Top Exposure Hacks

31.07.2017 |

Episode #6 of the course The best photography hacks by Tom Ang



Today, we’ll look at how to crack exposure. Exposure control is about getting your images to look the right brightness. A crucial idea to grasp is that the “correct” exposure is giving you the result you want. The stress is on “you.” Correct is not what the camera says; it’s not what the photography “experts” say. It’s what you want!


Why Not Use Manual?

Some photography tutors insist that serious photographers only use manual metering; they do not rely on any auto-exposure mode. I beg to differ. I’ve been a professional for over 30 years, and I’ve used auto-exposure from the moment it was invented.

My advice to you:

• If you’re comfortable with auto-exposure, continue with it, but add these hacks to refine your results.


Your Best Control

The exposure override (also “exposure compensation”), working with auto-exposure, is the best way to control exposure. It overrides the camera exposure by the amount you set.

On some cameras, you control it via a dial; on others, you change a pointer on a displayed scale. In both cases, there’s a central 0 for nil or zero adjustment, then a plus side (for making the image lighter) and a minus side (for darker images).

Most override controls are divided into whole stop steps with third-stop intermediate steps. Plus-one stop is a doubling of light, giving brighter results. Minus-one stop halves the amount of light for darker results.

Exactly how much you set on the override will depend on your taste and the lighting. Start with these guidelines to gain experience:

• For visibly darker than normal results, e.g. to increase tan of skin or deepen flower or landscape colors: set -⅔ or 1 stop.

• For strongly darker results, e.g. to make an evening scene look dark or to darken backgrounds to concentrate on highlights, set -1 to 1⅔ stops.

• For visibly lighter than normal results, e.g. to make skin tones paler or to make colors more pastel: set +⅓, + ⅔, or +1 stop.

• For strongly lighter results, e.g. to make a very bright, airy atmosphere full of light, set +⅔ or +1 stop or more.

For example, if your snow shots are coming out too dark, try setting +1.3 stops. If portraits of your tanned friends are too light, try setting -⅔ stops.

Use exposure override to get the results right in camera. Think of how much time in front of the screen you’ll save!


Bracket If in Doubt

In unusual conditions, it can be tricky even for professionals to know exactly how much override to set. When faced with many light colors, a mix of very bright with dark, or a very dark subject, the solution is to hedge your bets.

Photographically, that’s what bracketing is: you make one exposure that’s “normal,” then at least two others on either side: one darker, one lighter. Like this:

1. First shot: at normal exposure, e.g. 1/250 sec at f/4

2. Second shot at -1 stop, e.g. 1/250 sec at f/5.6

3. Third shot at +1 stop, e.g. 1/250 sec at f/2.8

Instead of three, you can make five or even more exposures at different exposure settings to cover a bigger range of exposure options. All modern cameras offer bracketing. Some will shoot the sequence automatically with one button press.

Tomorrow, I take you on an expansive hack to extend your horizons!




Recommended reading

Camera Exposure: A good summary of camera exposure online.


Recommended book

Digital Photography Masterclass by Dorling Kindersley, Tom Ang—a chapter on exposure control.


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