Accurate Exposure

A poorly-exposed image can really hurt the quality of a portrait.  A beautiful subject and perfect pose won’t matter if the exposure is wrong.

translucent scrim portrait

The sunlight shining through the trees made it difficult to get an even exposure. A translucent panel (scrim) was used to produce soft, even lighting. Below is the one of the final images.

Fortunately, in this digital age, many options are available to achieve accurate exposure.  First, let’s start with some techniques that shouldn’t be trusted.  Checking the LCD panel on the back of the camera or “chimping”, should be considered the least reliable.  While it can be a help, the LCD panel just can’t be totally trusted.  Using the auto exposure feature on your camera, while helpful at times, will often give sub-par results.

One of the first ways to help with getting accurate exposure is to learn how to use your camera’s manual settings.   If you are looking to produce consistent results, you will need to learn how to adjust your exposure according to each lighting situation you are in.  It may seem obvious, but simply reading your camera’s instruction manual can give you some great instruction on using your camera’s manual features.

Another feature that many digital cameras have is called the histogram.  This feature will show the exposure range of the scene, also showing over-exposed and under-exposed areas.

Using RAW instead of JPEG as your image file format also help.  The RAW format saves much more image data, and allows more flexibility in adjusting many aspects of the image, including exposure.  While JPEG’s can also be adjusted, there is not as much room for error.  Software that processes RAW files should have come with your camera if it allows you to save in the RAW format.

An exposure meter, while more expensive, is an excellent way to get accurate exposure.


If you are doing studio photography, a combination flash and ambient meter will be beneficial because it can also be used for outdoor ambient light exposure readings.

If the ambient light is too dim, or too bright, you may need to take other measure in order to get a correct exposure.  For dim light outdoors, you may need to use a reflector to add more light, or possibly use an external flash or strobe to help bring in enough light for an accurate exposure.

Do your best to get an accurate exposure at the time the image is created, in order to save time in image editing later on.