Under exposing intentionally

Nine times out of ten, you hold up your camera, peer into your viewfinder and spin one or two of your dials.

You do what it takes to center the LED on “0”.

In automatic modes, you select the aperture or shutter speed and you trust the camera select the other freeing you to concentrate on your composition.

Intentional under exposure–I knew what was important in my viewfinder, the white doves and nothing else. I didn’t want to see any reflections in the sculpture’s marble, so I took this picture 1/8000 sec @ f2 instead of what was recommended.

The more often you use your camera, the sooner you’ll learn to recognize when not to believe that meter and when you should.

Correct exposure?–Based on what the meter suggested, see how washed out the image above is? Sometimes there’s you have to decide the best exposure based on what you feel is important. The camera is only as smart as the programming.

Automatic modes are good for many situations except when there is a either a lot of darkness or brightness in a scene.

Scenes which have a overwhelming brightness like the beach, snowscapes or the night sky with a full moon which you want to capture with detail.

That’s when you need to take charge and make a decision.

Left to its own devices, the meter which controls the automatic exposure modes will make its best guess of what it thinks is the subject and expose for that accordingly.

If you’re have an option to change the metering pattern on your camera, that would be a good 1st option.

Instead of having the camera do its overall metering, you can choose center-weighted or spot for more precision.

Since not every camera has these metering patterns, your best chance of getting a well exposed image is to understand what the meter wants to do.

Folks who swear by the automatic modes of Aperture or Shutter Priority will no doubt tell you they can work faster.

That’s true if you’ve committed to memory which combination of buttons on your camera body to depress for Exposure Compensation.

That Exposure Compensation button is a global setting.

After you take that picture, if you forget to reset the Exposure Compensation to “0,” you and or the next person using the camera on the automatic mode will get burned.

If you happen to set the Exposure Compensation to -1 (minus 1) then all your pictures will be set to underexposed by 1 f-stop until you reset it to zero.

I find it easier to just raise/increase the shutter speed or setting a smaller aperture depending what I want to control.

If I’m at my top shutter speed and I can’t go any higher, then I’ll close down the aperture or use the next higher numerical value.

Reasons to underexpose

  1. Increase saturation of colors
  2. Isolate or emphasize only the brightest subject in the scene
  3. Shooting silhouettes

Increasing Saturation
Compare the 2 pictures below. One is made with normal exposure, what the camera recommends. 1/125 sec @ f3.5. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say the exposure is 1/125 sec @ f4.

Since my subject are the flowers and I know I want them to be as sharp as possible, I’ll shoot for maximum depth-of-field f22.

My equivalent exposure shooting at f22 is approximately 1/4 sec.

Just by under-exposing 1/2 a stop from what is recommended, you can already see how dramatic the colors look now.

See the final image exposed at 1/20 sec @ f22

2 thoughts on “Under exposing intentionally”

  1. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for taking the time to leave your comment. I wouldn’t say it’s a great tutorial, but thanks anyway. 😉

    You are absolutely correct about no such thing as being “wrong” in photography.

    What is important is you, the photographer, should be deciding whether to underexpose or even over-expose intentionally and by how many f-stops instead of leaving it to chance.

    When you begin to exercise this discretion, that’s when you are on the road to being in control of your imagery.

  2. That’s a great tutorial Pete. I’ve been doing it wrong (I know there is no “wrong” in photography, I just like your way better.)

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