The Best Way to Get Perfect Exposure

  • Thread starter KodyWallice
  • Start date


Aug 1, 2020
  • #1
What's the best way to obtain the optimal exposure for your photographs? That's easy. You'll need to practice and experiment. And you'll also need to make a lot of mistakes. Those mistakes are critical to your experimentation. After all, what will you have to compare if you don't take some lousy shots as well as some good ones? It's not like anyone ever runs out of film anymore, so enjoy the process and shoot away.

In today's post, I'd like to discuss a few ideas that may help you out during your exposure experimentation. More specifically, I'll talk about how you can use your camera's exposure compensation feature to create a mood with your photos and inject some overall creativity into your shots. I'll then discuss your camera's spot metering feature and how it can teach you a lot in regards to exposing a scene. And finally, I'll talk about bracketing your shots. By bracketing, you'll essentially cover the gamut of possibilities when it comes to exposure. You'll underexpose and overexpose - on purpose. The benefits of doing something like this are plenty. I'll get to all that below.

For each of the scenarios I discuss below, the camera I describe will be set to Program mode. The reason for this is because in that mode, there's flexibility. One area of such flexibility is exposure compensation.

Creatively Using Exposure Compensation​

Mind you, anything that I describe in this section can also be accomplished inside of Adobe Photoshop. It's easy enough to lessen or add to the exposure of a photo. But, as I always say, it's better to accomplish as much as possible with the camera first before heading into post-processing. If that's done, the ultimate quality will be greater.

To add some creative exposure to a photograph, you'll first want to set your camera up on a tripod. Then, meter your scene the way you normally would, allowing the camera to do all the work. Take and review your shot. This will be your baseline. Next, with your camera's exposure compensation feature, reduce your exposure by one stop. Take another shot. After that, increase it by one stop from the baseline. Take a shot and compare the three images. As you'll notice, the mood changes with each one. If you want, you can under or over expose even further, just to see what happens. The goal of this exercise is to allow you to see how exposure affects scenes and images. If you get used to this extremely handy feature, you'll have the ability to use it on the fly in the future. You'll also know when it can be useful.

Spot Metering​

Depending on the model of camera you have, you may or may not have the spot metering exposure option available to you. If you don't, look for something called "partial metering." If you've got that, use it. Next, head outside and find a scene that's varied with bright spots as well as shadows. Spot metering allows you to dial in a very specific exposure depending on an area of your scene. It'll brighten or darken your shots depending on how the area you dial into is illuminated.

Find an area within your scene that's fairly neutral and of neutral lighting. Anything can be neutral, from the bark of a tree to the siding of a house. Expose your shot based on that neutral area and take the photo. Again, this will be your baseline. Next, find an area that's brighter than the other areas. Do the same thing - expose your shot from that area and take the picture. Finally, find a darker shadowed area and follow the same steps. Upon review, you'll find that your results are similar to those of the first exercise. The difference is, in the first exercise, you manually made the exposure changes and in the second, the camera did it for you, based on the relative brightness or darkness of the areas in your scene.

Bracketed Exposure​

This is the most fun of the three, by far. This is an automatic way that your camera does the same exact thing as you did manually in the first step. On many DSLR and mirrorless cameras, there's a feature that allows you to take three, five, seven, or more shots in succession to one another. For each shot, a different exposure compensation setting will be chosen. So for each time you push your shutter button, three or more photos will be captured by the camera. If you're using a tripod or if you can hold your hands very still, the photos should be identical, expect for the exposure. What's the use of this, if not merely experimenting? Well, you can think of it as an insurance policy. Let's say the camera's standard exposure that's been chosen is a bit off. By capturing a range of exposures, your photos won't be a total loss. Also, by capturing a range of exposures, you'll be able to easily merge all of your photographs to create an HDR (high dynamic range) image in Adobe Camera Raw. There's a lot that you can do with multiple images, so begin thinking about the possibilities. Just remember, when engaging in this type of exercise, a tripod always comes in handy.

Here are a few tips for you: when finished experimenting or using your camera's exposure compensation feature, be sure to set it back to zero. You wouldn't want to quickly grab your camera for that money shot and have your settings out of whack. Also, when capturing bracketed images in the first scenario above, you'll need to press your shutter button each time you want to take your photo. In the last scenario though, you'll only need to press the shutter button once. The camera will take all of the photos in succession. You'll hear the shutter go click, click, click very quickly.

Well, that's about it. Do you have any other ideas in regards to photography exposure? Do you have any questions? If so, please add to the conversation down below.
The Best Way to Get Perfect Exposure was posted on 04-29-2021 by KodyWallice in the Photography Forum forum.

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