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How to nail exposure on site when taking pictures



It sucks when you take photographs after a day or week, come home, look at your shots and realize that you have damaged the exposure. You may be able to fix things with a bit of work in Photoshop, but it's not a situation you want to be with. How to get the right exposure every time, in place.

Shooting RAW

The easiest way to always hit a goal is to make the goal fine and big. Why shoot a little bullseye when you can aim for a barn door? Recording in RAW instead of JPEG does it for your camera.

RAW images contain all data that the camera can capture instead of just a small segment saved as a JPEG. My camera's RAW files are about 25 MB while the JPEGs are at best 5 MB. It's a hell with much more data to work with.

By shooting RAW, the camera can capture the entire scene's dynamic ranges – or at least get as close as possible – so you're much less likely to blow your highlights or crush your shadows. RAW images need to be "developed" using programs such as Lightroom or Photoshop before you can send them online or print them, but the small amount of work is worth all the extra information you have to work with. You can see in the picture above how much I could shine the photo without looking strange.

Understanding the camera's light meter

Your camera has a built-in light gauge that measures how much light is reflected from anything in front of it. This light meter works with a simple assumption: that everything, at least bright, is average to a medium gray. Here's how your camera looks like the world looks like:

This is a surprisingly safe assumption and works well a good deal of time. But you should not rely on blind faith. Instead, you need to consider how the camera's light meter should interpret what you shoot. Is it a really bright day? Then it will probably underestimate the picture. On the other hand, if you shoot in the blue hour just before the sunrise, it will try to overexposure everything.

More information about the camera's light meter and how to use it, check out our full guide.

RELATED: What are the different measurement methods on my camera and when should I use them?

Take control of your camera

Hold the shutter button and hope it's not a reliable strategy for taking great pictures. You need to make decisions or at least to control your camera with shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

RELATED: Your Camera's Most Important Settings: Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO Explained

You do not have to manually control all controls to control the camera. I recommend that you use the aperture priority mode in most situations. You can then use a combination of aperture, exposure compensation, and ISO to control how the image looks.

RELATED: Go Out of Auto: How to Use Camera Photography Methods for Better Photos As long as the shutter speed does not go too low, you do not have to worry.

Check the histogram

The best way to review your photos in place uses the histogram. It will give you a good picture of how your exposure looks, even if you can not easily review the entire image on the small screen.

Review your photos and activate the histogram (if you are not sure how to check your camera's manual). Usually, you want to see a balanced histogram without shadow or mark cutting even though a histogram that is slightly overexposed may be good.

RELATED: What is "Exposing to the Right" in Photography and Why You Should Do It

Another option is to turn on "blinkies" so your camera comes to show you when you overexposure your images without having to check the histogram.

Shoot Some Security Shots

Sometimes, due to difficult or changing light conditions, it is a real battle to reliably spike the exposure of the shot. The best thing about these situations is to shoot some security pictures. I recommend taking a photo one stop overexposed and one photo one stop underexposed. This way you cover your bases. The worst thing is that instead of the photo you thought would you use, you must use one of the security shots to get the best final picture.


Reliably get exposure directly in place or at least close Right as possible is an important skill to develop as a photographer. Just like most things to do with photography, it's just about thinking a bit and taking control of your camera.


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