By Robert Correll

Exposure describes whether the photo has enough light. Photos can be underexposed, overexposed, or properly exposed. The figure shows an example of each. As a photographer, your goal should be to take properly exposed photos unless the artistic merits of taking the path less traveled call for you to do so.

  • Underexposed: Unacceptably dark photos are underexposed. For whatever reason, too little light hit the image sensor to make a good photo.
  • Properly exposed: When everything comes together and you’re able to capture just the right amount of light and produce a good photo, it’s been properly exposed.
  • Overexposed: Photos that have been overexposed are too bright.

Overexposed photos often have clipped or blown highlights. When this happens, the pixel turns pure white. There are no details at all. Likewise, underexposed photos often have clipped shadows. These are dark areas that turn black and lose all detail.

slrphoto-exposure
These photos illustrate the broad range of possible exposures.

The amount of light that can cause a photo to be under- or overexposed can be a little or a lot. It depends on the scene and camera. If the exposure is off by a relatively small margin, you may be able to rectify the situation using photo-editing software. If the amount is great enough, the photo is truly ruined.

Photos can be referred to as exposures. This usage is diminishing as digital cameras have taken over and the vast majority of people no longer use film. Digital camera users typically refer to exposures as shots, photos, images, or even files.