Secrets of taking good pictures: Creative exposure

Photography expert Tom Langford gives advice on how to achieve the best balance of light and dark.

December 18, 2012 17:04
2 minute read.

Camera 370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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Occasionally you will come across situations where the difference between the brightest and darkest areas of the picture is too great for the camera to handle. The auto exposure will either loose highlight detail, or shadow detail, or both.

You can take a test shot and look at the preview to see which areas lack detail. Many cameras can display a histogram, which gives a more precise indication of the overall exposure.

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One of the many ways in which you can respond to high–contrast lighting is to turn it to your advantage. By using the “+/-“ feature of the camera (Exposure Compensation) you can adjust the exposure to deliberately lose detail for artistic effect.


Here’s a picture I took in a London bar for a bridal-ware magazine. The elegant and static posture of the model is contrasted with the movement suggested by the strong perspective of the stools.

To enhance the atmosphere I increased the exposure to burn out the highlights so that the distance faded into pure white light. I later also edited the shot to emphasize the high-key atmosphere.

Here is a portrait I took of a well-known figure. The main light came from a single small window and created deep shadows on one side of the face. I decided to take advantage of this and overexposed to burn out the highlights and greatly lighten the shadows. This created a very different style of shot to any other that I had seen of him.

I shot this in a studio and lit the face with a single large softbox. In the previous examples of high-key pictures I over exposed to eliminate highlight detail. However in this low-key shot I underexposed to reduce the shadow detail.

Creative exposure

Raw files can reveal a little more highlight and shadow detail than the usual Jpeg files. I use them when I need to, but I’m happy to expose creatively when the opportunity arises.

Photographs are judged by how effectively they communicate and capture our imagination. Technique is only a means to an end: The proof is in the picture.

Picture Clinic 

If you would like to develop your photography skills, you are welcome to send to me one of your pictures that I may publish with some constructive feedback. Upload your picture here:

Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer: &

Details of his next photography and retouching courses in Israel:

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