118 Using Light
Creative Exposure
Creative Exposure
In Chapter 1, I explained that an overexposure lets too
much light into your camera, and results in a capture
that is too bright. On the other hand, an underexposure
doesn’t let enough light into your camera, and results
in an exposure that is too dark. Whether a subject is
exposed using too much” or “too little” light is usually
established by comparison with a reading from your
cameras light meter. The amount of light let into the
sensor is controlled by varying one or more of the
settings that are on the cameras side of the exposure
equation: aperture (Chapter 2), shutter speed (Chapter
3), and sensitivity (Chapter 4) as shown below.
Good photographers often use their own judgement to
modify the light reading obtained by their equipment
and intentionally over (or under) expose a photo (see
pages 46–51). Perhaps the exposure meter is simply
wrong. For example, light meters tend to average every-
hing to middle gray, which can lead to overexposure
of bright subjects (like snowfields).
Other times the point of the exposure modification is to
capture one part of the photo just right (letting other parts
of the photo go too dark or light). Other times, the pur-
ose of the exposure modification is to create an overall
effect, and increase the visual impact of the photo.
In both cases, the modified exposure (at least if the
photo “works”) is sometimes called the correct creative
With digital photography, the rules of the road for cre-
tive exposing have changed. It was always reasonable
to expose for specific areas in a photo with a high dy-
amic range (meaning great contrast between light and
dark areas). It was sometimes reasonable to overexpose
or underexpose to create a dramatic effect: very dark
darks contrasting against a dimly lit central subject, or
over-brightness used for the purposes of narrative.
This kind of rationale for creative exposure is still val-
, but theres also a new option (and consideration) in
play. In a RAW digital capture (for more about RAW,
see page 48), theres an eight f-stop exposure variation
that can be tweaked out of the capture in the digital
darkroom (Chapter 6 is devoted to post-processing in
the digital darkroom).
It’s now the case that correct creative exposures can
be used to expose for one area of a subject, with the
understanding that other parts of the photo will be ad
justed in post-processing. You can have dramatic ef-
ects of contrast if you want, but you also dont have
o have dramatic contrasts. You do need to consider
which of the possible creative exposures will lead to the
best results once the photo has been post-processed in
the digital darkroom.
I enhanced the apparent transparency of these Oregano leaves by overexposing”
(compared to what my cameras light meter suggested). I knew I wanted to shoot
with the aperture fully stopped down for enhanced depth of field (at f/36). The
camera suggested a shutter speed of 1 second, but I chose instead to expose for 4
seconds. The brighter the white background got, the better.
200mm f/4 macro lens, 4 seconds at f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.
To overexpose: With other variables held constant, use a
bigger lens aperture (a smaller f-number) or increase the time
the shutter is held open or raise the ISO.
To underexpose: With other variables held constant, use a
smaller lens aperture (a bigger f-number) or decrease the time
the shutter is held open or lower the ISO.
Using Light
I knew that the crucial parts of this photo were the city lights and saturated clouds, so I
exposed for these areas of the photo, allowing the foreground landscape to go black. Later,
I fixed the “underexposure” of the foreground in the digital darkroom (see Chapter 6).
12–24mm zoom lens at 20mm, 25 seconds at f/6.3 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.
Chapter opener: The sun was setting across Tomales Bay. I underexposed for the shaft of
sunlight by several f-stops to bring out the prismatic colors coming through the shing
trawler, and later worked in the digital darkroom (see Chapter 6) to make the areas of the
photo that were dark acceptably lighter.
105mm f/2.8 macro lens, 1/15 of a second at f/32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

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