Once you know the rules of photography, you’ll be able to use them in creative ways – particularly when it comes to exposure. But breaking the rules of photography doesn’t merely mean getting the exposure wrong. It means deliberately choosing to expose ‘imperfectly’ to create a specific effect.
Things that might spoil most photographs can add a new dimension in certain situations. Over-exposing a low-contrast subject and background can add delicacy and an ethereal quality to portraits, for example, while under-exposing can give a shot a dramatic, moody feel to interiors, portraits and many other subjects.
Four ways to play with exposure and break the rules of photography
Effect 1 Contre Jour
Shooting into the light, otherwise known as ‘contre jour’, is one of the more challenging situations to work in. The bright light of the sun will confuse your reading, clump the histogram to the far right and throw your highlight clipping alert into a blinking frenzy.
However, it can also be a great way to add depth and emotion to your shots. In these conditions the best solution is switch to manual mode and use your camera’s LCD screen and highlight alerts to make sure you’ve got detail where you want it, but don’t be afraid to let some areas burn out completely. A winning shot doesn’t always need detail in the deepest shadows and brightest highlights.
SEE MORE: Digital camera effects from A-Z
Effect 2 Shake down
Using a slow shutter speed is a great way to capture the swirling motion of water. Usually when using a slow shutter speed you’d expect to mount your camera on a tripod so that the static parts of the scene remain sharp.
In this shot we were experimenting with slow shutter speeds but using the camera handheld and moving it sightly during the exposure. It might break some conventions of wisdom, but the impressive results show that challenging conventional wisdom can work too! You’ll need to be prepared to experiment as there’s a element of trial and error.
Effect 3 Low key
Much of the shadow areas of this image have gone to pure black, and the histogram is clumped to the left – this was our intention as it’s a great way to create a moody atmosphere.
Effect 4 High key
Through a cunning combination of lighting and exposure it’s possible to create beautiful high-key images. The trick is work on the limits of the histogram without blowing out the highlights.
There’s a big difference between a high-key image and an over-exposed one, so be careful to make sure you always have just a little detail or tone to your whitest areas, such as the delicate details in the lace of our model’s top in the example here.
This effect is easiest to achieve if you have a low contrast in tones between the subject and background.
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What is exposure compensation: free photography cheat sheet
Exposure bracketing: how to capture fine detail in shadows and highlights
How to use a camera: exposure modes made simple