Photography Exposure Settings Intro by Marat Stepanoff

Photography Exposure Settings Intro by Marat Stepanoff

Check the Exposure – A brief introduction into exposure in photography by Marat Stepanoff.

Exposure is one of the most important settings to get right in order to take amazing photos. In fact, the exposure – the amount of light that gets in through the lens on the sensor of your camera, is critical. If too much light gets inside the camera, your photos will be overexposed, and if not enough light your photos will be too dark and underexposed.

You can fix it in post-production, but the quality is always better if you take your photos with the perfect exposure settings beforehand.

marat stepanoff exposure tips

Why should I check the exposure?

Modern digital cameras often have bugs in measuring exposure and accurately displaying it for you. The LCD display is a significant advantage of the digital camera. You can see the photo right away and many photographers use it. But the LCD screen does not show things perfectly, and exposure can be vastly different.

  1. The screen shows the result of in-camera editing.
  2. Bright lighting prevents to see the display.
  3. But most importantly, you do not see underexposed and overexposed areas of photography on such a small screen.

I’ll tell you how to analyze the data, looking at the LCD screen. You should be checking exposure by the histogram.

Reading the Histogram

I am deeply convinced that the histogram is the most important tool for a photographer during a shoot. The ability to correctly read a histogram is the way to get the correct exposure. It doesn’t matter what the photo looks like. But what a histogram looks like is of primary importance for analyzing a photo.

marat stepanoff photography

Photo: Marat Stepanoff

Setting a Camera

As I said, the image on the display is the result of in-camera processing. The histogram which you see on the screen is the graph of this particular photo but not the RAW file. In order for the histogram to show the correct data, you need to set up your camera.

Since you are shooting in RAW the basic camera settings do not matter. You always fix brightness, contrast, white balance, etc. in Camera RAW. Therefore, I strongly recommend taking Zero Point (neutral) camera settings.

You will not see a bright landscape photo on the display of your DSLR. The image will be dim and have low contrast. BUT you will see the correct histogram and RGB Histogram. This is much more important than admiring a beautiful photo on the camera screen, and at home to see that the photo is underexposed or overexposed.

histogram setup camera

Example of histogram on a Canon DSLR – Marat Stepanoff

How do you read a Histogram?

how to read a histogram

How to Read a Histogram Infographic – Marat Stepanoff

We set up the camera, took a photo, it’s time to learn how to read the histogram. Most modern digital cameras have four histograms.

There are two types of histograms

  1. Luminosity Histogram.
  2. RGB Histogram (or Color Histograms)

Luminosity Histogram shows the brightness of pixels. From the darkest to the brightest. If the graph is pressed to the left side, this is underexposure, if to the right side it is overexposure. It called clipping histogram. This indicates a loss of detail.

Look at the histogram chart. There are examples of the correct histogram, as well as overexposure and underexposure.

Strive to take a photo so that histogram which looks right. If you see that you made a mistake, compensate the exposure and repeat.

RGB Histogram shows the brightness of colors pixels: red, green and blue. The rule is the same as in Luminosity Histogram. This is important histogram and you should pay attention to it. You should avoid clipping RGB Histogram too.

What is the perfect photography histogram?

Now I’ll tell about perfect histogram. If you should avoid clipping histogram, consequently you should strive to that the graph has arcuate form. This is a perfect histogram. Unfortunately, it is rare.

Exposure must be the same across the frame. You can use Graduated ND Filter and it is a perfect pick to help balance the exposure across an image. Also, you can take multiple pictures, one slightly underexposed and second slightly overexposed. It called Exposure Bracketing. Phlearn has a great, and comprehensive, guide to exposure bracketing and bracketed photography here.

Look at the Histogram Chart:

histogram exposure chart

Histogram Exposure Chart – Marat Stepanoff

You see two more option. There is Exposure to the left and Exposure to the right. It is good histograms. You do not lose any pixels. If you want you can do one more shot, but that is entirely up to you based on preference.


Today, taking a broken picture is an unforgivable mistake. More than ever photography is available for people of any level of training. A histogram is one of many tools that help you make it. I strongly recommend picking up the camera and using the tips you read in this article. I shoot in different weather conditions. But if you ask me which one instrument I would like to use during shooting – the histogram. Because I am sure that after seeing the histogram I can say for sure right exposure or not. It is enough for me in the Field. Everything else I edit in Camera RAW and Photoshop.

Special thanks to Marat Stepanoff for his expert tips on exposure in photography!

Author Bio

Marat Stepanoff is a professional landscape photographer and author of educational articles on landscape photography and travel. He based between Tuscany and the Lofoten Islands. His favourite locations are the rugged coastlines of Northern coasts — Lofoten islands, virtually uninhabited shores of Ladoga lake, Iceland. Marat has written a guide book for photographers and travelers on the Lofoten Islands.

See more photos and connect with Marat on Instagram and Facebook.

SEE ALSO – Above the Clouds: Marvin Kuhr’s Incredible Adventure to Madeira

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