Shooting Video? Better Under than Overexposed

This is a sneak peek from a new book I am writing – Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots

While you can do a lot in postproduction to fix exposure, video files are a lot like working with JPEG images (as opposed to raw photos). Push an adjustment too far and you’ll get posterized image where details are clipped. Shoot too dark or too bright and you’ll have no information to work with and possibly quite a bit of noise.

The key is to always protect your highlights. Do not let the bright areas of your image (like skies or faces) get clipped. One view you likely have on your camera is a histogram. You typically can see this after taking a photo or cycling through your view options (in most cameras you can push the Info button or press your navigation dial from side to side to cycle views). If the histogram is pushed against the right edge, it means you have no information to work with. Blown out highlights go pure white and there is just no way to recover the details.

Here you can see the same scene shot two different ways. In the first, I shot things a little hot. With color correction in post, I was able to recover a lot of details. But you’ll notice that a lot of the details in the shadows are clipped.

Be careful to keep your histograms from getting slammed to the right.
ISO 125 | 1/50th sec. | f/14 | 32mm lens

On the other hand, I also shot the scene and exposed for the “boring middle.” In this case the histograms were more balanced and I had a lot more information to work with. After color correction (a Levels and Saturation adjustment), the shot looks a lot better.


It’s better to slightly underexpose than overexpose when shooting video. Notice how the shadowy details in the rocks are preserved better in this version.
ISO 100 | 1/60th sec. | f/14 | 32mm lens

The use of a loupe or viewfinder is essential for outdoor shooting. Bright light on your LCD just makes things damn near impossible to judge. If this is out of your price range, wear a hat and use it as a shield for time to time to judge exposure. I can’t emphasize enough though that a loupe should be one of your first investments if you become serious about shooting video on your DSLR camera. By removing all light pollution, you can make accurate decisions.

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Be sure to pre-order my new book – Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots