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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

Why 'expose to the right' in photography?

Exposing to the right is a term that you might have heard of, but what does it actually mean, and why does it matter? If you really want to make sure your photos have the best visual quality possible, then read on...

If you shoot photos in jpeg format, then what you should try and achieve is a well balanced exposure, minimising any deep shadows and any areas of bright highlights. This is because jpeg format has little scope for correction in post processing, so it's important to try and get the exposure spot on in the camera. If you're shooting Jpeg you should not expose to the right. For an explanation of Jpeg and Raw file formats, see this blog.

Most photographers shoot their photos in Raw format, and if you do too then you will have much more scope to post process your images, and will therefore want to understand how to expose to the right.

You may have read my recent blog explaining what ISO is and how high ISO can create electronic noise and ruin your photos. But it's not just high ISO that can cause electronic noise. Electronic camera sensors work best with plenty of light, and can easily introduce electronic noise in areas of shadow.

So, exposing to the right, is basically ensuring that you give your sensor as much light as possible, to ensure that electronic noise is minimised, especially in areas of shadow. The term 'exposing to the right' is referring to your camera's histogram. This shows the spread of light being captured, from darks / shadows on the left hand side, to bright / highlights on the right hand side.

In the image below:

1. The top histogram shows an underexposed image (the graph is scrunched up on the left hand side, indicating most of the photo is dark or in shadow. Detail is likely to be lost in the shadow regions.

2. The second photo shows an image that has been exposed to the left. Although detail may not be lost in shadow areas, the sensor is not gathering much light and the image may suffer from electronic noise especially in darker areas.

3. The third photo shows what is often described as a 'good' exposure, where the tones in the image are all mainly in the middle, with not much on either the left (very dark) side or right (very bright side). This is the histogram that you would want to see if you were shooting in Jpeg format.

4. The right hand photo is one which has been 'exposed to the right' and is the best option if you are shooting RAW and intend to post process your image. In this option, the exposure is as bright as possible (and where your camera sensor will work the best), without losing any information either in the dark or the bright areas.

5. The bottom photo showed an overexposed image, where the tones are all scrunched up on the right hand side of the histogram. It is very likely that detail will be lost in bright areas such as the sky.

Although an image exposed to the right might look overly bright on the camera screen, it will ensure that shadow details retain as much information as possible and do not contain excessive amounts of electronic noise (because the sensor works best with lots of light). The overall brightness can be changed in post processing, and shadows be brought up to show detail there if required.

So, if you want to ensure the best quality of your photos, learn how to:

- Shoot in Raw

- Use your histogram to expose to the right

- Post process your images

Want to learn more?

If you're a beginner photographer who is local to East Devon and want to learn the art of landscape photography, check out my range of local photography courses. Alternatively why not make a weekend break of it and attend one of my residential photography workshops - either my beginners landscape photography masterclass for those starting out in photography, or my intermediate photography masterclass for those who already understand the basics and want more practical help progressing their landscape photography.

A student learning photography on a Devon beach, with Devon Photographer Gary Holpin Photography

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