any errors I’ve made. I’m in no way an expert on this.

    I’ve predicting a post in the future on histograms.

  30. Even if that were true, and I honestly don’t know, I don’t see how that would change things because a jpg is an “average” of the pixels of the raw file. It might even be an advantage because it would take less processing power to process a jpg into a histogram rather than a raw file. And seeing as the histogram on the back of a camera is just for information purposes a more reliable histogram shouldn’t really be needed until post processing.

  31. Even if that were true, and I honestly don’t know, I don’t see how that would change things because a jpg is an “average” of the pixels of the raw file. It might even be an advantage because it would take less processing power to process a jpg into a histogram rather than a raw file. And seeing as the histogram on the back of a camera is just for information purposes a more reliable histogram shouldn’t really be needed until post processing.

  32. first … well put

    seccond … seeing as expose to the right generates so many flame wars it is difficult to find a constructive conversation about the topic. That is why I posted here to vet my understanding and see what others believe.

  33. first … well put

    seccond … seeing as expose to the right generates so many flame wars it is difficult to find a constructive conversation about the topic. That is why I posted here to vet my understanding and see what others believe.

  34. aarg … second (I always do that)

  35. aarg … second (I always do that)

  36. I never used the word underexpose. I just want to make sure you don’t overexpose. That said, you want to get as close to the right edge as you can without going past 255.

  37. I never used the word underexpose. I just want to make sure you don’t overexpose. That said, you want to get as close to the right edge as you can without going past 255.

  38. Great read. Thanks for the post!

  39. Great read. Thanks for the post!

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Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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