Getting a correct exposure is one of the fundamental goals of any photographer, but anyone who has been behind the lens will tell you that there are all sorts of obstacles that can prevent you from getting the shot you wanted.
One of the most common problems with exposure is overblown highlights. If your images are too often blown out, we’ve highlighted the four most common reasons and what you can do to prevent it
01 Shooting in strong daylight
When you shoot a landscape at midday through the early afternoon the sun is directly overhead and the light is very strong, creating harsh glare on your subjects.
If you have to shoot at this time of day, a tried and tested way of ensuring you get the best colours and even exposures is to simply shoot your scene with your back to the sun.
However, we recognise this isn’t always an option. So if this is the case…
02 Use exposure compensation
Your camera is a very intelligent piece of technology, but like a puppy it needs your guidance. Often your camera will get confused in certain lighting conditions, or will simply struggle to achieve a balanced exposure in mixed lighting, and it will produce images that are lighter or darker than you’d like them to be.
In these instances we suggest you switch your camera to its Aperture Priority mode and use your exposure compensation (the +/- button usually on the back of your camera) to make adjustments to the brightness of your images.
You can adjustment the exposure compensation in subtle increments. Take a shot at each ’stop’ and see how it looks in playback mode. In most cases, a little exposure compensation, whether over or under, will help you get the look you’re after.
03 You didn’t use an ND Grad filter
Ask any landscape photographer of any level of experience, and she’ll tell you that the biggest challenge is that a standard exposure will either yield a a striking sky with rich blues and dramatic clouds, yet an overly dark foreground, or a foreground full of detail and a bright, overblown sky with no colour or detail whatsoever.
Admit it, we’ve all taken an image or five like that. By using a Neutral Density Gradient (ND grad) filter when you shoot a landscape, you can achieve an even exposure much more easily.
An ND grad filter mounts to the end of your lens and is dark along the upper half in order to restrict light coming in to your camera. When mounted on to your lens you can then expose for the foreground, which allows you to capture all of that beautiful colour and detail while still retaining colour and texture in the sky.
04 You didn’t use your histogram
Your camera’s histogram feature is an exposure graph that shows you in a visual form whether you have an even exposure or whether you’re blowing out your highlights or underexposing with too much shadow area.
We have a popular post on histograms here, which explains how they work.
But as a general rule, when you are reviewing your images on your camera’s LCD screen it’s good to get in the habit of checking your histogram as well to see if your images are too bright or dark.
An image that is underexposed will show your exposure graph bunched up on the left of the histogram.
An image that is overexposed will show your exposure graph stacked on the right of the histogram.
And a correctly exposed image will show an even spread of shadows, midtones
and highlights across the histogram.