Five tips for getting a perfect exposure

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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

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Now that you're comfortable with using your camera in manual modes (Program, Aperture, Shutter and Manual), there's a whole host of other elements that go into making a perfect exposure.

Here are five invaluable tools and tips for getting a perfect exposure every time.

1. Exposure bracketing

There will be times when your digital camera won't be able to accurately capture the photo you want to take because of a tricky lighting situation. This might be something like a strong contrast between light and shadow areas within the scene.

This is where bracketing comes in handy.

Definition: Bracketing

Bracketing is the name given to a series of photos that either the photographer takes (manually) or the camera takes automatically, at set intervals above and below the camera meter's "correct" reading for the exposure. These intervals are generally in stop increments.

For example, if the camera gives you an exposure of 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100, you may decide to bracket your exposure one stop either side, at 1/60 and 1/200, keeping your aperture and ISO constant.

Bracketing example

An example of bracketing. The shot on the left was taken using the camera's reading of the correct exposure (1/100, f/5.6), the centre shot was overexposed by one stop, and the shot on the right was underexposed by one stop, according to the meter. (Credit: CBSi)

Auto exposure bracketing (or AEB) may be an option available depending on how recent and how advanced the SLR is, so check your camera manual. You can select the interval at which the camera will bracket, for example, +1EV and -1EV (exposure value). Once you press the shutter button, the camera will automatically take the first bracketed frame and will continue to bracket for as many frames as you selected.

Another instance where bracketing is useful is for critical images; ones that you will not be able to retake again. For example, you may see wedding photographers bracket their shots to make sure they have the best chance of a correct and usable exposure.

Bracketing is also useful when it comes to HDR photography, which we will explain in a later section of the Learning Centre.

2. Exposure compensation

An alternative to manual or automatic bracketing is exposure compensation. All digital SLRs will have an exposure compensation button that tells the camera to underexpose or overexpose the scene in stop increments. Depending on which mode (PASM) that you are in, the camera will adjust either the aperture or shutter according to the increment that has been dialled in from the exposure compensation button.

Exposure compensation for Nikon D90

This is where the exposure compensation button is located on the Nikon D90. Press the +/- button while turning the control dial at the front of the camera to tell it to under or overexpose. (Credit: Nikon)

3. Use histograms

Digital cameras make it incredibly easy to take a shot at the correct exposure. There are several tools in your SLR that take the guesswork out of determining what your picture will look like once it's left your camera.

One such tool is the histogram. Watch the video below for a full explanation.

Make sure to activate the histogram when you are reviewing your images, check your camera manual for details.

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JerryB posted a comment   

Also, use RAW, there is a significant amount of information lost when converting to JPEG. If you get something that is overexposed there may still be data that will allow you to bring the image back in post. Once it goes to JPEG that data is lost.

Yeah, files are much bigger, but who cares with 32gig cards and terabyte hard drives.


LeroyS posted a comment   

And An expodisc that converts the internal reflected meter in your camera to an incident light reading device and gets the exposure right without bracketing


arturo posted a comment   

as a reminder, thanks


Sunjiv posted a comment   
New Zealand

thanks for the tips

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