6 creative ways to use overexposure in photography
When learning how to become a better photographer, you will often hear the advice to avoid overexposing your images. And in many cases, that’s true; overexposure can lead to loss of detail and images that you cannot get the best edits from.
However, you can also turn overexposure into a creative element, if you know the style of image you’re trying to achieve. Getting it right takes practice, but it’s by no means impossible if you’re willing to persist and try new things.
In this article, you’ll learn six ways to creatively use overexposure in your photography.
What does overexposure mean in photography?
When you overexpose a photo, you let too much light into your camera. Overexposure can occur for several reasons; you may have used a slower shutter speed, for example.
You can also overexpose your images by increasing the ISO on your camera, and widening your aperture will have a similar effect. Depending on what you’re using, this can impact your image in several ways, including having a greater depth of field.
When using your camera, you can easily tell if your image is overexposed. When it does, you’ll notice the light meter is above the 0 mark. In post-production software, you may see clipping over your highlights in the histogram.
Overexposure is usually something photographers avoid, but you can actually use overexposure creatively. Here are several scenarios where you might want the light meter to be a bit higher…
1. Snowy weather
Snowy weather can be a nightmare if you want to get from point A to point B. However, few things are as scenic as freshly fallen snow, making it the perfect time to get outside and snap some photos.
When photographing snowy weather, you will often find it more useful to overexpose your camera. If you leave your meter around 0, or if you don’t let enough light into your camera, snow and skies can appear blue instead of gray or white.
Depending on where you live, you may not have much natural light to work with during the winter, and in some cases you may not have any at all. You will need to increase your ISO or use a slower shutter speed to achieve the desired effect. We recommend using a tripod for the latter, especially if it’s windy.
If you want to try overexposed photos during the winter, remember that some cameras don’t react well to sub-zero temperatures. Consider buying a weatherproof one. We also have a guide with tips for winter photography.
2. Minimalist Photography
Minimalism has become more popular in the 21st century in many parts of the world, and you’ll notice its influence on photography as well. More and more photographers are now focusing on reducing the number of subjects in their photos, allowing them to tell a better story.
Let’s say you want to adopt a minimalist style of photography. In this case, overexposing your photos can help you create more contrast between the background and your subject.
Consider creating a white sky or beach before using something like a bird or a person to draw the viewer’s attention to them.
3. Black and white photography
Many modern cameras produce excellent color and it’s easier than ever for non-professional photographers to make their work look high quality. But if you want to stand out, try black and white photography instead.
Although you’re used to seeing black and white images with lots of contrast and punch, overexposing them can create a dreamy effect. You can use it to highlight brightness on a hot day, and letting more light into your camera can also help make landscapes look even more dramatic.
Although you can create this effect on a standard digital camera, trying it out with film will give you more freedom to be more creative.
4. Photograph white buildings
Have you ever photographed a white building, only to find it looks yellow, blue or gray after downloading the photo to your computer? If so, consider overexposing these images.
Although many modern cameras produce excellent photos, you should also remember that the camera does not always see what your eyes are doing. You have to think outside the box when determining how you are going to portray what you are looking at.
Slightly overexposing your images can make your white buildings look more realistic, but be careful not to turn the meter up too high.
5. Sunny days
Taking pictures on a sunny day is difficult for several reasons, and many photographers try to avoid such times. But if you’re willing to get creative, you can take great photos while enjoying the nice weather.
You can use overexposure to emphasize the brightness of the sun, and it will work, especially if you’re facing it. Letting more light into your camera can also create a blurry effect that makes your image a little softer, while helping you take more creative portraits.
6. Photograph the streets
Street photography is one of the most enjoyable photographic genres. And if you happen to live in a large urban area, it’s also one of the most accessible choices. Consider using overexposure in your street photos if you want to create something a little out of the ordinary.
When used creatively, highlighting can help create sharper contrasts between the sky and people who may appear in your image. Additionally, you can remove any unwanted clouds from the sky, which could be especially useful if you’re looking for a more moody atmosphere.
Overexposure isn’t always a bad thing
If used incorrectly, overexposing your images can damage them beyond repair. But in some cases, you might benefit from adding a little extra light. Of course, you’ll have to think about what you want to shoot beforehand, otherwise you won’t get the desired result by overexposing anything.
There are many ways you can overexpose your photos, and the ideas we’ve given you barely scratch the surface. Put yourself in various scenarios to see what you can muster.