Six Ways to Better Exposure

Most exposure problems are caused by poor lighting. There are things you can do as a photographer to help capture crisper, well lit pictures than you were previously able to get. Whether you are using a simple point and shoot camera or an expensive dSLR you will benefit by learning these lighting and exposure tips which will improve your pictures. Each of these tips can apply to any type of camera, but they are most helpful for those with smaller point and shoot cameras.

Don't Use a Flash Indoors

If at all possible, you need to have enough light in the room to take a picture without the flash. Many of the problems with indoor photography can be solved by eliminating a harsh flash. They produce extreme shadows, red eye and look completely unnatural.

Obviously it is not always possible to eliminate your flash. When you can't, then there are some things you can do to soften the light. Some cameras have a full and partial flash setting. If available, try shooting with the lower flash strength. Diffusing the light by placing tissue paper in front of the flash can help. If you have a flash that can tilt upwards and bounce the light off the ceiling, then use that feature. Otherwise, you can place a small white card at approximately 45 degrees in front of your flash to reflect the light to the ceiling. Just be aware that this will probably alter the exposure settings on your camera and the pictures may turn out too dark.

Use a Flash Outside

While we often think of the flash as something that should be used inside in the dark, there is no reason you can't use the flash outside in the sun. Using the flash outside can help break up harsh shadows from your subject's faces. This is called fill flash.

You can use a fill flash for just about any subject, but it is most helpful on photographs of people. The fill flash will brighten your subject's eyes because the shadow of the overhead sun tends to darken the face under the bridge of the forehead. If you have strong sunlight from the side you may end up with half of the face covered in a shadow from the nose. A fill flash will soften the shadow and give you a more pleasing exposure.

Reduce the Red-Eye Effect

Red-eye effect comes from light shining directly into the the eyes of the subjects and reflecting back into the camera lens. If the light source (the flash) is close to the lens of the camera, then there is a greater risk of red eye. This is a problem on virtually all compact cameras. Cameras with an off-set flash don't suffer from this problem.

There are different ways that cameras try to reduce red eye. They are essentially trying to get the subjects' pupils to close which will lessen the chance of a large amount of light reflecting back into the camera lens. To do this, the camera will either shoot a short burst of flashes before the main picture is taken, or it will shoot two normal bursts with the second one exposing the sensor. Neither of these work very well since your subjects see the first flash or flashes and think the picture is over. In the half second between the flashes they lose their smiles.

Having your subjects look slightly to one side of the camera can help eliminate the red-eye effect. Bouncing the flash off the ceiling completely eliminates the problem. Increasing the light in the room so you don't need a flash takes care of the issue. If you can't eliminate the flash, then have at least enough light that the subject's pupils are already constricted which lessens the risk of red eye.

Lock in Exposure

When taking a picture of a landscape scene it is sometimes hard to get the exposure on the mountain to be proper without the brightness of the sky causing the camera to shorten the exposure time. If your camera has the ability to manually select an over/under exposure setting, then you want to adjust for a slightly overexposed picture so that the mountain has more details in the final photo. However, most compact cameras either don't have that feature or the feature is hard to access.

Here is a way to trick the camera into over or under exposing a picture for you. Point your camera to the mountain with as little sky in the frame as possible. Press the shutter-release button half way down. Most of the time this will lock in the focus and exposure. Now move your camera so that you have the right composition for your photograph. Press the shutter release button the rest of the way to take the picture.

You can do the same thing when you are interested in the clouds in the sky and not the details of the mountain by locking in your exposure on the sky first and then composing the shot by bringing in the mountain. This causes the camera to underexpose the image.

Use this trick any time your subject is either too dark or too light. This does not always work and it won't always compensate enough. But it is worth trying to get a more properly exposed photograph. This usually works better on point and shoot cameras than on full dSLR cameras.

Play With Shadows

When shooting outdoors, use shadows to your advantage. You may be shooting late in the morning, or early in the afternoon. These are two times that the light from the sun is harsh. You can use shadows to help soften the light of the sun.

Use shadows to cast an interesting pattern over the subject. By letting the shadows of tree leaves partially cover someone's face, you create atmosphere. This does not work well with groups. Having part of the group under a shadow and part of the group in full sunlight makes it impossible to get a good exposure to show off the faces of your subjects.

Don't Fight the Sun

You can't move the sun, but you can move your subjects or your camera. Have the sun behind you (as the photographer) as much as possible. If the sun is behind your subjects your exposures will be very underexposed and you will only get silhouettes. You will lose all details in their faces.

With the sun behind you, you will fill the subjects faces with plenty of light and the camera will expose the image in a much more pleasurable way. This can, of course, cause your subjects to squint. Find an angle that keeps the sun out of their eyes, but does not cast harsh shadows.

Sunrise and sunset provide the two most pleasing natural light opportunities. When possible, take advantage of the early morning or late afternoon sun.

Getting proper exposure on your pictures can be difficult at times, but not impossible. Leaning these simple tips can help you get better results. If you are using a dSLR camera, then placing your camera in aperture priority mode gives you more ability to control the final outcome of the exposure on an image.