Photography comes in many forms — landscape, portrait, food, wildlife, and many more. For every genre, there are rules and guidelines photographers have to follow. The trickiest part about making high-quality pictures of any kind is the exposure.
A photographer needs to be familiar with dozens of basic concepts — like the exposure triangle, the law of reciprocity, and metering modes, among others. Most importantly, you need to be able to detect and fix common exposure errors.
In this post, you’ll get to know more about exposure — the mistakes photographers tend to make, the must-know hacks for your next shoot, and tricks for fixing bad exposure photography in post-processing.
- Exposure Issues You Have to Deal With
- How to Deal with Your Photo’s Exposure
- Everything Went Wrong: What Else You Can Do?
Exposure Issues You Have to Deal With
Since there are many ways for exposing images the wrong way, every beginning photographer makes mistakes — it’s perfectly normal, and as a matter of fact, so do professionals as well. To save you time and frustration, we collected the most common exposure errors to watch out for when shooting portraits, landscapes, or anything else.
1. Underexposed foregrounds when shooting outside
Common for late midday shoots, underexposed foregrounds are a pressing issue in landscape photography. When the sky is brighter than the land, the latter will be underexposed.
To mitigate the issue, photographers should use a neutral density filter. Place the light and the dark gradient areas over the horizon. This way, the foreground will fall under the clearest part of the picture. ND filters can vary by the f-stop ratios — 2,4,6,8,10, etc. By changing the ratio, a photographer regulates how dark the sky will be compared to the clear part.
2. Overexposed sky
When capturing sky pictures, photographers often have to deal with the excessive brightness of the skyline and the darkness of the ground. Since sky shots are among the most popular in landscape photography, make sure you know how to handle the challenges that come along with making them.
To avoid sky overexposure, consider using the built-in color histogram features most cameras have. It graphs the picture’s tonal range — all the overexposed areas come in the shape of big spikes.
Once you identified the overexposure issue, mitigate it by moving away from the sunlight, adding multiple bracketed exposures at once, using flash photography to illuminate the foreground, or applying a polarizing filter.
3. Backlit subjects
If a photographer is directing a backlight on the subject, it is likely to look darker than the area around in the frame. Having an underexposed focal point messes up the composition of the frame.
The good news is that there’s an easy way to correct exposure and solve the backlit subject problem. Switch the metering to center-weighted to emphasize on the central part of the frame. Another fix for DSLRs is to link the AF point to the meter area. This way, a photographer can expose the subject the right way even if it’s not at the center of the shot.
4. Shaky images
Slow shutter speed can distort photography exposure dramatically. Before taking pictures, be sure to adjust the lens aperture since it’s the chief factor that influences the depth of field.
Making sharp shots inside is much harder than shooting in the street, with the natural light. For indoor shoots, adjusting the aperture might not be enough to reduce the camera shake. Consider getting a tripod — if that’s not an option, increase the ISO value.
5. Lens flare
When a photographer is shooting under a source of bright light, chances are the beam will create a lens flare, reducing the sharpness of the image and the exposure of the subject. There are three common flare types — a polygonal iris shape, a haze, or a streak of light.
On rare occasions, photographers can profit from the lens flare. Most of the time, however, it’s an unplanned distraction that adds an amateur flair to the shot. To get rid of lens flare, try putting a lens hood on. Other fixes include shooting in the shade or blocking the source of light.
How to Deal with Your Photo’s Exposure
To make sure you’re fully in charge of your shots and will not be taken aback by exposure photos issues, follow these tips when working on set.
1. Use a high ISO
Exposure issues are highly common for low-light shots. Increasing the ISO value will make the frame much sharper and clearer, mitigating the issue of an underexposed subject or overexposed skies. Granted, you will have to denoise a picture in post-processing — but the clarity of the frame is worth the hassle.
2. Use Aperture Priority
The aperture priority mode allows photographers to set a single aperture value and have other settings — shutter speed and so on — adjust automatically. As you shoot with a wide lens aperture, you might not want a shallow depth of field it is likely to create. In this case, a photographer would have to adjust the ISO along with the shutter speed value manually — the Priority mode will change the settings automatically.
