Understand Underexposure vs Overexposure in Photography

You may have heard of underexposure and overexposure, but what are they exactly? How do you know if you’re shooting in the right exposure range?

Underexposure and overexposure are two extremes that you can fall into when shooting a photo. Both cause problems for your photos, so it’s important to understand how each one affects your image and why you need to avoid them.

Understanding Exposure

To understand how underexposure works, let’s start with an explanation of exposure.

Exposure is the amount of light that enters your camera sensor. It’s measured in units called stops, which is a technical way of saying 1/2 stop or 1 full stop. If you double the amount of light entering your lens, then you’ve increased the exposure by one stop. If you cut the amount of light in half, then it’s decreased by one stop.

When we talk about underexposing or overexposing an image, we’re talking about how many stops away from “correct” it is: either too dark or too bright compared to what our eyes see naturally in real life.

If you’re a photographer, chances are you’ve experienced overexposure and underexposure at some point. These are two of the most common errors that can happen when shooting photos, but they can also be easily fixed with a few simple adjustments.

What Is Underexposure?

Underexposure happens when your camera is set to capture less light than it should be or when the brightness of your photo is too low. The result? A photo that’s too dark. This can happen when your shutter speed is too slow or your aperture setting is too small.

You can see underexposed photos when all the details in your image appear very dark or black (unless you’re shooting in black & white). The opposite of underexposure is overexposure.

The amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor determines how bright or dark your images will appear on screen or in print. If you expose an image to capture too little light, it will be underexposed; if you capture more light than necessary, it will be overexposed.

What Is Overexposure?

Overexposure happens when your camera captures too much light in one shot. Your photo will look overexposed if you have large areas of white or blown-out areas of color.

How do Underexposure and Overexposure Affect My Photos

Underexposure makes it harder for your camera to capture detail in the shadows and darker areas of your photo. In some cases, your photos may look as if they were taken at night even if they weren’t. You may also struggle to see details like branches against the sky or tree trunks against the ground.

Overexposure can cause bright objects like clouds or sunsets to be washed out, leaving no color at all. It can also cause highlights of bright colors (like blue skies) to turn white or yellowish instead of looking natural.

How to Avoid Underexposure and Overexposure

There are times when a photographer is caught in the wrong light. In such circumstances the result can be very disappointing. The following tips will help you improve your underexposed photographs.

Set the correct shutter speed.

Shutter speed is the amount of time your camera’s shutter stays open and lets light hit the sensor. A slow shutter speed allows more light to fall on the sensor and will create a blurrier image. Fast shutter speeds stop light falling on the sensor, so that you get a sharp image. To set the correct shutter speed, check the manual and experiment with different shutter speeds to find the best one. For example, if you are shooting a moving subject, try setting the shutter speed as fast as it will go. This will give you a sharp picture but you will need to stop and start the camera. If you are shooting a still subject, try a slower shutter speed. If you do this then you will need to use a tripod, or a subject that does not move.

Take the picture in low light conditions.

It can be impossible to get a sharp photo in low light conditions, when there is little or no light. One reason for this is that the shutter speed slows down. As the light level falls, it takes longer for the camera to let light onto the sensor, so you have less time to take the picture. This means that you need to be in a bright environment, with no or little noise. Low light can be caused by a variety of things, including cloud cover and smoke, but it can also happen because it is getting dark. You can try to improve the chances of getting a sharp shot by putting on some dark clothes, making sure you are wearing a hat and gloves, closing curtains and windows, and keeping the room dimly lit. You can also take a flash photo. This will help in low light conditions, but will create glare in the photo, so you must be careful where you point the flash.

Use a neutral white balance.

A white balance setting adjusts the white balance (the color temperature) of the image. A setting of cloudy or sunny will alter the colors in the image and cause problems. If you are unsure of what to do, use automatic white balance, which will adjust automatically. It’s advisable to change the setting to auto, then to a more accurate color temperature, before taking the photo.

Do not be too close to your subject.

As well as being overexposed, if you are too close to your subject, it can look like it is out of focus. You will need to take a few shots and see if you get one that is in focus. To avoid this problem, keep some distance between you and the subject.

Practice makes perfect.

Getting the best results is easier if you practice. Practice will mean you will become familiar with your camera, understand how it works, and will make you more confident. You may want to practice with your friends. This will allow you to work out what settings work best for you and how you can get the best results.