Ideal Exposure with Histograms & Filters

Let face it, there is no such thing as a perfect exposure. Sure, you can get close sometimes, but more often than not, you have to make tradeoffs in order to do so. By using your knowledge of histograms and filters, however, you can achieve an exposure that is just about ideal.


So, when I see breathtaking images like this one, my first question is usually something like: How did the photographer choose such a perfect exposure for this scene? Or is it heavily Photoshopped?

Backlit images like this one are almost always difficult to expose. You have to deal with an extreme dynamic range of light, and that makes it extremely difficult to capture accurate colors and details in every part of the image. When I shot this photo, I used a combination of information from my histogram and GND filters to get as close to a perfect exposure as possible.

Under Exposed Scene – Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA)

Under Exposed Scene – Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA)

Exposed for Shadows – Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA)

Exposed for Shadows – Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA)

When I first started shooting this scene, I intentionally underexposed the image, as you can see on the left. I knew that I could process the image later and recover the shadow details in Photoshop; however, the resulting image would be too noisy.

Instead of choosing this approach, I decided to keep a close eye on my histogram and adjust my exposure until the shadow areas had sufficient detail and the highlights were not completely blown out, as seen in the image on the right. The result was much better.

Now I was closer to the image I wanted, but the the colors in the sky and the details in the highlights were still pretty washed out. To get my exposure closer to perfection, my next step was to add a soft GND filter. So how could I determine which strength of GND filter to use?

1-Stop Soft GND Filter – Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA)

1-Stop Soft GND Filter – Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA)

2-Stop Soft GND Filter – Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA)

2-Stop Soft GND Filter – Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA)

Once again, I had to make a tradeoff. The first image was taken with a 1-stop soft GND filter. As you can see, the exposure for the sky looks nearly perfect; however, the highlights are still a bit overexposed, washing out some of the details. My first instinct was to use a stronger GND filter to restore the highlight details, but by using a 2-stop GND filter, the sky and the mountains got unnaturally dark. Ultimately, I decided to go with a 1-stop filter and apply minor tweaks in post-processing the RAW image.

So, my ideal exposure for this scene was achieved by using my knowledge of histograms and choosing the right GND filter. To help you master these skills for yourself and finally leave the guesswork out of choosing an exposure, we are offering our Histogram Exposed course as part of our May 2016 InFocus Deals. This course takes you into the field with us, where we will teach you how to read and use the histogram on the back of your camera step-by-step. It also includes real-life case studies that will show you how to follow our simple, 4-step workflow so you can start exposing your own images with confidence.

In addition to this great course, our InFocus Deals include a wonderful variety of eBooks and video tutorials from some of the best landscape photographers in the world. For a limited time, we're excited to bring this handpicked selection of resources to you at an astounding 89% discount. You're not going to find a better way to improve your fieldwork and post-processing skills at a better price.

May 2106 InFocus Deals - Sale Price $49 (Reg. Price: $450, 89% Off)

May 2106 InFocus Deals - Sale Price $49 (Reg. Price: $450, 89% Off)




Author Jay Patel.