Under exposure – get the shot, gain atmosphere

Under exposure can help you to get the shot and to build atmosphere

Dialling down the exposure serves two purposes. Under exposure can add atmosphere. It can also make it easier to capture an image in difficult light.
[Click image to view large].

Auto-capture is not the only way.

There are more ways to capture an image than to just push the shutter button in auto mode. Under exposure is the key. Learning about exposure and the exposure triangle is time well spent. Why you would learn them is something that beginners often do not realise. Well, you can gain two things. You can add a great deal of atmosphere to an image through under exposure. You can also get an image in difficult light.

Under exposure in difficult light

The image above was taken in quite difficult light. The studio was lit to capture the model. But I wanted to capture the scene including the lights. The bright contrasts from the lights and the sharpness of the lighting on the model made for awkward, contrasting conditions. Raising the ISO would of course make the shot possible. However, working with under exposure is more effective. It made the strong light sources appear less bright, leaving them as visible features of the image. At the same time they did not create out of place highlights. One way to even out the light in these conditions is to bring the contrasts down. Under exposure achieves that.

Adding atmosphere

My image gains a little atmosphere by virtue of its under exposure. Some images with difficult light sources gain a lot more. Dance floors, discos, parties and many other multiple light venues can benefit. That is especially true if the background light is bright. Bringing the apparent ambient light levels down by under exposure will even out the contrasts. It will also introduce the more atmospheric feel of a darker room.

Two ways to achieve under exposure

Exploring the wonderful world of the “exposure triangle”? One way to achieve under exposure is simple. First you balance your exposure using the full manual setting. Look through your viewfinder. Select your settings so the upright needle balances in the middle of the viewfinder. Then simply dial down the exposure setting. Use the time value or aperture setting to reduce the total light entering the camera. A good guide is to work with under exposure of one or two stops. That will bring bright lights down to manageable levels. Try it, especially in difficult light conditions.

The other way to achieve this under exposure is to use your exposure compensation dial. This is for those readers who are using the creative program settings, like ‘A’ (aperture setting), or Tv (time value or shutter speed setting). You will find the precise instructions for how to do this in the instruction manual for your camera. The basics are as follows…

  1. Set your camera to the setting of choice.
  2. Point the camera at your subject.
  3. The camera will make a judgement about the correct exposure balance.

At this point you will find that a picture will probably over expose bright lights in the image. So this is where you implement the under exposure.

  1. Set your “exposure compensation dial” to create an under exposure of one or two stops.

It really is as simple as that. You may have to check out what the exposure compensation dial is. However, it is worth the small effort involved. Your images will be affected by your creative decision. You will have truly made an image in your intended style. You will not have just taken a picture.

Playing with under exposure

Yes, like most things, if you have a play you will discover the richness of the tools you have. The camera is a wonderfully flexible tool. Under exposure, and indeed over exposure, are great fun. If you practice and play you will gain a lot. If you just forget the technique you will lose the benefit. So have a go and at least practice enough so you will remember it for the future.

Comments, additions, amendments or ideas on this article? Contact Us
or why not leave a comment at the bottom of the page…

Like this article? Don’t miss the next — sign up for tips by email.

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Comments are closed.