Tip: Why You Don’t Always Want Proper Exposure

Sure, you want to properly expose your images, but not always!  I know.  Weird, right?!!

Here’s an example…

Just a few days ago, I was setting up our Christmas tree.  I love seeing my children’s faces when I turn on the holiday lights.  There is something magical about holiday lights, and I wanted to capture that moment I turned them on.

The room with the Christmas tree had boxes of holiday decorations and bins in the background.  Ideally, I wouldn’t want to have clutter in the shot, but this wasn’t a photoshoot, but rather, a capture of a moment in time.

Since there wasn’t any time to pretty it up, what can I do?

Here is the image when properly exposed:

You get this if you have your camera set on Auto, Program or Aperture/Shutter Priority mode.  Your DSLR will make sure your image is properly exposed.  With that, you see all the details — in this case, clutter — in the room.

Here is the same exact scene when I purposely UNDEREXPOSED the image:

I shot this in the Manual setting, so I had full control of the output.  I knew exactly how I wanted my image to look:  I wanted the focus to be on the lights and my monkeys’ faces…  I wanted a scene that depicted the magic of Christmas.

Here were the settings to both images:

By NOT having perfect exposure, I was able to create the look and feel I wanted.

Happy holidays to you and yours,


Leave a comment on Facebook!


  1. Annie, as usual your tips are so helpful, gorgeous shots of your munchkins! Happy holidays! ♥

  2. Did you do custom white balance or auto, I ask because I find it hard to do it in really dark set ups.

    FYI: Its hard to submit a question – the copy on your site covers the buttons to submit it.

    • Hi Mel,

      I use Auto WB about 90% of the time. (I used Auto for these shots in a dark room because the holiday lights were white, so the WB was pretty accurate.) The other 10% of the time, I use Kelvin and manually set my WB in-camera. I love my current camera (D800) because it is usually pretty spot-on when it comes to WB, so Auto works well.

      Thanks for letting me know about the button problem. What browser and version do you use? I know my site has formatting problems with older versions of Internet Explorer.

      Have a great day,


      • Thanks for getting back to me on the WB, I use internet explorer in window xp. In the comment box, I find that the looking for more, recent post and recent comments (none of them work) are covering the bottom of the comment box. “Keywords you like” covers the “submit your comment” making it nearly impossible to submit a comment.

  3. Thank you for the details on how you did this! You are helping those of us who are learning!! I SO want a D800. Glad to hear you like it.