The Basics of Getting a Better Exposure In Camera

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We’re going to share with you a little fact about exposure and the way that your camera works. Are you ready?

First off, cameras are programmed to do specifically what you tell them to do. They’re not supposed to think and in fact, they can’t. If you tell it to take a photo of a scene, you have to figure out what parameters you’re telling it to use. Shooting in Auto? It’s going to do pretty much anything. Shooting in aperture priority? It will do a bit less work based on what you’re telling it to do. Shooting in manual gives you complete and full control over the results of the image, but again it’s doing what you tell it to and nothing more.

This is why working with a camera’s metering can be very frustrating when it comes to wanting to get the image that you actually have in your mind. But here’s how you navigate that problem.

Metering Modes

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Cameras have metering modes that most photographers don’t change. By default a camera is set to evaluative metering which takes a reading of the entire scene and tries to figure out what the best exposure would be based on how much light is in the scene. Trust us, it’s not always reliable if what you’re trying to do is always get the little blinker in the center. This is why manual mode is so important in a situation like this because if you want more details in the shadows, you’ll need to overexpose while more details in the highlights means underexposing. We will cover this more later on.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 35mm f1.4 first impressions (5 of 20)ISO 200

Before we go on, take a look at the image to the left. With evaluative metering, the camera would have exposed the scene based on the bright backlighting and we wouldn’t have been able to get any details in the candle. So to get the details, you’ll need to overexpose or as we will show you, change the metering mode.

Then there is center-weighted metering, which for the most part is antiquated and almost useless unless you’re centering every single subject that you shoot. For the most part, this won’t help you get a better exposure.

The most precise type of metering is spot metering, which meters a scene based on the specific spot that you’re using (i.e. the autofocus point).

Spot Metering

Though we recommend spot metering for only the most exacting type of work, you should know that it’s often the most accurate way of metering a scene based on your own creative vision. In effect, it will help you get the most accurate exposure and therefore also give you the least amount of work later on in post-production.


Here are situations where spot metering works best:

– Backlit situations

– When you’re using a flash and want to kill ambient lighting

– Trying to get a better idea for lighting when shooting a landscape

– Photographing an LCD screen of some sort

– When trying to fill in shadows

– When trying to get more details in the highlights

There are numerous situations where using spot metering is great and can really help you out. But in general, it also doesn’t hurt to just overexpose and underexpose if you’ve become experienced enough with knowing what the scenes will look like.

Understanding Underexposing and Overexposing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Melissa Perry Edits with second curtain flash (1 of 9)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 2.8

Model: Melissa Perry

Overexposing and underexposing most closely has everything to do with working with landscapes, but can relate to many things including weddings or documentary work in various situations.

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Many modern camera sensors work by slightly underexposing a scene based on the tried and true Sunny 16 methods of metering a scene that film photography was based on for years. In situations like that, you’ll sometimes want to overexpose the scene based on the bright lighting that will be in the scene. A great example of this is when the sun is very bright but you want details in the landscape below it.

To make this easier, we’re going to give you the general rule:

– Look at your scene. If the image or subject that you want to photograph is facing away from the sun or a bright light source, then overexpose the scene. This way you’ll get the details in the shadows clearly. Generally, don’t overexpose over one stop or you’ll risk killing the highlights totally and not getting them back in post-production.

– If the subject that you want to photograph is facing towards a bright light source, then underexpose. Modern camera sensors are designed to pick up lots of details in the shadows so you can push them to your heart’s content in order to equalize or normalize the scene.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.