Other than helping understand how to adjust exposure, the aperture priority mode increases the accuracy of focusing as well, which is crucial for portrait photography.
3. Use ‘Shutter Priority’ to capture action shots
Panning is a way to create proper photography in action shots. This way, a photographer can distinguish between the background and the foreground clearly, blurring the former and emphasizing the latter.
To get well-exposed, balanced action shots, use Shutter Priority mode. While a photographer has to determine the shutter speed and the ISO value, the camera will choose the right lens aperture for the shot to help you get the right exposure time in photography. The mode is a go-between a fully automatic control and setting the gear up manually.
4. Tweak the shutter speed
ISO, lens aperture, and shutter speed are the aspects that create a good exposure photography triangle. Thus, you can fix one without adjusting the other two. Now that you’ve learned how to handle lens aperture and ISO values to set, let’s examine the shutter speed.
To correct the exposure in photography, consider raising the speed to 1/200 or 1/600. These changes will not affect other settings dramatically but will bring more clarity and sharpness to the frame.
5. Use low-contrast light
To reduce the contrast between the background and the foreground, the land, and the sky, add dim lights to reduce the contrast on the scene and balance the shot. Photographers often use an additional source of low-contrast light to get rid of deep shadows and bright highlights.
Another helpful technique is to add low-contrast light selectively to increase the emphasis on one detail of the frame and reduce the importance of others. By planting multiple sources of low-contrast light on the scene, a photographer gets more control over the final frame.
6. Use the flash to expose backlit subjects
Flash is a fundamental concept in photography that comes with its own rules and guidelines. It takes skill and experience to know how the look of a subject will change when illuminated both by ambient light and the bright light of the camera flash.
Using the camera flash correctly is imperative when trying to get proper exposure. When dealing with underexposed or backlit subjects, photographers benefit tremendously from an additional source of focused light.
7. Shoot in RAW for more post-processing freedom
If you struggle to adjust image exposure on-site, another way to handle it is by post-processing. If you rely on editing tools, do your best to get the most editing freedom possible. That means shooting in RAW.
For one thing, when you save a JPEG file, you can’t go back to it and retract the changes — hence, every modification will be final. Also, RAW files offer more image data you can benefit from when editing — that’s why the file size is higher than that of JPEG pictures.
RAW offers photographers a higher dynamic range, more color space, and a possibility to tweak the picture on a deeper level in editing tools. The only downside to the format is that not all post-processing software supports RAW file editing.
Everything Went Wrong: What Else You Can Do?
If you’re seeing multiple exposure errors in your photo that fully distort the shot, there’s no need to give up just yet. Even if a photographer can’t adjust exposure properly, a picture can still be saved and turned into a beautiful work with the help of tools like Phototheca. This software is a go-to instrument for many photographers — it helps you better understand how to get exposure photo right.
It has many tools that help beginners and professional photographers deal with light exposure photography. Take a look at the most common ones:
Adjustment tool. In Phototheca, there’s a ‘Light’ slider that helps increase or decrease the contrast. You can either apply light changes to the entire picture or edit the shot locally. There’s an adjustment tool for brightness and contrast as well.
Highlight tool. Move the slider to the left or to the right to increase or reduce the brightness of highlights. This way, you will be able to balance the shadows and the highlights in the picture.
Exposure. Adjust a picture tone-by-tone by tweaking the ‘Exposure’ slider. The tool gives photographers much more local control than adjusting the exposure on the location does.
Brightness and contrast. We have already discussed the chief role of the two in exposure management. In Phototheca, you can play with both using dedicated sliders.
Every change a photographer makes in Phototheca is reversible — you can always go back to the original shot and start again from scratch.
At first glance, exposure seems a convoluted matter for beginner photographers. However, it is so important that you can’t get around learning about it. The good news is, the general idea of perfect exposure photography comes naturally with practice — but knowing additional tips and hacks will speed up the process.
Although it is better to work on exposure while you’re shooting and can make changes on-site, you can fix errors in post-processing so that no one knows they were there in the first place. Highly functional digital tools like Phototheca have all the features to adjust picture exposure in a fast, hassle-free way.
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