Try to Make Every Exposure Count

by | Jul 27, 2020

Today’s Rant by Joe Farace

It’s Exposure Techniques Week on the blog. Kicking it off today with…

Light is one of the key elements that differentiate a good photograph from a snapshot. That’s why I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t care about correct exposure and use the already worn-out cliche, “I’ll fix it later in Photoshop.” (More about this in the nest two day’s posts…)

Photoshop may have become a crutch for sloppy camera work but you’ll get better photographs with proper exposure. Based on my own experience, where some exposure snafus are concerned there is some truth to this statement. A digital image that’s too far over overexposed or even underexposed cannot always be saved with image editing software.

That’s why it’s important to understand how to achieve proper exposure in camera. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when film cameras did not have built in light meters, let alone automatic exposure capabilties. In those days, photographers either used a hand-held exposure meter or relied on the data sheet that packaged with each roll of film, providing basic exposure guidelines for taking photographs in bright sun, hazy sun, or cloudy conditions.

How I made this shot: (At left) I made this nighttime shot in the Akihabara section of Tokyo using a Canon EOS Digital Rebel and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.Exposure was 1/125 sec at f/7.1 and ISO 400, with a minus one and one-thirds stop exposure compensation.

The other widely used exposure method was based on using the film’s ISO rating and the aperture f/16 aka the “Sunny 16” rule  that is just as valid today as it was back then. On a sunny day, you set the lens aperture at f/16 with a shutter speed that’s the reciprocal of the ISO. (More tomorrow.)

The ability to tweak exposure can make or break your image quality and content. To achieve properly exposed images you can make minor adjustments to the camera’s automatic exposure settings, including any of your camera’s  metering patterns but my favorite camera control for tweaking exposure is exposure compensation. You can use this adjustment to shift exposure to satisfy  creative needs by slightly over or underexposing the image. Who determines what is “properly exposed?” Well, you do.

Tip: You’re going to have to read your camera’s manual to find out how your particular camera accomplishes these various functions. There are as many possibilities as there are camera models so give it a try before the next time you shoot. Don’t blindly accept the camera’s automatic exposure (and then complain about it.) Use exposure compensation to make your photographs more than just another snapshot.


Along with photographer Barry Staver, I’m co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s available from Amazon for $21.88 prices with used copies selling at giveaway prices—around seven bucks, as I write this. The Kindle version, for some reason—NOT Barry or me— is really expensive.