Expose To The Left
The Illogical Solution To Exposure
When it comes to exposure, the general consensus is to expose to the right. The internet and its many voices will say that digital sensors can extract the most information out of a scene if you expose to the right. And you know what, they might be right … BUT for a photographer learning exposure, my recommendation is to expose to the left. Why?
For a photographer learning exposure, my recommendation is to expose to the left.
If you shoot your digital camera like it was loaded with slide film, I guarantee you will learn more about shadows, contrast, and atmospheric lighting than if you expose to the right. At this point, anyone in the “expose to the right camp” is going to skip to the bottom of the page and start writing me hate mail in the comment thread. But, if you are just starting out, give it a try because there is no such thing as a perfect histogram. Remember the goal of learning exposure is to train your eye to see.
As a test, find a few pictures you like on the internet. They can be anything from landscapes to portraits. Import them into Lightroom or Capture One. Look at the histogram. Is it to the right or to the left? Most pictures that have rich shadows and good atmosphere lean toward the left.
Now, the next time you go out shooting, experiment yourself. Meter for the scene and then under expose by half a stop or even a full stop. Very often the rich contrast between light and shadow that photographers love can be completely killed by exposing to the right.
It is a technique that is used by photographers like Alex Webb, Steve McCurry, and David Alan Harvey … just to name a few. If it worked for them, you might as well give it a shot. You might be surprised what you discover.
Now, the next time you go out shooting, experiment yourself. Meter for the scene and then under expose by half a stop or even a full stop.