Lightroom Tips

Do you tend to under or over expose your photos?

OK, weird question – I know. But do you find you typically underexpose or overexpose your photos. Here’s why I ask. Believe it or not, It makes a difference when it comes to your Lightroom edits. Years ago, I read a white paper from the late Bruce Fraser. Bruce was a pioneer in many aspects of digital imaging and I encourage you to give this white paper a read (it’s actually a pretty quick read too). Now, knowing that many of you won’t read it and the fact that white papers can get REALLY technical, I’ll paraphrase.

Bruce basically writes that our cameras capture a lot of information in the highlights. Way more than we think. He points out that it’s typically best to try to capture as much of the highlight information as possible without actually blowing out the highlights. Why? Because programs like Lightroom and Camera Raw are so good at bringing back highlight detail, while trying to bring back detail in the shadows and dark areas can often have negative effects on your photos (there’s lots of noise in the shadows).

I read this about 4 or 5 years ago and I instantly became happier with my photography and post processing. It was great to finally bring the Exposure slider toward the left a little instead of always increasing Exposure or Fill Light (I used to underexpose because I was always afraid of coming anywhere close to that histogram touching the right side). When I’m outdoors my Exposure Compensation on my camera is always set to at least +1/3 or +2/3 and I’ll push the exposure as far toward clipping as I can get if I know there’s some shadowy areas in the photo.

Now before you answer the question keep this in mind. First, the question is just for fun. I’m simply curious so please don’t read too much into it and write a long comment telling me all about gamma and compressive nonlinearity (I hate the word gamma by the way). Also, if you’re shooting in the studio a lot this doesn’t apply to you as much. For me, I find I don’t have to modify many settings on my studio portraits. I’d get that done with the lighting in the studio. I’m talking about things like outdoor portraits, sports, travel, and landscape photography where we don’t always have the ability to balance light in all areas of the photo to get the exact proper exposure. So we have to make a choice – underexpose to make sure you capture all of the highlight detail or overexpose to make sure you capture the shadow detail?