Under-Expose the Sky for a Better Photograph

#14 in the Judging a Photograph Series

Under-expose the sky for a better photograph on Falcondale Life blog. Photography tips for high contrast conditions. How to get round the problem of shooting in very bright conditions and why it matters how your digital camera records light in each pixel.

In spring it’s not unusual to get quick changes in weather blowing in across the sky. I love good clouds in an image. You might dream of days with clear blue skies and strong sun but this doesn’t make interesting photographs. In the day time the sky is always going to be a very bright part of a photograph so to expose it well, you have to make a decision. Is it going to be a photo mainly of the sky, or is it going to be a photo of something else with a bit of sky in it?

Why Under-Expose?

Let’s say I have decided I want to record a beautiful, cloudy but very bright sky in the landscape. If the sun is out then I have the challenge of high contrast. The brightest part of the photo will be an awful lot brighter than the darker part of the photo. There are limits to what a camera can record and in very high contrast conditions there will be too much pure black or pure white in the photo.

When I took this photo of the Solway Firth I liked the shape of the coastline and the light on the water. Even more than that I liked the clouds and the quick changing sky. The sun was right ahead of me behind the clouds. The bright bits were so incredibly bright! Getting the right exposure is very difficult on a day like this. It’s very easy to get everything washed out with too much light.

To get round this, I under-expose the photo, knowing that I can fix it when editing. The before and after versions of the photo are both here to see.

Under-expose the sky for a better photography on Falcondale Life blog. Photography tips for high contrast conditions. How to get round the problem of shooting in very bright conditions and why it matters how your digital camera records light in each pixel.

Under-expose the sky for a better photography on Falcondale Life blog. Photography tips for high contrast conditions. How to get round the problem of shooting in very bright conditions and why it matters how your digital camera records light in each pixel.

In the final version I’ve kept the high contrast effect and the little bit of distant land is almost black which I don’t mind.

Brace yourself, here comes the science bit!

Digital photos can often be rescued from a bit of under-exposure. Once a portion of a digital image is over-exposed, the pixels register pure white (aka “blown out”). There is no coming back from that. The data in the pixel only has white information in it; it’s blown the data limit and is saturated. However in an under-exposed pixel, there is better data. If a pixel has been exposed at all (as it will have done, if you released the shutter) then it’s unlikely to still be true black. You can perhaps draw this information out in an editing programme. This is particularly true if you have shot RAW rather than JPEG because they store much more data.

Put simply

In a nutshell – you can bring down the brightness in only some darker parts of an over-exposed picture, BUT you can turn up the brightness in nearly ALL of an under-exposed picture. So if in doubt, under-expose a little.

Lastly, a tip

Do actually adjust the brightness in your photos before publishing or printing. Don’t be afraid to try this if you think it needs it. Every editing app has brightness adjustment.

Did you know this information about how under and over-exposure work before? Or is it news to you? Let me know in the comments.

Read the previous blog in the Judging a Photograph series by clicking here.

Read the Judging a Photograph series from the start by clicking here.

Photalife

9 Comments

  1. 24th April 2017 / 8:13 pm

    Really interesting advice with a beautifully illustrated example. I’ll always remember this now! #MySundayPhoto

  2. 23rd April 2017 / 10:33 pm

    I think I do this in editing without realising the technical bit behind what I was doing!

    • 24th April 2017 / 4:42 pm

      I love to encourage people to tweak their photos. You are already reaping the benefits 🙂

  3. 23rd April 2017 / 4:54 pm

    Great advice and one I often adopt

    Mollyx

  4. 23rd April 2017 / 4:08 pm

    I prefer to use bracketed shots with bright skies

    Thank you for linking up

    • 24th April 2017 / 4:38 pm

      Of course that is a perfect way of avoiding blow-out. So many people I talk to can’t do this or don’t understand why it would help. You’re way ahead, though.

  5. 23rd April 2017 / 2:58 pm

    Amazing photo! I would really want to learn how to edit something like this as I always take photos of the beach in the same condition. #mysundayphoto

    • 24th April 2017 / 4:36 pm

      Thank-you. Start with the brightness adjustment and see how it looks!

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