How to Get the Correct Exposure in Camera

One of the most challenging aspects of photography is getting the right exposure.  It’s often an enormous frustration for beginners.  Even advanced photographers may waste time tweaking settings, shoot too many brackets, or miss the moment trying to bracket for slightly uncertain situations.

And beyond “nailing the exposure” trying understanding exposure is enormously beneficial to understanding how to truly master luminosity masks for extracting more detail from RAW files or manually blending exposures.  For example, if you don’t know exactly what detail was captured in your RAW file, how do you know when you should bracket or how much?

In the videos below and the corresponding e-book, you’ll learn how to quickly find the right exposure, as well as whether and how many exposures you need for manual blending or HDR (hint: probably not nearly as many as you think).


Part 1:  Before You Click the Shutter

The meter in your camera is a very useful tool for scenes with normal contrast, but it lacks the precision needed to properly set exposure for high contrast scenes (such as sunsets).  It only gives you a general evaluation of the scene.  The meter doesn’t tell you anything about whether your shadows or highlights are clipped.  Which is why the live histogram is so valuable.  Even if you need to use the meter to deal with fast-moving portraits or sports, experimenting with the live histogram will help you better understand how to best use the meter in your camera.

In this first video, I’ll discuss the various methods of determining exposure and show you how to properly use the live view histogram on your camera to “expose to the right”.



Part 2: Reviewing the RAW on your camera

The live histogram is a great way to get the right exposure or something very close, but it has some limitations.  It is only a preview and probably does not offer an RGB histogram.  You can see greater detail during playback, which is critical to confirming you got the right exposure, need to make changes, or need to bracket your shots.  I’ll show you how to interpret the highlights and shadows during playback, blinking highlights, and RGB histogram in this part 2:



Part 3:  Reviewing the RAW on your computer

As good as the tools are in the camera, there is no substitute for looking at the image in Lightroom or another professional software application on your computer.  Not only can you see more accurate color and detail, but you can quickly adjust a few settings in the RAW to truly check the image.

In this third and final video, I’ll show you why you cannot use the histogram in Lightroom the same way you do in the camera, why overexposure is so problematic, and a very simple way to check exposure in Lightroom.  Additionally, I’ll show you a few simple tests you can use in Photoshop to learn how to better interpret the exposure when you are out in the field, by better understanding the limits of your camera’s ability to recover shadow detail.


Be sure to get the corresponding e-book for a summary of the workflow shown in the videos, as well as more discussion on when and how to bracket for the perfect exposure or manual blending to extend dynamic range.

See licensing for Commercial and Creative Commons (Non-Commercial, Attribution) Licensing terms.
Join my affiliate program.
See my ethics and privacy statement.