The other day, someone asked a question that I know pretty much everyone thinks when they are first starting out (myself included!) which was:
“Why do I need to worry about getting the exposure right in camera, when I can fix it in Lightroom / Photoshop / Post Processing?"
Such a great question! And it's true, with digital photography, we are very lucky to be able to fix a vast amount of mistakes in editing software, and exposure is definitley one of them.
But there are few reasons why you will want to at least attempt to get exposure as close as possible to being correct in camera, and that my friends, is what we are going to go over today!
#1 - You may introduce "clipping"
If you over expose, in other words, where you let too much light into the camera, then there is every chance that you will introduce clipping - in other words, overexpose to the point where detail is lost in your image.
Although we can do a small amount of highlight recovery in processing, you cannot recover what was not captured in camera. If you over expose to the point where you "clip" the highlights, then it is is pretty much impossible to bring that detail back. This is when you end up with white "blobs" on your image - areas that are just light, and no detail.
So, it's really important to ensure when you are shooting that you don't clip the highlights. You can do this really easily by turning on your highlight warnings in camera, more commonly referred to as the "blinkies".
When you have these turned on, then you will see any parts of your image that are over-exposed flash black at you - letting you know that you need to dial down the exposure.
#2 - You may introduce noise
At the other end of the scale, you may under-expose, which is when you don't let as much light into the camera as needed, and your image is too dark.
Once again, it's perfectly possible to bring up the exposure in processing, but when you do, you will probably introduce noise.
Noise is that grainy speckle stuff you get over your images, which also has the effect of making your image look less sharp. As you can probably guess, In most cases, we want to ensure that our images look sharp and clear, so we actively try to avoid noise in our images.
So, it won't really matter if you shot with a low ISO (another component of getting noise free images) because noise lurks in the shadows of your image, so when you bring up those shadows, you also bring out any noise that was present in the image.
If you are not 100% sure what settings you should be using when, be sure to download my FREE Manual Mode cheat sheet, which details the lot :) Go here to download:
#3 - Your Subject's Skin Will Look Better
If you have to change exposure significantly in processing, then your subjects skin may start to look a bit wonky. That's because bringing up exposure excessively seems to have an effect on the skin, so you have to work a lot harder in processing to get that soft, creamy skin tones that you covet.
This is generally only true of large exposure shifts, so aiming to get your exposure at least into the ball park will help make sure your subject's skin looks as good as it can!
#4 - It will save you time!
The more you get right in camera, the LESS time you need to spend at your desk working on every image that you managed to muck up the exposure on.
Taking just a few moments at the very beginning of the process - when you are choosing your settings - to ensure that you have the right exposure, can save you time lots of further down the road.
I try really hard to get my exposure and white balance correct in camera, so that when I upload my images to Lightroom, I can simply apply one of my "go-to" presets to the image, and I'm pretty much done, with Lightroom having done all the heavy lifting for me.
However, if I had underexposed, I would then have to fix my exposure, and then deal with the noise that I introduced on every image. You are just adding steps into the process that just don't need to be there!
Of course, there were absolutely be times when you just don't have the luxury of making sure your exposure in spot on in camera, for example, when you see a moment and you just have to react quickly, in which case, you can thank heavens for Lightroom and go right ahead and fix it.
Just keep in mind that t is always best to correct your exposure in camera, as even with the best editing software in the world available to you, you will not be able to bring back details in the shadows or highlights if they weren't recorded in the first place!
Bottom line: Don't be totally haphazard about your camera settings and instead, aim to get it at least into the ball park so that you aren't having to do big shifts in processing.
If the thought of shooting in manual mode AND getting your exposure right leaves with a cold sweat, check out Auto to Awesome - it's a complete step by step guide that will have you taking control of all aspects of your camera, and getting perfect exposure to boot 😄