Exposing to the right

Exposing to the right

Exposure is a critical element in photography. Until the emergence of Digital photography, it was common practice for landscape photographers to slightly underexpose a photo for better highlight detail and increased saturation. With a roll of Fuji Velvia 50, I would be approaching colourful scenes or soft light with negative E.V. of around half a stop. But in the world of digital photography there is a new school of thought which suggests over exposing just short of blowing out the highlights will actually give you a better range of colours.


In the days of film you could shoot colour with Negative film, or slide transparencies. When I took photos with transparencies, I often under-exposed by half a stop because the slide would retain more colours and so the resulting image would have a richer saturation. When I used colour negative film, I wouldn’t compensate in the same way. Colour Negatives have more dynamic range than Slide transparencies so exposure is not so critical. Black& White film has more dynamic range than colour negatives.


With digital images, it was commonly practised to boost the shadow details at the RAW stage, but now it is considered better to retrieve the highlight detail. Of course this can’t be done if it is burned out. It is essential to be checking your histogram or have highlight warnings on your preview screen. It can be ok to have some highlight warnings on some images – for example, parts of snow or parts of sun behind clouds can work with a few blown out highlights. This is a matter of taste, but I do think you could be losing a lot of shadow information by avoiding blown out highlights too rigidly.

The higher stops on a digital camera can record over 2000 tonal values compared to around 60 with the lower stops.


The technique would involve using your histogram display or the highlight warning on the camera preview display. Expose as high as possible without blowing out the highlight. Using some slight bracketing might help you get the right exposure quickly.

Well Exposed

This photo seems washed out before post-processing. But you can see from the Histogram that most of the information is on the right and there are no clipped highlights.

After some local and global adjustments in Lightroom,the colours have good vibrancy. Because the image was well exposed, I was able to introduce more contrast and de-haze without hurting the shadows. Because the highlights didn’t clip (burn out), I was able to restore all the detail.

Contrast and de-haze

Using mostly Contrast and de-haze, I was able to bring out vibrant colours in the mid-tones.

Patience is  virtue

Patience is virtue

I just stumbled across this sequence of shot from a cloudy day at Jökulsarlon 6 years ago. Sometimes you get there and the visibility is poor, there is a lot of thick cloud and the ice is not quite doing it. If you have flown half way around the world to be here, there is […]

My perspective on perspectives

My perspective on perspectives

To find your spirit animal, sit quietly in a comfortable place, just breathing and relaxing for some time, (may take a few attempts) your spirit animal will come to you…

Excuse me

Excuse me

I have witnessed some angry exchanges between photographers in busy places. But I am hoping here to help you see that all this anger is unnecessary.

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