Get a Perfect Exposure Every Time

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Are you struggling with manual mode, frustrated by the seeming impossibility of getting a perfect exposure? Well here’s a super easy three step process to nail your exposure every time.

[Step 1] – Compose, Set Aperture, Focus. First, set up your composition and adjust your aperture and focus to get the right depth of field. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out this tutorial.

[Step 2] – Meter to the Middle. With your metering set to matrix or evaluative*, adjust your shutter speed till the light meter is dead smack in the middle and take a picture.

*this will give your light meter the best overall sense of the scene’s brightness.

[Step 3] – Rinse and Repeat. Of course by Rinse I actually mean look at your histogram and see if there are any big spikes all the way on the left, which means you have clipped shadows and your photo is underexposed, or more likely, see if there are spikes all the way on the right, which means your highlights are blown out and your photo is over exposed.

Then all you have to do is adjust your shutter speed, faster to fix over exposure, slower to fix under exposure, and take another shot. Review the histogram again and tweak as necessary. You’ll have a perfect exposure in no time flat, no matter what kind of scene you’re shooting.

Finally, just a quick note that many modern cameras have a preview histogram available in Live View, which makes metering somewhat obsolete. But if you don’t have that feature, or you don’t like using live view, or you just like to understand more about what your camera is doing, then this tried and true technique I’ve just laid out will be your bread and butter.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to learn more about understanding the histogram, check out this article.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:

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4 Responses

  1. Hi,
    Quick question- If I ignore the meter reading( + or -) and just use my histogram, as long as there is no clipping, will I nail the exposure?
    Thank you for your adviceG

    1. Hi Gerald, that is correct. The histogram is far more useful than the meter because it tells you the actual distribution of bright/dark pixels in your frame. So you can tell at a glance (regardless of the metering mode you’re in) if you have clipped shadows or blown highlights. And one fine point: even if your camera blinkies show you that you have a few clipped highlights or shadows, as long as it’s just a small amount, probably you haven’t actually lost that data and can easily recover it in post processing. (As long as you are shooting raw!).



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