I recently had a friend ask me what the difference is between underexposing and image and overexposing. Why do you do it and when? Is there a rule to follow when exposing your images?


Let’s start with the basics. What is underexposure? By definition, an underexposed image is where too little light was recorded. The image is considered to be too dark, and it lacks detail in certain areas. Only the brightest parts are easy to make out.


An overexposed image is a complete opposite. The image is too bright, oftentimes blowing out the detail in the highlights and shadows. This makes your images sometimes unpleasant to look at due to the brightness.

A correct exposure

So what is a correct exposure image? I believe the definition is having an image that shows all the details making the image seem as close to real life as possible.

My conversation with my friend and she continued. What’s the rule? When do you overexpose and when do you underexpose?

You choose

It took me a moment to realize there is really no way to capture a realistic image of what you see. Why do I say this? What my eye sees and what your eye sees is completely different. That’s the nurse in me talking.

For me, that’s what makes photography awesome! Choosing your exposure for an image, whether you overexposing or underexposing, is a creative process. It is your process. The portrait above might be considered underexposed by some, but I purposefully made a darker exposure to help add drama.

Just like how I chose the gear to use to make an image with, choosing your exposure is a personal choice. It’s the same when selecting a certain subject to shoot with. I am making those choices so my final image looks a certain way. The way I want it to. The way I see it.

It is completely up to the artists and what they want to create. Do you agree? Is there a rule? Do you follow it? Let me know in the comments below.