Is it better to over/underexpose a photo?


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Nov 18, 2008
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#1
For film, I have heard that its better to overexpose, as it retains more information, details that can be brought out with processing. Is this really true?

How about for digital? I know you can just see the LCD screen and see its under or overexposed but lets say, you only can fire one shot.

Some of you here would say, just hit the right exposure. True but if faced with a contrasting subject, like one with back lighting, would you expose for the foreground or background? Alternatively, for digital, HDR could be done. If this is not available, what else can be done?

Thanks in advance.
 

CamInit

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Nov 3, 2009
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#2
Shoot in raw? Or bracket (if you define one shot as pressing the button once).
Not sure how true but I remember reading somewhere that there's details hidden in the shadows that can be brought out but once something is blown, it's gone for good. So underexposed is lesser of two evils but needs pp to recover the details? Think let the experts comment.
 

Galdor

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#3
Best is to get the exposure right.

When trying to recover an underexposed picture, you will see noise.
When recovering an overexposed picture, you may lose details.
 

#4
Shoot in raw? Or bracket (if you define one shot as pressing the button once).
Not sure how true but I remember reading somewhere that there's details hidden in the shadows that can be brought out but once something is blown, it's gone for good. So underexposed is lesser of two evils but needs pp to recover the details? Think let the experts comment.
Yes that is true, blown highlights are almost impossible to recover in post if you're shooting JPG. But if shoot raw there is more headroom. Although it is easier to open shadows, it will result in more noise in that area.

The way i shoot is not to under or over expose, but to expose for the highlights, i.e. expose as bright as i can without clipping the right side of histogram. If you review your picture and see parts of the image flashing, that means the highlights have been clipped and that part is completely white. Usually, that is unwanted, but at times it may be used as a creative effect.
 

#5
Best is to get the exposure right.

When trying to recover an underexposed picture, you will see noise.
When recovering an overexposed picture, you may lose details.
I agree..
Let me tell you an example.

When you shoot people (portraiture shots), if you overexpose, then when you bring it down, the skin colour will be "lost".
If you shoot the person underexposed, when you want to bring the exposure up, those areas in correct exposure or slightly overexposed will be blown.

But it depends on what subject.
At times, it's ok to have photos -0.3 to -0.7 EV, but beyond that, the photo would look weird. ;)

Hopes this help.
 

Oct 11, 2009
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#7
it's better to overexpose imo. When you're doing PP, if you brighten an underexposed photo, you're going to get noise, which just makes a bad photo.

On the other hand, even if you lose details darkening an overexposed photo, you can still go for that artistic look.
 

zac08

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Feb 21, 2005
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#8
personally... I prefer to underexpose slightly... but it's a personal choice if I have to err on the side...
 

Nov 18, 2008
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#9
Thanks for all the comments.

I did not have time just now to search the forum (my bad) but I found a similar thread asking the same thing. here it is:

http://www.clubsnap.com/forums/showthread.php?t=488842&highlight=underexpose+OR+overexpose

Though the question on the HDR without actually doing the computer editing have not been answered, I kind of found out another way which is to use the Neutral Density Filters. Other than filters and Photoshop, are there any other ways? (cheaper methods?)
 

Jul 29, 2009
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#10
I have heard that it is better to underexpose for a technical reason.

Let's say you have 8 bits of data for the darkness and brightness for each pixel, that would mean 255 steps.

When you go from completely dark to white, the completely dark stop would take up 8 steps, the next stop 16 steps, the next stop 32 steps and so on and so forth.

In other words, a stop for the completely dark have only 8 steps of data while one stop for the completely white has 255 steps of data. Therefore, it is always better to underexpose the picture to get the most data as the highlights contains so much data that it can easily be recovered.

The values are made up and does not tally but the idea is there.

Bear in mind this is a technical reason and as we know, photography is more of an artform. So it's really up to the users and the creative flow of photography.
 

LBL2009

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Jul 9, 2009
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#11
I prefer slightly under to protect the highlight. Once the highlight is clipped at the right, the details are gone.

Shadow protection in PP will bring out the underexposed shadow.

I shoot mostly landscape.

A book I read says "Meter for Zone 5, the middle gray, and check the highlight". I find this very useful for me.
 

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IsenGrim

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Jan 28, 2008
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#12
technically, its better to follow what they say.

but usually i dont. depends on what i want. if i want to portray a happy situation like wedding, bday, etc. i like my pictures to be high key and i dont mind blowing details (not on the face though). fill flash helps.

if i want to portray a silluette. of course i dont mind clipping my shadows. i need all my details in the background.

In short, if you can only have the best of 1world, choose your side depending on what you want.
 

nysheng

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Sep 11, 2006
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#13
i try to get the exposure right..which i can check using the histogram(if i got the name correct). but if no choice..den always opt to underexpose.. u lose details if u overexpose. underexposure can be corrected(slightly) using photoshop if u shoot in raw.
 

giantcanopy

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Feb 11, 2007
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#14
i try to get the exposure right..
i think if the dynamic range of the digital capture for that single shot is such that it can contain the necessary scene latitude, then getting the exposure right is right on.

but . if such a situation is not possible, many of us i believe ( short of doing bracketing and tone map watever ) will go a little underexposed to not overblow the highlight section and bring some details from processing the raw

ryan
 

grantyale

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Oct 4, 2004
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#15
I have heard that it is better to underexpose for a technical reason.

