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How to take well-exposed photos every time. Part two: manage your exposure

The post Take well-exposed photos every time. Part two: Managing your exposure first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Part two – Manage your exposure

This is the second article in a series of three that discusses how well-exposed photos can be taken. The first article discusses subject choice, some common misconceptions about exposure and the intention of the photographer.

How to take well-exposed photos & every time Thai dancer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

After you have identified your topic, managing your exposure is the most important thing. These things will affect how your photo is exposed:

  • Point of view
  • Lens choice
  • timing
  • Read the light
  • Exposure settings

You will notice that I ' Exposure settings ' placed at the bottom of this list. This is because this is the most obvious aspect when managing your exposure. I want you to consider how the other items in the list influence your exposure settings choices.

Point of view

What you take your photo from can significantly affect your exposure. Is the light behind you? Behind your subject? On the one hand?

By changing your position, you can manage what you see in the background and how this affects the amount of light that enters your lens.

How to always take well-exposed photos & giant soap bubbles every time

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

In this photo, the reflection of the water forms a large part of the background. If I had not been careful with my exposure, my subject might have been underexposed. On this photo I compensated for the bright background by adding some fill flash.

How to always take well-exposed photos & giant soap bubbles every time

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

If I changed my position so that I no longer took it in the background, I could properly illuminate my subject. The reflected light from the water surface no longer affected my exposure. In this photo I didn't have to use my flash because there was no strong background lighting to compensate for this.

Lens choice

Composition is partly determined by your lens choice. The use of a telephoto lens will contain less background. By doing this, you can more easily limit light sources and bright parts of your composition. With a wider lens, there is a greater chance that there will be more air or other clear areas that may affect your exposure.

How to take well-exposed photos every time

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

If I had used a wider lens for my photograph of these rice fields, I would have included the setting sun in my composition. This would certainly have a strong influence on my exposure and the entire appearance of my photo.

I could have completely eliminated the effect of the sun by using a lens focal length that was slightly longer. I could have tilted my camera somewhat, but the foreground was unattractive and I love the sun's rays.


The time you choose to take your photo can also affect your exposure. It can mean waiting for the sun to stand in a different place in the sky for a landscape photo. Or maybe you should calculate when to press your shutter button to avoid bright headlights from a passing car. This was the case when I photographed the image below.

How to take well-exposed photos every time on the Iron Bridge

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

The timing for photos ' s of blue hour is especially important. You have to wait until the ambient light is in balance with another light source that you have in your frame. This amount of time will vary depending on your proximity to the equator.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, we have about ten minutes each evening to catch a rich blue sky with the electric lights in the composition.

How to always take well-exposed photos every time in Chiang Mai Iron Bridge

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Read the light

To set your exposure, you must use an exposure meter or have your camera make the calculations and settings for you.

It is rarely best to let this choice go all the way to your camera because your camera does not know what you are photographing. Your photos may not have any creativity.

Your camera has an amazing artificial intelligence built in, but it cannot see as you see and distinguish what your main subject is. By leaving your camera settings so that the meter is set to take an average reading and is in any automatic or semi-automatic mode, your camera is in control. You can use exposure compensation or set your camera manually to take control of your exposure.

One of the easiest ways to read the light is to use live view and look at your monitor. Some cameras do not have this capability, so you must consult your manual and perform some tests to find out if you can use this method.

Checking your exposure with live view works when your camera is set to manual mode. It is easy to view the light values ​​on your monitor while changing your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The use of this method in combination with your histogram is recommended so that you can check if a clipping is taking place.

Use your exposure meter in such a way that a read-out from the entire image is necessary and then calculate that an average exposure is OK if the light and tone are the same.

If there is a certain amount of contrast in the scene, it is good to immediately read a spot meter of your subject. This gives you the specific information about the light that reflects the most important part of your composition.

How to take well-opened photos every time you open Windows

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

For this photo I took a spot meter from the Buddhist nun, because I wanted to show her well. If I had left my meter in averaging mode, the bright outside light and the dark interior would have been included in the calculations. This would probably indicate a setting that would have made my main subject underexposed.

Exposure settings

After you have taken your exposure measurement and determined how the light affects your composition, you must set your exposure.

You can decide that your subject is properly exposed by setting your aperture, shutter speed and ISO so that the meter indicates zero. You may prefer to have the overexposed or underexposed read, depending on the tonal value of your subject and your creative expression.

If your subject is very dark or very light, you can adjust your exposure settings to compensate for this. When you perform a spot meter measurement, the camera is calibrated to see the thing as medium gray. This means that a black or white subject will appear gray in your photo if your meter indicates zero.

You must choose the tone that you want your main subject to be. Do you want a clearly highlighted topic? Will it look better if it appears brighter than it really is? Do you want a silhouette?

For this photo of pink orchid flowers I chose to overexposure the measurement my spot meter gave me. I did this to produce a softer feel in the image.

How to take well-exposed photos & pink flowers every time

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

If I had taken the photo to accurately document the flower and the color, I would not have overexposed it. My intention was not to make a technically accurate representation of the flower.

If technical accuracy is what I wanted, I would have changed my position to avoid background lighting. I would have adjusted my exposure in such a way that the color and tone were correctly reflected in how the flower looked in my eyes.

Try it and see for yourself

Find a white or black subject for photography. Perform a spot meter and adjust your exposure so that the meter is at zero. Take a picture.

Now, for a black subject, change your setting so that the spot metering indicates that it is two stops underexposed. For a white subject, make your settings so that these two stops are overexposed.

Which photo is the most attractive? The ' correct ' exposed photo or the under or over exposed photo?

How do you always take well-exposed photos every time your Lady laughs?

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Experimenting is always good when lighting and subject matter are a challenge. If you are not 100% sure, you have a perfect exposure (I never am), take a series of photos whenever you can.

Tweak your aperture and / or shutter speed settings between each exposure. Do not make huge shifts in these settings, but just enough so that you have a few options to look at when it comes to post-processing.

I would like you to leave your comments below and let me know if this article has helped you better understand the exposure.

The following article in this series covers post-processing techniques that will improve your exposure choices.

The post Take well-exposed photos every time. Part two: Managing your exposure first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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