Beginner photography tips: common mistakes with exposure and colour
Although you can correct a lot of exposure errors in Photoshop, particularly using raw format files, it’s still better to get the results right in-camera as much as possible. Even when converting raw images, there is a limit to how much highlight detail you can recover if you over-expose your images.
While it’s often possible to boost the detail in the shadows of an under-exposed shot, the result will be noisier and lower quality than if you correctly exposed it in the first place.
Below we’ve rounded up some of the most common problems photographers have with exposure and provided some quick solutions.
Beginner photography tips for correcting problems with exposure and colour
Image is under-exposed, giving a result that is too dark, with no bright highlights
This is most likely to occur when the subject you are shooting is mostly light or bright, as the camera will try to set the exposure to record it as grey. You can check for under-exposure by looking at the histogram when you review your images.
If the graph is bunched to the left, with a gap to the right, then it is under-exposed. You can correct this easily by using exposure compensation to increase the exposure.
For a subject that contains a large amount of white or bright areas, you should try setting the exposure compensation to +1, and taking another shot to allow you to check the histogram again.
Image is over-exposed, producing a result that is too light, with no dark shadows
If you are shooting a scene that contains a large amount of dark tones, the camera will over-expose the shot, producing a light image.
The histogram will be bunched to the right, with a gap to the left. To correct this, you simply need to set the exposure compensation to reduce the exposure, such as -1.
Incorrect shutter speed or aperture settings when using Manual Exposure mode
Using Manual Exposure gives you complete control over the shutter speed and aperture that you set, but this doesn’t mean that you can simply choose any values and get a correctly exposed image.
The main thing to remember is that once you have selected a shutter speed, aperture and ISO to give the correct exposure, if you then adjust any one of these settings, you will need to change at least one of the other settings to maintain the correct exposure.
So, once you have set the exposure correctly, if you want set a faster shutter speed, you will need to use either a wider aperture or higher ISO setting to keep the same exposure.
Sky is too bright and the foreground is correctly exposed, or foreground too dark and sky over-exposed
This is a common problem in landscape photography, as the difference in brightness between the sky and the ground is too large for the camera to record detail in both areas.
To correct this in-camera, you can use neutral density grad filters, which reduce the brightness of the sky to allow you to capture detail in this and the foreground.
If you don’t have these filters you can take two shots, one for the sky and one for the foreground, and combine them in Photoshop.
The colours of the image don’t appear correct, as they are either too warm or too cold
This problem is caused by using the wrong white balance setting, especially if the camera is set to automatic white balance.
Like any automatic feature, the automatic white balance won’t give perfect colours in every situation. This is most common when the subject is dominated by one or two colours, which will fool the system into shifting the colour temperature to compensate for this.
A classic case is when shooting the warm, orange colours at sunrise or sunset. The automatic white balance will often produce muted colours, so use one of the preset white balance options, such as Sunny or Daylight, when shooting in these conditions.
Subjects are over-exposed when using flash, particularly when they are close to the camera
Reduce the brightness of the flash by using the flash exposure compensation (FEC). This is usually accessed by pressing and holding the flash button and using the input dial, or pressing the FEC button marked with a flash symbol and +/-. To reduce the flash exposure, set this to -1.
Download our free cheat sheet for controlling exposure when shooting moving water
PAGE 1: Beginner photography tips – common mistakes with setting up your camera
PAGE 2: Beginner photography tips – common mistakes with exposure and colour
PAGE 3: Beginner photography tips – common problems with focus and sharpness
PAGE 4: Beginner photography tips – common mistakes with composition and framing
10 common exposure problems every photographer faces (and how to overcome them)
Color Theory: the best color combinations for photography (and how to take it further)
Histogram: photography cheat sheets for achieving perfect exposures
Color photography explained: simple tips for making your brightest ever images