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Thursday, November 8, 2018

How to Nail Exposure on Location When You Take Photographs

It sucks when, after a day or week taking photographs, you come home, look at your shots, and realize you’ve messed up the exposure. You might be able to fix things with a bit of work in Photoshop, but it’s not a situation you want to be in. Here’s how to get the right exposure every time, on location.

Shoot RAW

The easiest way to always hit a target is to make the target nice and big. Why shoot at a small bullseye when you can aim at a barn door? Shooting in RAW instead of JPEG basically does that for your camera.

RAW images contain all the data your camera can capture rather than just a small segment that gets saved as a JPEG. My camera’s RAW files are about 25 MB while the JPEGs are, at best, 5 MB. That’s a hell of a lot more data to work with.

By shooting in RAW, your camera can capture the full dynamic range of a scene—or at least come as close to it as it can—so you’re much less likely to blow out your highlights or crush your shadows. RAW images have to be “developed” using software like Lightroom or Photoshop before you can post them online or print them, but the small amount of work is worth all the extra data with which you have to work. You can see in the image above just how much I was able to brighten the photo without things looking weird.

Understand Your Camera’s Light Meter

Your camera has a built-in light meter that measures the amount of light being reflected from whatever is in front of it. This light meter works on one simple assumption: that everything, at least light wise, averages out to a middle grey. This is how your camera thinks the world looks:

This is a surprisingly safe assumption and works out well a good chunk of the time. However, you shouldn’t rely on it with blind faith. Instead, you need to consider how your camera’s light meter is going to interpret what you’re shooting. Is it a really bright day? Then it will probably underexpose the image. On the other hand, if you’re shooting in the blue hour just before sunrise, it will try to overexpose everything.

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