Don’t Underexpose or How to Easily Prevent Common Portrait Mistakes

On this short video photographer Tony Northrup talk about what he sees as a common problem when shooting portraits (but not just portraits) outdoors or in situations when there is a high dynamic range and you need to decide if you want o better expose for your subject or a bright background.

So you are shooting a portrait outdoors. It is a bright day and the camera tries to balance the exposure so that nothing is overexposed (or underexposed) too much. What Northrup claims in this video is that the auto exposure of the camera will result in an under exposure of your subject in most cases and he tries to demonstrate this by showing a number of images and playing with them in post processing (Lightroom in this case).

Now, while this might be true and you should certainly be aware of this while you are shooting. We still feel that this needs to be a conscious decision that you need to make. It might be that you would actually prefer to underexpose your subject and correct this in post than to try and fix a blown out background in post.

Now the thing that Northrup does not talk about in this short video and it is very important is that it depends on your camera (and possibly your editing software or version) as to how much easier it is to fix under vs. over exposure. Typically what happens is that in fixing underexposure you will introduce noise into the image while in trying to fix overexposure – in many cases you just might loose the information completely (again this really depends on your setup).

At the end of the day you need to do some trail and error and learn how your gear work and what are its capabilities along with your editing software if you are not ready to get blow highlights in the background when the dynamic range is simply too much for your camera/software to fix.

You can check out many more helpful photography tips on our Photography tips section here on LensVid. If you liked Tony and Chelsea Northrup you can check out more of their videos here on LensVid.
Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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