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Monday, October 1, 2007

Best Techniques For Digital Exposures

Setting everything on full auto isn't always the ideal solution. Try these tips to get your best shots every time.

 Best Techniques For Digital Exposures
Exposure Compensation

You can override the metered exposure with the camera’s exposure-compensation control. Generally, this is done by pressing the +/- button and rotating the control dial until the desired degree of compensation is set (most cameras offer +/- two to three stops of compensation, settable in 1/3- or ½- stop increments). Exposure compensation is primarily useful when you encounter an exposure situation you’ve previously found to be problematic for your metering system. For example, when I’m photographing a bird against greenery, I dial in some minus compensation because my meter (like most meters built into SLRs) tends to overexpose green tones. I also dial in plus-exposure compensation when photographing birds against bright skies and minus-exposure comp when photographing white birds against deep blue skies.

AE Lock

AE lock lets you lock in an exposure setting, then recompose a scene without affecting the exposure. If you have a subject or scene that you expect will present problems to your metering system, you can point the camera at a middle-toned subject, lock in that exposure by activating the camera’s automatic-exposure lock (AE-L), then compose your scene and shoot. Some cameras lock focus with exposure; in this case, you must aim the camera at a medium-toned subject that’s the same distance away as your real subject or focus manually.

 Best Techniques For Digital Exposures In the early days of the digital age, many photographers became lulled into a false sense of security, believing that they would be able to fix any exposure problems in Photoshop. Not true! There’s simply no substitute for getting the exposure right when you shoot. When faced with tricky scenes like those on these pages, you might find that your camera’s auto setting won’t yield the best results. Instead, use tools like spot metering and bracketing to ensure that you get your exposures right.

LCD Monitor

Digital photographers have a tremendous exposure aid in the camera’s LCD monitor. It allows you to check the image right after shooting it to make sure it’s what you expected. Every D-SLR I’ve used has occasionally completely blown out an image for no apparent reason. I’d much rather discover this while I can reshoot than not find out until I get home and it’s too late.

With some cameras, the image will look too light or too dark on the LCD monitor when it’s properly exposed (i.e., when it looks just right on your computer monitor). Check out your camera to see how well what you see on its monitor agrees with what you see on the monitor of your image-editing computer. And be sure to judge the image on the LCD monitor square-on, not at an angle.


Most D-SLRs (and some compact digital cameras) can display histograms on their LCD monitors. A histogram is a graph of the tones in the image, with dark tones on the left and bright tones on the right. The exact shape of the histogram depends on the scene—a mostly dark scene will result in a histogram lumped to the left; a bright scene, a histogram lumped to the right. Ideally, the histogram should go all the way from the left to the right.

If the histogram doesn’t go all the way to the left, the image is overexposed and contains no true black or very dark tones. If the histogram doesn’t go all the way to the right, the image is underexposed and contains no white or very bright tones. A well-exposed image will have a histogram that goes from one edge to the other, even if most of the tones are to one side or the other (unless, of course, you’re shooting a very low-contrast scene, such as a foggy pier shot that contains no dark or light tones).

With most D-SLRs, you can activate highlight and shadow warnings, which cause the highlights to flash on the LCD monitor when overexposed or the shadows to flash when underexposed. These warnings aren’t 100-percent accurate, but are one more tool to help you get good exposures.


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