D300 - When to Underexpose?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by michael_hahn, Jul 6, 2009.

  1. Having grown up with Digital for the last 8 years, I tend to always underexpose my photos on purpose ... especially when using flash to keep from blowing out the highights. I now have a Nikon D200 and a Fuji S5 Pro and am expecting a D300 this week. Underexposing requires alot of post processing work to correct many images to the correct exposure. But the strategy does work in keep hightlights from being blown out. Am I just paranoid? Is the metering so good on the D300 (even with flash) that I can avoid purposely underexposing?
    Thanks, ... michael.
  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Learn why you want to expose to the right (on the histogram) so that you can maximize the amount of details stored in your images. In other words, while making sure that you don't blow out the highlights, you want to over-exposure rather than under-expose.
  3. You have found the best way to create noise in your images. Sometimes you have to accept blown highlites, when the contrast is to high. And use the active D-lighting on the camera.
  4. With my D200, I found it to underexpose out of the box, by nearly one third a stop. So I set it to permanently add a third of a stop to all exposures when shooting in Matrix metering mode. The D300 on the other hand, seems to expose very well out of the box, and doesn't need the adjustment. I have lately found that underexposure leads to more noise which can be a problem. I use Active D-Lighting all the time on my D300 and haven't really seen any problem resulting from this, though turning it off also results in good exposures, however I find that I appreciate the extra information in the shadows when I'm just shooting JPGs.
  5. why will you underexpose and burden yourself with a lot of postprocessing to get proper exposure? why not manipulate flash instead?
    i will second shun's suggestion.
  6. With my D90 I still expose the way I used to with slides - that is, I give it a bit less than the meter recommends - from 1/3 stop in low contrast conditions to a stop or more in very high contrast. While I know it's true that a bit more exposure, corrected in post-processing, would give less noise, I'm happy with my results and have not yet accepted the need to engage post-processing tools for every image I decide to keep.
    I tend to like dramatic lighting and low-key images and would much rather give up shadows than highlights.
    As for Active D-Lighting I find it a very useful tool - however, I would never leave it on for all shots - it can turn what I want to be shadow areas into noisily-enhanced areas of unwanted detail - and it also messes with the overall exposure. Try it - with D-Lighting on, take a series of shots from underexposed to overexposed, and see how D-Lighting tries to make every shot look the way the camera thinks it should look. I have actually had to go in and darken shadows in photos taken with D-Lighting accidentally engaged.
    I use it primarily for getting decent shots in very high-contrast daylight conditions.
    Just my way of doing things - no one way is correct but Shun's advice does seem to the the current mainstream thinking if you're willing to post-process every shot.
  7. Good info. But Ramon, I don't understand your comment. It does not really matter if you underexpose in the camera or "manipulate" the flash and underexpose? My underexposures are usually 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop. I will try to upload an example.
  8. Image after some post processing.
    Here is an example (without correction with the Fuji S5 Pro)
    Original date/time: 2008:12:31 21:25:04
    Exposure time: 1/60
    Shutter speed: 1/64.00
    F-stop: 5.6
    ISO speed: 200
    Focal length: 23.0000
    Focal length (35mm): 35
    Flash: Fired
    Exposure mode: Auto
    White balance: Auto
    Orientation: Top-left
    Aperture: 5.0000
    Light source: Unknown
    Exposure bias: -0.3300
    Metering mode: Pattern
    White point: 0.3130,0.3290
    Primary chromaticities: 0.6400,0.3300,0.2100,0.7100,0.1500,0.0600
    Exposure program: Aperture priority
    Brightness: -1.4100
    Digitized date/time: 2008:12:31 21:25:04
    Modified date/time: 2008:12:31 21:25:04
    Scene type: Photograph
    User comment:
    Custom rendered: Normal
    Scene capture type: Standard
    Contrast: Normal
    Saturation: Normal
    Sharpness: Normal
    Subject distance range: Unknown
    GPS Tag Version: 02,02,00,00
    Camera make: FUJIFILM
    Camera model: FinePix S5Pro
    X resolution: 300.0000
    Y resolution: 300.0000
    Resolution unit: Inches
    Camera version: Digital Camera FinePix S5Pro Ver1.08
    Colorspace: Uncalibrated
    File source: DSC
  9. Agree with Shun here - exposing to the right it the key here. Correcting underexposure in post-processing is a sure way to bring out the color noise in the image. Shoot RAW and find out how much "blown" highlight you can tolerate and recover in post-processing (the histogram works off the JPEG, there is leeway in the RAW). Of course, if the dynamic range of the scene does not exceed the one of the sensor, then it is best to just nail the exposure outright. I also came from shooting slide and was used to underexpose to get "deeper" colors and avoid the blown highlights - digital RAW required me to re-think and re-learn. That's why for me SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) and RAW are mutually exclusive; they (often) require a different exposure for optimum results.
  10. Flash photography has never been easier, particularly with Nikon. It is not foolproof, however. Subjects against a dark or distant background will tend to be overexposed. Different scenarios require different actions on your part.
    With experience, you will learn to distinguish many scenarios and how to handle them without a lot of fuss and bother. When shooting candids or small groups at events in a large room, I turn the flash down 1/2 to a full stop. The LCD monitor is your friend, especially the histogram. For critical applications (including multiple lights) and fixed setups (location portraits), I use an hand-held meter in incident mode and the camera (and flashes) completely manual.
  11. Also the blinking highlights option is a good tool to determine if you're losing detail through over exposure.
  12. You all have given me some great suggestions. Thank you for the quick feedback.
  13. michael, i think every little adjustment in the camera or flash matters. in your sample photo, the exposure is auto and it's underexposed; and you used (i think) the onboard flash, looking at the shadows it created.
    what i would have done is looked at the histogram and plan to reshoot, then after that a little "+" on the exposure, trimmed down on the onboard flash or bounced a speedlight; or auto exposure and still bounced a speedlight; or could have just asked the subject to move about a foot (or two) forward and i still think i will bounce the flash.
    but each one has a preference on doing things, experimenting and in the overall enjoyment of the fun in our hobby.
  14. Underexposing does increase noise. You can get away with 1/3 stop at lower ISOs where noise is minimal, but at higher ISOs you will see the increased noise. Active D-Lighting works very well, but it does increase noise in dark areas at high ISOs. If you use the Active D-Lighting and underexpose at higher ISOs you will get noticeable noise. I suggest that you use the Active D-Lighting, don't underexpose, and fine tune in PP.

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