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Common Photography Problems: Exposure

Intuitively, most of us can tell when a picture has gone terribly wrong; there are red eyes, people are washed out, or the subject of the photo can hardly be seen. We at Oahu Photography Tours are passionate about assisting photographers of all skill levels to take quality pictures—that’s why we give Hawaii photography tours! There are some common problems that we see many of our guests making that they need to overcome to get the pictures that they have always wanted. Today, we are going to talk about one of those issues that we commonly see relating to a photo’s exposure.

What is Exposure?

Exposure has to do with the amount of light that is allowed to enter the camera to create the picture: it is the amount of light per unit of area that reaches the film or image sensor that creates the picture. Exposure is generally affected by the amount of time that light is allowed to enter the camera. However, this isn’t the only thing that affects it. There are a few elements that cause your picture to be over or under exposed:

  • Shutter speed
  • Lens aperture
  • Scene luminance

Before we go any farther, let us define the terms overexposure and underexposure. We will not get into the technical or scientific means of defining these terms, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.


When a photograph is suffering from the effects of overexposure, it will often appear washed out or the highlights of a picture will appear all white, causing the photo to lose details in the lighter parts of the photograph. Terms that are often used to describe these photos are “blow-out highlights” or “clipped whites.”

Underexposed/ Underexposure

An underexposed photo, on the other hand, is one that has lost all detail in the shadow or dark parts of the image. Pictures that are underexposed will often appear muddy or black. Terms that are often associated with underexposure is “clipped blacks” and “crushed blacks.”

Common Exposure Problems

Detail Highlights

Often the details of photographic highlights can be lost due to overexposure. To avoid losing these details, you can expose for these highlights, meaning you can shoot in the raw and use the spot metering in the highlighted area. The medium and dark tones of your image may appear dark. However, it is easier to recover the details lost during the editing process then those lost to overexposure.

Capturing a Silhouette

Often, many amateur photographers think that pointing their camera at the brightest thing in the sky will get them the picture they want of the silhouetted object against a sunsetting sky. However, there is more to it than that. When wanting to achieve this, you must keep aperture in mind. Shoot in aperture-priority around f/11 and metering set to evaluate. The amount of exposure you want will depend on the size of the object. A smaller object calls for overexposure, and a large object that takes up a large part of the frame may require some underexposure.

Want to take pictures that truly capture the image that you have in mind? Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog series and be sure to book a Hawaii photography tour with Oahu Photography Tours!