How to Expose for the Highlights

Are you a landscape photographer looking to create compelling photos? In today’s article, you’re going to learn a simple trick to balance light across your scene.

You need to expose for the highlights in the scene, and post-processing can handle the rest.

Why Expose for the Highlights?

The reason to expose for the highlights is that you want to use post-processing to edit your photo later. Exposing for the highlights will likely mean a large part of your photo is underexposed.

The aim of post-processing is to recover this underexposed part of the photo. This way your entire frame is exposed correctly. In the past, older camera sensors would not process the dark area of your frame so well. Today’s cameras are better able to keep data in the dark parts of your frame.

Of course you’ll want to use RAW to make this style work.

This technique works in a similar way to HDR or digital blending. With those, you take photos of several dynamic ranges and then put them together into one photo. This photo is then correctly exposed across the frame.

The advantage of exposing for the highlights is that you get the same result with one photo and no need to bracket.

What’s Dynamic Range?

Dynamic range describes the exposure value of the photo you’re taking. A camera is only able to take photos in one dynamic range.

This can be great when you want to produce silhouettes in your photos. But how come your eyes don’t see these silhouettes as well? The answer is because your eye is a lot more complex than even today’s most complex cameras.

Your eye is able to process what you see in many different dynamic ranges. It gives you a clear representation of the world. And it’s balanced because it includes many different dynamic ranges.

If your camera only produces results in one dynamic range, how can you fix this?

  • Filters – You can use Graduated ND filters to balance light across the photo.
  • Bracketing – You can take a series of photos at different exposure values. You could use up to seven different bracketed photos for this. These will then be blended together using a process like HDR or digital blending.
  • Post-processing – You can use post-processing to recover the parts of your photo that were not correctly exposed. A RAW file is needed for this process.

Locking the Exposure

This is a relatively simple process. There are a few extra steps you can take to make this even easier on yourself.

  1. Put the spot metering for your photo in the center of the grid. This is what you use to choose where the camera focuses, but it also records exposure as well.
  2. Aim at the area of your frame where the highlights are, this is likely to be the sky.
  3. Press your shutter halfway, and the exposure and focus will be locked. Now keep your finger at this halfway position.
  4. Move your camera back to the composed photo you wish to take, and press to take that photo. Your image will now be exposed for the highlights.

How to Use Visual Metaphor in Photography

A metaphor is a word or phrase that symbolizes something else. In photography, you can use visual metaphors to make your stories more meaningful.

Here is how you can achieve effective visual metaphors with simple photography techniques.

How to Use Visual Metaphors

Symmetry is so appealing because it’s predictable and beautiful. You can use it as a metaphor for inner peace, friendship, or hope.

We can find symmetry almost everywhere. The kind you choose depends on your theme and your preferred genre.

For example, if you nature photographer, you can take photos of water reflections. If you’re a portrait photographer, you can photograph your model in front of a perfectly symmetrical wall.

If you’re a portrait photographer, pay attention to your model’s expressions. If you combine a sad expression with symmetry, your visual metaphor might not work effectively.

Create Hope With Negative Space

Negative space is extra space in your photo. This can be the sky, a wall, or any part of your image that’s empty.

Too much negative space can be distracting. But in commercial photography, it has the potential to be an incredible metaphor. Negative space is often linked to hope and potential.

Here are a few examples:

  • Someone standing on top of a mountain surrounded by a blue sky. This creates a feeling of victory and possibility.
  • People looking into the distance during the golden hour. This implies that they’re looking forward to the future.

Something as simple as an empty sky can make help you symbolize a variety of positive emotions.

Emphasize Emotions

Look at everyday items in your home. Is there anything that reminds you of a specific feeling or theme? You can use these items to make your visual metaphor photography even more powerful.

For example:

  • Paper butterflies can symbolize freedom.
  • Fake cotton clouds can be a metaphor for daydreamers.
  • Flying confetti can be a symbol of joy.

Turn Mirrors into a Metaphor for Self-Reflection

Mirrors are literally a reflection of the self. In photography, you can use them to symbolize self-reflection or self-discovery, you can add even more depth to your images.

You can use pieces of glass to symbolize beauty standards or a shattered sense of self. You can make reflections look different to your model. This can be a metaphor for self-development or dishonesty.

A different mirror reflection can also be a metaphor for a dream. For example, a little boy who looks at himself in the mirror and sees.

Create a Feeling of Life and Growth

Nature is often associated with growth, prosperity. You can use something as simple as a flower to suggest that your model is growing from an experience.

Photographer Bella Kotak often uses flowers in her fantasy-themed portraits.

These elements of nature make her images look grounded and magical at the same time. They also work as perfect visual metaphors for progress and growth.