Balancing Exposure in an image

Last tutorial, I shared with you how to improve the aesthetics of your pictures using better composition. From that post I had a few questions about other techniques, so I used one of those questions for this next tutorial.

Exposure – the decent kind

Sometimes it’s hard to expose a photograph the way that our eyes see. Using our eyes, we can see the inside of a room and objects outside a window all at the same time. A camera does not have the same dynamic range. (Go to the link to learn more.) Either you have to expose for the inside, leaving window areas blown out, or you expose for what can be seen outside the window, leaving the inside very dark. For this post, you will probably need a post-processing or photo editing software and an off-camera, high speed flash is preferable, though the flash that comes with your camera will suffice. However, see my examples below for more information. (Please note that I always shoot in manual mode – a post for later, perhaps, but try auto, aperture, or shutter-priority mode on your camera. Play! Play! Play!)

Let us begin –

Here is an image where I exposed for the inside of a room without a flash (warning: not a great photo! – just took pictures for demonstration purposes). Notice the window area is completely blown out. Again, this isn’t a big deal unless you really want people to be able to see what is outside the window or find the window area distracting.

Exposure tutorial-7

Here is an image where I exposed for the window, leaving the inside in darkness. (The light was on in the room when I took this photo, just fyi.)

Exposure tutorial

So what do you do?

You can increase your camera’s dynamic range several different ways. You can take two different pictures, one exposing for the window and one exposing for the room. (If you are using a pre-programmed or auto mode on your camera, it’s going to expose wherever you are focusing.) Then, you can go to a post-processing software to blend the photos, like Photoshop. Obviously, this will add to your time, which some of you may or may not have. Some cameras come with a bracketing feature which will help you with taking several different photos at different exposures. You can reference your camera’s manual to see how to access this feature, if you have it. With bracketing (and probably a tripod so the camera doesn’t move), the camera automatically takes 3-5 pictures ranging from low to high exposures. Again, you then access a post-processing software, which will blend/merge the photos for you, taking less time. Software like Photomatix or Lightroom will do this for you. (It’s called HDR imaging. Some people can carry the HDR to extremes, leading to some interesting photos, but I prefer to keep mine looking as naturally as possible.)

But let’s say you don’t have time to spend blending photos and want to have the dynamic range straight out of the camera (sooc). Here is where a flash comes in handy. A high speed flash attached to a hot shoe on the top of your camera is best (and there are some affordable versions out there). It is possible to use the pop-up flash on your camera, but that flash points right at your subjects, increasing shadows. This flash is a harsh light, even if you take that flash to its lowest setting. (Check your manual for how to decrease the power of your on-camera flash.) A flash that gives you options as to where you point the light can make a huge difference in your pictures.

Here is a picture of the same room exposing for the outside but adding a high speed flash. The flash is pointed towards the ceiling, a natural reflector spreading and softening the light. I would probably adjust the white balance in post-processing since the room light is casting a slightly yellow hue.


Here are some images of the room using the flash that came with my camera. It’s not horrible, except I see really harsh shadows on the items in the room and a really white light. You want to avoid the harsh shadows, if possible. With images like these, you can probably adjust some of the harshness in post-processing.

Exposure tutorial-8

Exposure tutorial-10The flash helps increase the dynamic range of your images, allowing you to see both inside and outside like your eye.


When might you use this technique? Sunrise/sunset photos will demand this technique should you want to capture the colors in the sky while also getting light on your subjects. Exposing inside and outside areas at the same time is also key for real estate photography, especially if the property you are shooting has a great view, and you want to capture that for the real estate agent/potential buyers.

As with any photography rule, they are made to be broken. You can expose for the sky or window and capture the silhouette of your subject, which can make for some very lovely photos. So, don’t back yourself into a corner. Have fun! Be creative!

This might take more energy and time than the composition steps, but I do encourage you to try it if you are looking for better dynamic range in your images. Share some of your pictures if you do practice; I would love to see your work!

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