Hate the typical blown out rock shot? Me too. When the lighting is difficult and the exposure is hard to pin down, I find it helpful to shoot RAW and err on the dark side. (And no, I’m not talking about the Force.)

Don’t worry if you’re photos are slightly underexposed. It’s better to push process a slightly underexposed RAW file than to try and recover blown highlights from an overexposed shot. If your subject has light skin, it’s going to be one of the first areas of the photo to lose detail to blown highlights. Unless you like all your subjects “high key,” check your histogram periodically to make sure you’re preserving the maximum amount of data.

  1. chrisowyoung

    Hi Wilson. The title of this post is actually sort of misleading in hindsight. I'm not actually recommending that people serious underexpose their shots only to pull them back up in post, this as Todd suggest will create lots of nasty shadow noise.

    What I do recommend in tricky lighting situations is erring on the side of underexposure to ensure that you don't totally blow out the subject. I assuming I'm shooting at a reasonable ISO for my camera (1600-2000 on my D3) I don't mind giving myself a buffer of underexposure when the lighting is firing in strong bursts. Basically, I’m betting that when the lighting flares and I start shooting, the underexposure I’ve dialed in will help me get a properly exposed shot.

    If the lighting is fairly consistent, you should do as Todd suggests and “expose to the right” in order to minimize noise. Do keep in mind that any highlights that are blown by more than about 3/4 of a stop are gone for good.

  2. wilson333

    Funny. Just read the opposite on Todd's site. But that was in regards to noise rather than exposure. He said to err on the side of 1/3 over and bring back in post. The old example of trading one for another I guess.