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Jamie MacLeod

Expose DSLR (5Dmk3) to right and dial back in post? Or expose for final look?

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So I have a question about how best to expose when shooting with a DSLR. I am using a 5DMk3 and am trying to shoot a night scene in a bedroom.

Should I be exposing to the right, and then dial back the exposure in post? Or should I underexpose in camera to get the final look I am after.

When I have tried exposing the camera properly, and then dialling it back in post, I find that I get a lot of banding and artefacts presenting themselves (especially on walls). However, if I am underexposing in camera, surely that is just going to be introducing noise, for the simple fact that you are underexposing.

Also, how does this change if you are trying to boost the ISO in camera. If to get a decent exposure it involves going up to 3200, would I be better off staying at 640 with an underexposed image?

I hope I have explained myself well enough. Let me know if I haven’t. I would really appreciate the insight, thanks!

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Exposing to the Right is a philosophy that it often espoused by still shooters. It's not usually practical in moving pictures as it means that there is no consistent exposure, and therefore every shot has to be timed to match. Common practice would be to choose an ISO and Aperture beforehand, and then light to that stop, creating the look in camera.

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Like Stuart, I would also try to stay consistent within a single scene. Pick an ISO (5D Mk3 I try to stay between 100-1250), shutter speed (usually 1/50), and aperture (usually f/2-f/4). Then add or subtract light to get an image. With a DSLR that records a highly compressed h264 8 bit codec like the 5D, you pretty much have to expose the image perfectly in camera and not rely on grading, since it will just fall apart the minute you touch it. Exposing to the right only works if the camera system has enough overexposure latitude, but again as Stuart says there are other problems with using that method.


I know that I personally have a tendency to underexpose, so if I'm trying to give myself some safety on a low key scene, then I will add a little bit more fill light than I want to see in the final image which can then easily be brought down in post. I'm talking about just adding enough to get a little detail in the blacks, so not much at all. Sometimes just a little bounce card or sheet of muslin taped to the floor or wall is enough.

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Also, to add: with the 5D I find it's better to use a higher ISO and get a proper exposure (i.e. where you want it) rather than underexpose at a lower ISO and try to bring that up. You can always de-noise the footage later but you can't add back in detail that was never recorded in the first place. Of course, there are limits to what the sensor can see. If you are trying to shoot with real moonlight, then pushing the ISO won't give you any more detail, just more noise. In that case, you need to use a more light sensitive camera like the Sony A7s.

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