FAQ: How do you get perfect exposures?

Q:  I have been wondering how you get such amazingly perfect exposures on your images. I have a feeling it’s more of your natural talent than photoshop/lightroom.

A: Yes, I do strive to nail exposure in camera because it makes my editing workflow much faster when images are properly exposed [but I’d be lying if I said my exposure was perfect 100% of the time].  Anyway, my super-duper-secret tip for getting perfect exposures:  PRACTICE.  LOTS OF PRACTICE.

I vividly remember my learning curve of starting to shoot in manual mode.  There were many moments, as I was practicing, where I was thinking “It can’t be this hard… so many people can do this… why can’t I do this?”  The good news is that I kept practicing and it got easier.  And now I shoot 100% in manual mode!

my tips on practicing

Don’t start with children or pets.  They’re often the most available photo subject, but while you’re learning/practicing you’ll need someone that responds to your commands.  While you’re working on getting proper exposures, you can’t be worrying about interacting with your subject.  Save that for another day.  So ask a helpful friend or use an inanimate object. Don’t feel silly… I took many photos of a leprechaun candle (St Patty’s Day decor) in my living room when I started.  Really anything works!  And if I’m being honest, he was the most cooperative subject I’ve had to this day.

Speaking of… here’s the leprechaun!  It had been so long since I’d photographed the poor little guy, I decided to bring him back out for a portrait in front of my Christmas tree!


my tips on exposure

You can learn the true technicalities in a class or book, but exposure boils down to ISO, aperture & shutter speed.  That’s a lot of things to worry about.  So here’s my advice:

First, start with ISO.  Pick the ISO that suits your lighting conditions [If you’re outside, keep it low.  I start at 100.  If you’re inside, crank it up.  I usually start with 800.]  I leave ISO in that setting for the rest of the shoot, if lighting conditions are not dramatically changing.

Next, I move to aperture.  My style is to shoot ‘wide open’ [I wrote more about this in last month’s FAQ post] so I usually start low, around 1.8.

Finally, I worry about shutter speed.  I increase/decrease to fit my ISO/aperture settings.  And then, for the rest of the shoot, I’m usually just adjusting shutter speed only.  I crank it up/down as lighting conditions change.  Worrying about ONE setting (shutter speed) while you’re on the run is a lot easier than worrying about THREE settings (ISO, aperture & shutter speed).


Have a question for me?  Send me a note at casey@caseyvphotography.com and I’ll be sure to include it in an upcoming FAQ post!

Emily - December 19, 2011 - 8:13 am


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