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Mastering Your Digital Camera

Lesson 32 of 51

Never Underexpose

Chris Weston

Mastering Your Digital Camera

Chris Weston

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Lesson Info

32. Never Underexpose
One of the great parts of digital photography is the ability to edit your photos later -- but how much can you edit a photo successfully? Chris explains why images that are too far underexposed can't be corrected in post-processing.


Lesson Info

Never Underexpose

Is it really that important? To get exposure right in the camera, after all, isn't one of the great benefits of digital photography the fact you can fix errors later in image processing software? Well, the answer is yes, and no minor adjustments to exposure can be made without too much effect on image quality, but more significant alterations. To leave you with the problem and to show you what that problem is, I'm going off to do some science. One of the roles of science is to find solutions to challenging problems. When I take a photograph, the shutter opens and light comes flooding into the camera. Now, using water to represent that light. Imagine is collected in the measuring cylinder, while the camera then has to do is decide how to distribute that light across the sensor so it represents the tones in my photograph. Those tones are represented by these test tubes. I'm using five test use. Just to simplify this particular experiment. Test tube on the right hand side of your white to...

nes. Next with the light greys medium, graze dark graze on the black tones over here on the left, the camera uses half of all the light it collected to create the white tones. To represent that, I'm going to fill this right hand, test you with white tones all the way through the top, because light greys are half assed bright as whites, the camera only uses half the amount of light. I'm going to represent that by filling the light grey test tube only half life the same for the medium grace off again. Same for the dark grays off as much again and the same for the blacks half assed much again. So what we can see here is that compared to the white tones, the black tones have very, very little light signal. Now, if I under exposed my photograph by just one stop, what happens is, rather than pouring all of that light into this right hand test tube, the camera simply discards it, and this is what we're left with. But that's okay, because we can fix under exposure in processing, right? Well, let's try it. A computer. What I'd now do is tell the software to take all of the light gray tones and turn them white. Let's replicate what I've just done in the computer using the test tubes. Well, I've got to do is I've got to try and fill up this empty right hand, test you all the way to the top using only the information available in the other test tubes without losing any of that information. So let's give it a go. If I take the light gray tones, you can see where I'm going with this, right? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out. It simply can't be done. What actually happens to the photograph when you do this for real is this you see from the history, Graham. There are now large areas of missing data, which all these gaps and this will show on your images. Banding which areas of distinct tonal variation where you can tell where one tone starts on another ends no good. Now you may have heard the term exposed to the right. What does that mean? Well, to answer that question, let's head back to the science lab. Let's go back to the test use on. Don't worry, it's the last time. This is what my correctly exposed image looks like. We've already seen the effects of under exposing why one stop this time, I'm going to expose for the lighter tones by one stop. What happens now is the camera discards the information in the black tones to fix this in photo shop or in the computer. What I do is I go to the Levels Adjustment tool, and we can look at the history am here and see that it's skewed over to the right hand side. Well, I'm going to do now is going to tell the computer to take all of the dark gray tones and make them black. This time, if I replicate what I've just done in the computer with the test tubes, you can see that there's so much light over here in the right hand side that it's simple to replace a little bit missing in the black tones. So in digital photography, the mantra is exposed for the brightest part of the scene, where detail is important

Class Description


  • Set up your camera with confidence
  • Better understand shutter speed, aperture, and ISO
  • Capture perfect exposures in camera
  • Get sharp, focused images quickly
  • Understand white balance and the difference between RAW and JPEG
  • Quickly and confidently capture images “in the moment”
  • Become a better photographer by building an understanding of basic photography techniques


CreativeLive is partnering with Chris Weston to offer you his Complete Photography Master Course.

Turn terms like aperture, shutter speed and ISO from a bunch of obscure photography jargon to a toolset that you can easily manipulate to capture great photos. Led by landscape photographer Chris Weston, this class covers everything beginners need to know to master photography basics from exposure to focus.

Turn that camera dial off of auto and learn how to properly expose a photograph. With a few basic camera settings, get the most image quality and the best colors from your mirrorless or DSLR camera. Then, master focus modes and techniques for sharp photographs.

Learn the basics of photography in a series of short, memorable lessons. Chris' straight-forward teaching style is great for newbies that find the task of learning photography daunting, while the to-the-point lessons make it possible to spend just a few minutes a day mastering your camera with easy photography tips and techniques.


  • Beginner photographers
  • First time DSLR or mirrorless camera users
  • Any photographer that wants to get off automatic mode to shoot better photos


Named one of the world's most influential wildlife photographers, Chris Weston takes a contemporary approach to photography. After launching his career in 2001, the Fujifilm ambassador's images have graced the pages of top publications like BBC, The Times, Outdoor Photography, Practical Photography, and Digital Photography. As a photography educator, Chris has written over 20 photography books, along with leading photo tours and online workshops.

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mark jacobson

What a marvelous course! What a marvelous teacher! When I went to college, my father would always ask me about my professors, more than the courses themselves. He was passionate about learning and although too busy with earning an income to go beyond an undergrad degree, continued to read 50 books a year. I still remember how he'd get almost visibly excited when I'd tell him about some special professor who taught with such enthusiasm and, more than just passion, evident delight and joy in the subject. 'Ah they're the best, son. How wonderful you have such a teacher." Well, he passed away decades ago but if he were still around I'd get a kick out of telling him about Chris Weston, the 'Prof' of this course. He's one of the very special ones: a teacher who's loved and lived his vocation--his avocation--since he was a boy--and still is as excited about it now as he was then. The result: a course that seems to be more a labor of love--of pouring far more energy and thought into the details then one typically finds in these courses--than anything else. Bravo Chris! I'm already on to your next one.


Chris is an amazing instructor who dissects theory giving amazing analogies that bring concepts to life. I have rarely been able to sit through most video course for more than a half-hour but watched this one from beginning to end. A good refresher course if you've been away from the camera for awhile or there are some concepts that still illude you. I highly recommend this course and look forward to watching his others. Thank you for the clarity and great explanations.

Sky Bergman

This was an amazing class. I have looked at a number of basic photography classes. This one was by far the best I have seen. Chris is an exceptional teacher. He breaks things down into digestible information and then inspires you to be creative. Thank you!