Expose to the right: the camera technique every landscape photographer must know

Expose to the right: the one camera technique every photographer must know

How to expose to the right


The aim with this technique is to capture the maximum amount detail and minimise the level of noise while avoiding burning out any important highlights.

This means that the exposure should be set so that the histogram is towards the right without having a large peak at the furthest point.

This can be done by taking a shot and inspecting the histogram before adjusting the exposure and taking another shot until the histogram looks correct.

You want the histogram trace to just reach the right side of the scale and not have a large peak of white pixels. If possible look at the histogram for teh colour channels to ensure none of them burn out.

Alternatively, the camera’s highlight alert can be activated to indicate when highlights are burned out, or in some cases close to being burned out.

Then instead of looking at the histogram view you can just look for the flashing that indicates that important highlights are being lost.

The trick is to find the exposure level just before this happens. In many cases reducing the exposure by 1/3EV below the value at which the critical highlights are just starting to be lost is enough.

A histogram that's been exposed to the right

Although this image looks very bright the histogram confrims that all the important detail in the highlights has been captured

Most compact system cameras and high-end compact cameras, as well as some DSLRs in live view mode, are capable of showing a ‘live’ histogram that displays the brightness of the scene at the selected exposure before it is shot.

Using this avoids the need for trial and error shots. You will see the peak in the histogram move as you adjust the exposure settings.

PAGE 1: Why should I expose to the right?
PAGE 2: Important highlights
PAGE 3: Using your histogram to expose to the right
PAGE 4: How to expose to the right
PAGE 5: The last step


Landscape photography ideas for rivers, waterfalls and lakes
Landscape photography ideas for dramatic pictures of the sea

  • Per Mare Per Terram

    I heard of this technique on a one-day landscape photography course but it was lost in the mass of other detail. Thanks for covering it here and explaining it so clearly. I’ve got it now.