What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?

Started Oct 19, 2012 | Discussions
Spiranthes
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What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
Oct 19, 2012

I bracket my photos so that I can get that perfectly exposed shot. However, I often end up with one photo that's a little overexposed and another that's a little underexposed. Which of the two should I keep?

I know that I could keep both of them and merge them into one high definition photo. However, if I had to keep just one, which one should I keep?

My tendency is to keep the one that is slightly underexposed since the colors are more saturated and they appear to stand up better to post-shooting processing (Photoshop!). But is that really the case or am I deluding myself?

I'd appreciate the thoughts of photographers with more experience.

Thanks!

jbf
jbf
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Re: What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
In reply to Spiranthes, Oct 19, 2012

Spiranthes wrote:

I bracket my photos so that I can get that perfectly exposed shot. However, I often end up with one photo that's a little overexposed and another that's a little underexposed. Which of the two should I keep?

I know that I could keep both of them and merge them into one high definition photo. However, if I had to keep just one, which one should I keep?

My tendency is to keep the one that is slightly underexposed since the colors are more saturated and they appear to stand up better to post-shooting processing (Photoshop!). But is that really the case or am I deluding myself?

I'd appreciate the thoughts of photographers with more experience.

Thanks!

Given the scenario where you're ruling out combining them, most of the time I would keep the underexposed shot.  Of course it depends on the scene and what you're going for with the shot, but I find it's easier to pull details out of the shadows than it is to pull details out of overexposed highlights.  Also, for most scenes the viewer will not be as distracted by dark areas as they would be by blown out bright spots.  When you bump up the exposure in post processing you get more noise, but that can be dealt with to some degree as well.

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Deleted1929
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Re: What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
In reply to Spiranthes, Oct 19, 2012

You should expose for the subject that's important, first and foremost.

If you have room to play with when allowing for the subject ( always the priority ) then you can prioritize over-exposing a little to gain shadow detail or under-exposing a little to gain highlights.

What you should ​never​ do is do something "always".

First the subject, then the rest.  Each shot has it's own priorities and you should not lock yourself into a mental framework of one being better that the other.  By doing something "always" you default to one or the other, rather than making a decision based on the specific shot.

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StephenG

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BIJ001
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Re: What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
In reply to Spiranthes, Oct 19, 2012

We all know this of course:

Expose (to the) Right @ Luminous Landscape

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Iván József Balázs
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HEA-45
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Re: What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
In reply to Spiranthes, Oct 19, 2012

Since I like to see my best shots printed, I amost always opt for an image that is slightly overexposed. Why? Because I found that a printed photograph appears darker than the same image on the computer monitor...even with correct monitor calibration and settings.

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Deleted1929
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Re: What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
In reply to BIJ001, Oct 19, 2012

Much discussed in other posts, but this really is just one exposure method, rather than, as some fanatics claim, the solution to every exposure problem.

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StephenG

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John Deerfield
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It depends
In reply to Spiranthes, Oct 19, 2012

And that is the best answer anyone can truly give. However, as a very, very basic rule, when shooting JPEG, I prefer a file a file that is slightly underexposed (in truth I prefer a file that is properly exposed ). When shooting Raw, I prefer a file that is slightly over exposed. With a JPEG, decreasing the exposure slider in virtually any application "deadens" the file. Whereas increasing the exposure slider has the needed effect. With a Raw file, I can decrease the exposure slider and have the effect I want (and then of course there is the whole ETTR thing). As ONE example: bracket a headshot, 0, +1, -1, in Raw + JPEG. With the overexposed JPEG, bring down the exposure and see what happens. With the overexposed Raw file, bring down the exposure and see what happens. Conversely,increase the exposure with the underexposed JPEG and see what happens. You could increase the exposure with the underexposed Raw, but at that point it doesn't matter as the JPEG has illustrated my point.

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Limburger
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Re: What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
In reply to HEA-45, Oct 19, 2012

HEA-45 wrote:

Since I like to see my best shots printed, I amost always opt for an image that isslightlyoverexposed. Why? Because I found that a printed photograph appears darker than the same image on the computer monitor...even with correct monitor calibration and settings.

A screen is backlit a print isn't.

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fireplace33
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Re: What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
In reply to jbf, Oct 19, 2012

I agree, if some part is overexposed it is more or less lost, but you can usually pump up the shadows in pp. There are limits to this of course.

If you expose only for the subject then it's possible the sky and clouds will be completely blown and the shot could look less than good. So it depends on what you want.

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mgd43
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Re: It depends
In reply to John Deerfield, Oct 20, 2012

Some people prefer high key (slightly overexposed) others prefer low key (slightly underexposed). There's no right or wrong. It's a matter of taste.

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graybalanced
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Re: What's Better? A little overexposed or a little underexposed?
In reply to Spiranthes, Oct 20, 2012

Spiranthes wrote:

My tendency is to keep the one that is slightly underexposed since the colors are more saturated and they appear to stand up better to post-shooting processing (Photoshop!). But is that really the case or am I deluding myself?

The Expose to the Right methodology referred to above prefers slight overexposure in that when you raise shadows in post, you bring up noise and potentially make it more visible. (Although this is less of a problem with the latest cameras and their dynamic range.) This means underexposed images technically hold up less well to post processing. When you lower an overexposed image in post, you push noise down, into the less visible darkness. According to ETTR, as long as you are not blowing out anything, it is not "overexposed."

Also, people panic too soon upon seeing the blinkies. Most camera back LCDs are showing the image as if it was an sRGB or Adobe RGB JPEG preview. In the actual raw file, areas just poking into the blinkies are probably not clipping at all in the full-range raw file itself.

Whether any of this seems useful to your work is up to you, but for those reasons I prefer a lighter (though not overexposed/clipped) exposure to a darker one.

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John Deerfield
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Re: It depends
In reply to mgd43, Oct 20, 2012

mgd43 wrote:

Some people prefer high key (slightly overexposed) others prefer low key (slightly underexposed). There's no right or wrong. It's a matter of taste.

This has nothing to do with my advice, which remains the same. Additionally, high key and low key aren't  by definition over or underexposed. It's the photographers vision to over or under expose an image, usually using middle gray as the reference. A high key image simply has the majority of it's values above middle gray whereas a low key image has most if the values below middle gray, both regardless of whether you are under exposing or overexposing.

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