There is no such thing as a “correct” exposure – Your camera’s wrong and it’s all subjective

Nov 23, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

There is no such thing as a “correct” exposure – Your camera’s wrong and it’s all subjective

Nov 23, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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There’s always a lot of talk about “getting it right in-camera”, often by people who shot on film and didn’t realise how much the lab compensated for their shortcomings when they dropped their film off to be processed at their local high street place. They go on about various “rules” and “correct” ways of doing things and one of the big ones is exposure. And, well, a lot of the time even exposure can be quite a subjective thing.

In this video, James Popsys talks about exposure after having some of his images criticised for being overexposed. And, well, yes, he does admit that they are a tad brighter than he’d planned, but he still maintains that there’s no such thing as a “correct” exposure and I can completely see his argument.

It’s an interesting concept and something I’ve thought about often over the years as my meter (whether it be the one in my camera or the Sekonic I hold in my hand) has told me that a scene should be a certain reading for a “correct” exposure, but it doesn’t always give me what I want. Particularly in darker natural environments where I like to shoot. The scene is supposed to be dark, I want it to be dark and I’ll often underexpose the environment (according to the meter) to capture that darkness and bring out my subject exactly where I need them to be to contrast with that.

James applies the same sorts of principles to landscape photography, as he describes in the video. Some scenes he’ll want to intentionally overexpose to give that impression of a warmer, sunnier time (I mean, it’s dark by 4pm in the UK this time of year). And sometimes he’ll intentionally underexpose to give a landscape a more moody and foreboding presence. Either way, he’s not shooting the exposure that his camera tells him is “correct”.

I do agree with James in this instance. James argues, and I’m 100% behind him on this, that the “correct” exposure is the one that gives you the result you want, regardless of what the camera’s meter says. If you create the shot you set out to achieve, then it’s the correct exposure. It’s the meter that’s wrong. After all, it can’t see inside your head and know how you want to shoot the scene and adjust itself accordingly. Can it?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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