Let's say you have 8 bits of data for the darkness and brightness for each pixel, that would mean 255 steps.

When you go from completely dark to white, the completely dark stop would take up 8 steps, the next stop 16 steps, the next stop 32 steps and so on and so forth.

In other words, a stop for the completely dark have only 8 steps of data while one stop for the completely white has 255 steps of data. Therefore, it is always better to underexpose the picture to get the most data as the highlights contains so much data that it can easily be recovered.

The values are made up and does not tally but the idea is there.

Bear in mind this is a technical reason and as we know, photography is more of an artform. So it's really up to the users and the creative flow of photography.
:nono: There's currently no camera does 8 bit ADC in a linear fashion that I'm aware of. Besides, the reason you quoted is totally against underexposing.

TS - a technically optimal RAW photo should be: exposed as much as possible, yet no important highlight detail is clipped. This is known as "exposing to the right". Doing so maximizes the signal-to-noise ratio.

If shooting JPEG, the photo should be exposed as close to its intended final form as possible.

As for capturing the moment under difficult lighting conditions - just get the picture, and learn retrospectively so that you get the next one better. There's no universal way to follow except one - use that darn green box!
 

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nysheng

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Sep 11, 2006
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#16
i think if the dynamic range of the digital capture for that single shot is such that it can contain the necessary scene latitude, then getting the exposure right is right on.

but . if such a situation is not possible, many of us i believe ( short of doing bracketing and tone map watever ) will go a little underexposed to not overblow the highlight section and bring some details from processing the raw

ryan
of course. under is definitely better than over.
 

forward

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#17
it's better to overexpose imo. When you're doing PP, if you brighten an underexposed photo, you're going to get noise, which just makes a bad photo.

On the other hand, even if you lose details darkening an overexposed photo, you can still go for that artistic look.


Overexposure can give certain subjects a feeling of lightness,
love and even happiness. So depending on what you want
to convey to your viewers.

Here is an example of the obvious message the photographer
wants to convey by deliberately using under exposure technique.

http://www.xitek.com/topic2009/album/album.php?aid=31648

I am sure the photographer is saying: Can China goes green?

Ha, ha.....;):)
 

laposto

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Sep 29, 2009
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#18
For film, I have heard that its better to overexpose, as it retains more information, details that can be brought out with processing. Is this really true?

How about for digital? I know you can just see the LCD screen and see its under or overexposed but lets say, you only can fire one shot.

Some of you here would say, just hit the right exposure. True but if faced with a contrasting subject, like one with back lighting, would you expose for the foreground or background? Alternatively, for digital, HDR could be done. If this is not available, what else can be done?

Thanks in advance.
My comment on this:

1. For film, I have heard that its better to overexpose, as it retains more information, details that can be brought out with processing. Is this really true?

NO that is not true. Hitting the correct exposure is always the correct way.. considering that you know what correct exposure to be applied on a certain scene. for more info you can refer to: http://www.normankoren.com/zonesystem.html


2. How about for digital? I know you can just see the LCD screen and see its under or overexposed but lets say, you only can fire one shot.

The LCD is just a reference. In the early days we dont even have LCDs to look at. You will just sit down and cry after seeing that all your shots are dark afterwards :)

Knowing how your camera works in and out will give you the edge and confidence to shoot w/o having to look at your LCD. I try not to look at my LCD when shooting outside for a good reason. There is so much things happening out there. If you keep on looking and looking on your LCD every now and then there is a big possibility that you will miss a lot of good scenes. Unless of course if you are a studio shooter and you can always re-shoot... but how about if its a photo journalism project or an event project... again you will just sit down and cry for the second time.

Its always best to know your camera in and out and know how it is calibrated and react on different ISO setting depending on what lens you are using. Like for example.. my camera is under exposing a middle gray card on ISO 400 and over exposing a bit on ISO 1600 above.
knowing this information.. will give you an idea how to set you camera on certain situations.

For more info please
visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRtRWUcpk4k


3. Some of you here would say, just hit the right exposure. True but if faced with a contrasting subject, like one with back lighting, would you expose for the foreground or background? Alternatively, for digital, HDR could be done. If this is not available, what else can be done?

This depends on what you want to achieve. For against the light situations it is always good to fill the fire with a flash to balance the lighting of your frame if that is what you want to achieve.. some of them like silhouettes because it gives an intriguing visual impact and drama which is sometimes common for wedding photographers.

For silhouettes tips please visit:
http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-photograph-silhouettes

and lastly... what else can be done? I recommend using CR and PS not some 3rd party HDR software. Set the exposures in CR and just blend them in PS. use a good blending mode that works then you can use the erase tool or recommend to use a mask to create a smooth transition of the two images.. fine tune the transition using mask edge.

I hope that I answered some of your questions.

Cheers! :)
 

Dream Merchant

Moderator
Staff member
Jan 11, 2007
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#19
for film, i have heard that its better to overexpose, as it retains more information, details that can be brought out with processing. Is this really true?

yes and no. Depending in what type of film is used.

how about for digital? I know you can just see the lcd screen and see its under or overexposed but lets say, you only can fire one shot.

google 'expose to the right'

some of you here would say, just hit the right exposure. True but if faced with a contrasting subject, like one with back lighting, would you expose for the foreground or background? Alternatively, for digital, hdr could be done. If this is not available, what else can be done?

secondary light sources.

thanks in advance.
cheers!
 

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