Terri asks:

“I just purchased the D750; you know the one with great capabilities, but has a flare issue. Nikon repaired the flare and so now all is good as new. Question I have is this: The images taken with D750 (with or without the repair) seems to be on the darker side. In order to get good exposure, I am needing to regularly over expose to get the right balance. I have looked at all the settings that I can think of but to no avail. Any suggestions?”

My response:

Correct exposure is certainly a Photography Essential! If your photos are actually underexposed, it may be your metering settings and/or technique that’s causing it, not the camera itself.

Let’s look at the key factors that most affect exposure and your interpretation of it:

  • Camera shooting mode – basically, full manual vs. anything else
  • Camera metering mode – matrix, evaluative, spot, etc.
  • Camera LCD settings, especially brightness
  • Camera histogram
  • Computer display settings
  • Display calibration and profiling
  • Software (e.g. Lightroom) previews and histogram
  • Software settings, especially camera profiles and adjustment defaults

First, I’m curious to know how you’ve determined the images from the D750 are underexposed.

When we capture digital images and process them on the computer, there are several components of the imaging pipeline that affect how we see the photograph.

On the camera

You should periodically check the camera previews and histograms on the LCD. However, you can’t rely entirely on these.

The brightness of the LCD preview can be adjusted; you’ll perceive it differently in varying lighting conditions. So don’t trust the preview completely.

Similarly, the camera histogram can be a reasonable guide as to the brightness levels contained in the capture, but remember that the histogram uses in-camera processing to evaluate the raw file and generate the histogram. So the histogram in Lightroom is likely to be different than on the camera, because both are processing the raw data differently.

If your captures look dark on the camera, evaluate the histogram and compare its reading to what you see on the LCD preview. You may well need to adjust the brightness of the LCD previews.

But in no case can you take for absolute certain that what the camera shows you is perfectly accurate.

On the computer

You need to be working on your photos using a good quality display, properly calibrated and profiled. Ideally this means a desktop monitor (not a laptop screen) but we all process our photos on a laptop at one point or another. Regardless, it’s absolutely essential that your monitor is correctly profiled and the luminance is set to between 90 and 100 cd/m2. (See my other articles on color management about this.)

I only recommend current display calibration products from X-Rite.

Assuming your display is accurate, evaluate the images in Lightroom, where the previews and histogram are extremely accurate.

Lightroom camera profiles and default settings

When Lightroom loads a raw image it applies default processing to render the previews. For every camera model that Lightroom supports, default settings are automatically applied. In some cases it’s possible the default settings for that camera model are not really optimal, at least for your specific unit.

Before applying any adjustment settings, Lightroom first applies a camera profile. This is found under the Calibration panel in Develop. The camera profile has a major effect on how Lightroom will process the raw image. Your best bet is to use custom camera profiles, made specifically for your own camera. (We’ll look at this in more detail in future articles.)

Next, you should consider creating a set of default adjustments to be applied to every image coming from a specific camera. You can apply batch settings using Presets, or override the Lightroom Default so that all photos from a given camera get their own unique defaults, without the need to even apply a preset. (This is all addressed in my Lightroom books.)

So it is also possible that if your photos are looking dark in Lightroom, it could have something to do with Lightroom’s default processing of those images. You can override the defaults with your own settings.

What to do about consistent underexposure

If, in fact, the captures are consistently coming off the camera underexposed, the first thing to re-evaluate is your metering settings and technique.

Modern cameras are very good at metering most scenes. Especially with cameras such as the D750, if you correctly use the provided controls you can usually count on the camera to do a good job. (But there are exceptions.)

Metering modes

For most shooting situations, make sure you’re using the most comprehensive evaluative metering mode available, which will take brightness readings from many places around the frame. Modern DSLRs measure light at 9, 12, 16 or many more zones around the frame to create a balanced exposure.

This will work for most situations. For lighting conditions that the camera struggles with, such as very dark or very light scenes, you will need to use spot metering and/or apply manual exposure compensation.

If you switch the metering to Spot mode, make sure you meter on part of the scene that’s not the darkest or the lightest. And it’s usually best to meter the part of the scene you that care the most about nailing the exposure.

Exposure compensation

Exposure compensation should generally be your last resort. Don’t use it as a crutch! You need to apply exposure compensation when the situation calls for it: either the camera is struggling to make the correct exposure settings or you’re working too quickly to keep switching metering modes. For the latter cases, I do find myself using exposure compensation quite often when I am doing street photography.

One other metering technique that works very well (when your camera has the appropriate settings) is to meter one part of the scene then recompose to make the shot. Essentially this means pointing the camera at the spot you want to lock the exposure, holding the shutter button halfway down, recomposing and then fully pressing the shutter button to make the shot.

As you can see, there are many ways to evaluate and control exposure and many techniques for getting it right.

When the camera really is at fault

In the end, it is possible that a given camera model—or specific units within a production run—might not produce the most accurate metering. But with all the other considerations, this is probably the least likely scenario. It’s much more likely that something else is going on within your workflow.

If you’ve done all the above and determined that, in fact, the camera’s metering is incorrect, send it to Nikon for repair. They can fine tune and calibrate each individual camera to obtain the most accurate exposure possible. (I’m not familiar with Nikon’s procedures, but from my experience with Canon I know that whenever you send your camera for any kind of service they do check and calibrate the exposure as standard procedure.)

Get control of your exposures

Ultimately, you don’t have to live with inaccurate exposure and you shouldn’t get in the bad habit of always falling back to exposure compensation. Check all the points described above and tweak your workflow to find the trouble spot.

For further reading, Bryan F. Peterson’s books on exposure are the best references on digital exposure.

I hope this helps resolve your problem. Please let me know if you have any trouble or further questions.

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