In brief, exposure is how much light the camera lets into the camera to take the photo. Most of the time, of course, your camera will be great at measuring the amount of light it needs to take a photo. But, you may be wondering, how to get good exposure in photography?

Why does my camera over or underexpose?

There will be occasions when your camera’s meter won’t be able to cope with a certain lighting situation. Snow scenes or beach are common situations when there is a lot of reflected light. While you can correct most under or overexposure situations in Lightroom and Photoshop, of course, it’s not always possible and getting as close as possible to the correct exposure will save you a bunch of work.

How to blur water

Sunsets can be tricky to find the right Exposure.

DSLR Cameras use TTL metering. What this means is that the camera measures light reflected from the subject Through The Lens (TTL). With the aforementioned beach and snow scenes, all the reflected light flooding the camera’s meter it may underexpose or conversely, if the camera’s meter compensates too much, overexpose, the scene.

Some scenes can vary greatly in their overall brightness. As can be seen below, the photo below is of a beach scene taken on a phone. The person is walking away from the camera against a comparatively bright sky. The camera has taken an average reading across the whole sky and while it has produced a pleasing sunset, the person has come out in near silhouette.

However, with knowing how a photo will be exposed, you can counteract the effects of your camera and come out with an acceptable exposed photo.

exposure tips
exposure techniques

I’ll cover three techniques to help you overcome this. But first, you need to know how exposure works before you can counteract its effects. And that all starts with knowing how your camera uses metering.



Metering Button – Just to the left of the word Format

At the extreme end of the scale of exposure, problems are the snow and beach scenes I mentioned earlier. Exposure problems can crop up in scenes such as landscape photography when the sky is brighter than the ground. As can be seen below, the camera has metered on the ground and therefore washed out the sky.

exposure techniques and tips

Now one way around this is to add a graduated filter, either on the camera while taking the shot or in post-processing in Lightroom or similar software package. Some purists do not use post-processing software but for me, it is perfectly acceptable. Most images in magazines and online, to be sure, have been through some form of post-processing.

Or you can switch your metering method.

How to measure correct exposure?

Spot, centre-weighted and matrix are all types of metering which your camera may have. Most phones, of course, will use centre weighted.

Spot, as the name suggests, is where the camera takes a light reading from one tiny spot in the frame. In particular, this is handy if there is a lot of reflected light about and you need a very accurate reading from one particular object in the picture.

Centre-weighted metering is where the camera takes an average light reading from the centre of the frame. The actual percentage is different for each camera and manufacturer. Your camera manual should be able to give you an idea of how much.

Matrix metering is a reading taken across the whole picture and will be good for general photography but you may want to switch to another form of metering for those tricky subjects.


Exposure techniques

3 photos Bracketed 0.7 under, Normal and 0.7 over

Bracketing is the name given to a series of photos of the same scene where the exposure is altered either manually or automatically to take a picture either side of the recommended settings. Most modern cameras have a bracketing feature built into the camera. Try turning it on in awkward light situations. The camera uses the same ISO and aperture but ‘brackets’ the exposure.

If the camera suggested 1/60th of a second, it will bracket the exposure and take a picture with settings each side. As can be seen in the above example, with bracketing on and a suggested exposure of 1/60th, it will also take pictures at 1/30th and 1/125th.

Real-World Example

Consequently, bracketing is extremely useful for those one-off shots that are never to be repeated. With this in mind, you have more chance of getting a usable shot with bracketing on.

Exposure bracketing 1
Exposure bracketing 2
Exposure Bracketing 3

F8 1/60th ISO 100 Aperture Priority 10mm

F8 1/20th ISO 100 Aperture Priority 10mm

F8 1/10th ISO 100 Aperture Priority 10mm

As can be seen in the three photos above, bracketing has made a difference to what the camera captures. On the left, it’s a bit dark, on the right it is a bit washed out but the best compromise is the middle one.

This is the worst-case scenario! The sun was setting behind me, as can be seen with the golden light on the tower. What that means in real terms is that the ground will be darker than usual, shadows deeper and details muted. So we have taken the middle photo added a bit of jiggery-pokery in Lightroom and we are left with this below;


Because I had an acceptable and correctly exposed photo it was about 2 minutes work just to increase the contrast in the photo, adjust some of the levels and add a graduated filter to slightly brighten the grass and add a touch of colour back to it.

Exposure compensation


Exposure Compensation – The little +/- button

An alternative to bracketing is exposure compensation. In short, the camera will either adjust the aperture or shutter speed depending on which mode you are in. Adjustment is set on the camera, see your manual for the exact details of how to adjust it. Now you know how to adjust it, which way should you adjust it? Essentially, if your subject is a scene with a lot of reflected light you will want to adjust it so the shutter speed is longer. This is usually either +1 or 2 EV (Exposure Value).

Top Tip

Save your files as RAW, that way you have a lot more latitude with exposure when processing your images in editing software.

For the full science bit on the colour of light see here

For all my tips and tricks see my Photography Tutorials page.

Photography Tutorials

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Definitive Guide to the Basic Essentials

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