Why I believe exposure is the most important part of photography

exposure lighting tips Feb 12, 2021

I believe that exposure is the most important part of photography. I believe that if you do not master exposure then your photography can never be consistently good. So why do I value exposure so highly? Keep reading!

What is exposure?


Before I can explain why getting a good exposure is so important, you first need to know what exposure is. I would like to do this with a quote from my book:

“Photography is the act of capturing light. Exposure is the term used to measure how much light we are capturing. A correct exposure is when we have used just the right amount of light (not too much, nor too little) to create a pleasing result. What may be pleasing to one person is not always pleasing to another and therefore photography (just like every other art form) is subjective.”

So as you can see the term “correct exposure” can be ambiguous. Everybody sees the world slightly differently and therefore has a different opinion on what is good photography and what is a correct exposure. If the intended viewer finds your image pleasing, then it can be considered to have a correct exposure.

The importance of getting a correct exposure

“So why is it important to get a correct exposure? Well quite simply if your image is over exposed (too much light) or under exposed (not enough light) then it will be hard for the viewer to see the subject. If your viewer can’t see the subject, then what is the point of the photograph.”

Another quote from my book. I am just going to illustrate this point with some photos.

Looking at the image, which is very under exposed, you can immediately see that there is something wrong with the image. You can barely work out what is around the edge of the image and the only part which stands out is the clouds. Any person looking at this image would not find it pleasing as they would be struggling to work out what else is in the picture.

The very over exposed photo is bright and you can only just see the clouds in the sky. A lot of the detail in the stones is also lost. This means that your viewer cannot see the complete scene properly and will therefore not find it pleasing.

The other three images could be considered a correct exposure depending upon which part of the scene the photographer was trying to highlight. So if they wanted to show all the detail in the clouds they would potentially opt to slightly under expose the image. If they were focusing on the tree and the shadow below it then over-exposing would produce the desired result. The correctly exposed image does give the best overall result, but encourages the viewer to focus on the stones.

This was exactly the same scene taken on the same day but with 5 different exposures. Each of these images is very different from the others. They each tell a different story.

This is why I believe exposure is the most important part of photography. A very small change in exposure can completely change the story which you are telling.


Dark photos often tell a story of sadness, loss, or fear. In contrast brighter photos are considered happier, joyful and hopeful.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out my blog on

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