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How-To: Getting the Right Exposure

How-To: Getting the Right Exposure

Text and Photos by Lynne Eodice

One of the most important issues you should address before shooting a picture is setting the exposure. First of all, a good exposure is one that captures the overall tonal range (the range of dark through light tones) that is visible to you before you click the shutter. What you’re trying to do is to capture an image that shows light tones, dark tones and everything in between. When you create a good exposure, it means that you’re giving your camera’s sensor the right amount of light to record your subject’s tones correctly.

Put quite simply, good exposure is the amount of light that it takes to record a scene correctly onto your camera’s sensor. If you give the sensor too much light, your picture will be overexposed. The image may appear washed out and lacking in detail in the brightest areas. If there’s too little light, the image will be underexposed and will look dark and dingy. So in most cases, you’ll want to capture an image that’s neither too dark nor too bright, but just right.

Some subjects are easy to expose correctly. When a scene is well lit and has an average tonal range (with nothing being too dark or too light) and the light is fairly even, getting a good exposure is a pretty simple process. Your camera’s built-in automatic exposure does a good job of recording subjects like this correctly. But the more complex your subject is in terms of light and dark tones, the more challenging proper exposure can become. For example, you need to know how your camera’s meter will react to a beautiful snow-covered landscape—and what you need to do to record that snow the right way.

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