Exposing to the Right (ETTR) – The benefits

By Ian Middleton

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Overexposing your photos

Why would you do it?

The first thing we all learn about photography is not to underexpose or overexpose our photos. Well of course that is very true, especially in the days of using film. But with digital it is a different story. There is a technique known as exposing to the right (ETTR), which is a great way to maximize detail, tones and create a far better image with more punch, vibrancy and detail than if you expose correctly.

Where is all the detail?

Digital cameras differ in many ways to film cameras. While film captures an image in the form of light, a digital sensor captures data in the form of light and creates the image from it. So it’s important to know that with a digital image, most of the detail is on the right side of the histogram, and it’s much easier to darken down detail than it is to lighten. Although digital camera technology is improving at a dramatic rate and it’s becoming more and more easier to extract detail from the shadow area, in many cases it will still come with a degree of noise. So by exposing to the right you will capture much more detail than you would otherwise.

Smoother tonal transitions.

When you expose to the right and then darken down the highlights you get much smoother transitions between colour tones, and your blacks look much more punchy and glossy. The image looks remarkably more vivid and colourful as a result.

A Normal Exposure

In the photo below I exposed normally:

Normal exposure of this view across the beautiful Lake Bled, island church at sunset with the beautiful Karavank mountains in the background, Slovenia. Lake Bled is Slovenia's most popular tourist destination and the Karawanke mountains form the border between Slovenia and Austria.
Normal exposure of this view across the beautiful Lake Bled, island church at sunset with the beautiful Karavank mountains in the background, Slovenia. Lake Bled is Slovenia's most popular tourist destination and the Karawanke mountains form the border between Slovenia and Austria.

Overexposed

In this photo I deliberately overexposed the scene, exposing to the right as far as possible:

This image is exposed to the right. View across the beautiful Lake Bled, island church at sunset with the beautiful Karavank mountains in the background, Slovenia. Image has been deliberately overexposed in order to demonstrate the technique known as exposing to the right
This image is exposed to the right. View across the beautiful Lake Bled, island church at sunset with the beautiful Karavank mountains in the background, Slovenia. Image has been deliberately overexposed in order to demonstrate the technique known as exposing to the right

Editing the photo

Of course this is not how the final image will look. At first glance the photo that has been exposed to the right looks horrible, washed out and lacking detail. The next step is to edit the photo, ideally in Adobe Camera RAW and either photoshop or lightroom in order to finish it off.

The finished photo

The photo below is the finished product, after the all the editing work is done to bring back the detail and contrast.

Looks much better

I’m sure you’ll agree that the finished product is much better than the one that was normally exposed. It’s brighter, more vivid and packs a nice punch.

How did I process it?

Sit back, relax and watch my two video tutorial on how to do this. 

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Disclosure:

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