I'm constantly afraid that my images are underexposed for I'm playing a lot with light and shadow and like to shoot at night. Even though in my picture editing program the image seems well exposed apart from the dark areas which I purposefully left darkened, I can't wrap my head around the fact that I still find it underexposed.

In such situations I always adjust the brightness of my laptop/smartphone screen to assure myself that I can still see something when the brightness level is set to the lowest. I know this has less to do with gear and technical questions but I do really need some opinions from you guys.

Plus I know there is technically no "correct" exposure, still if the viewer can't discern the components of an image I want them to look at, it is bad.


  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you post the image here. Instagram requires sign-up & is full of unnecessary blather. You can't properly get to the image itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 11:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is the gear? Is this film or digital? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kahovius
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 12:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is a canon dslr and i have uploaded the image on imgur. hopefully you guys can see it now. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jiaxuan He
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 12:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ If your problem is fear, most people in a photography group aren't certified to help you. \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 19:47

2 Answers 2


Your question seems to be more related to image brightness when displayed rather than "exposure." This comes down to having a calibrated monitor and screen brightness appropriate for the ambient levels.

A tool I use is a gamma test strip... I have it embedded into the Lightroom interface as the "identity plate."

enter image description here

If I can't see the difference between the dark squares in the top row my monitor is too dark. If I can't see the difference between the brightest squares in the bottom row my monitor is too bright. And if I can't clearly see the gradations steps in the midtones then the gamma would be off (need to recalibrate).

Another trick you can use is that something that is white on the monitor should be about as bright as a piece of white paper in the same ambient light (slightly brighter).

But you can never control how your image will look on everyone else's screens... just let that idea go.

Recording dark scenes is where "overexposing," or "exposing to the right," is most beneficial (using aperture/shutter speed; not ISO). This helps you record more data in the dark areas so you have something to work with... you can always pull it back in post.

This is the test strip:

enter image description here

The top row is alternating squares with luminance values of 0 and 4... on a well calibrated monitor at the right brightness they should just be distinguishable (a bit less visible in a white BG/workspace).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your thorough answert! I really do appreciate it :D \$\endgroup\$
    – Jiaxuan He
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 19:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Viewing the test strip on a dark background helps. With a white background (such as in the body of an SE answer), it's hard to see the differences in the top row with a perfectly calibrated monitor. Perhaps you could superimpose your test strip on a dark gray background that is about twice the height of the test strip above and below it and place that in the answer instead? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Apr 5, 2020 at 9:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelC, I included the original test strip so others can download/use it themselves... it is sized to fit the LR interface. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 5, 2020 at 14:20

Though this is little more than my own opinion, I think it's lacking in punch.
Even for a low-key image, I'd usually push the whites to white - lift the specular highlights.

If you were looking at this scene 'live' the store lighting would be really quite blinding compared to ths darkness your eyes were acclimatised to. It would be pushing that light out into the night, generating that glare in the roof glass & sparkling off all the foreground objects.

Therefore, I'd push the picture to this…

enter image description here

It retains the single light point top left, which isn't quite blown-out in the original as posted, so if that's what you recorded, then I'd be happy with that as an exposure. If you already tweaked the values it makes it harder to tell how much to the right you exposed initially.
I feel this emphasises the cyclist & makes the foreground far more easy to identify as trolleys, rather than them being vague blobs.

but… as I say, that's just my 2 cents. Other opinions would be equally valid.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ye I gotta work on the edits! Yours looks so much better thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Jiaxuan He
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 8:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.