Deliberate underexposure with Nikon DSLRs

Nikon has been killing it with its DSLR sensors in recent years in terms of how much detail can be pulled out of the shadows, and Deci Gallen has a great piece on a creative way of shooting that exploits that capability.

As photographers, we strive for correct exposure but the ability of modern Nikon cameras to find details in shadows opens up a debate as to what correct exposure actually is. More and more, I find myself technically exposing wrong with post-processing in mind.

As a wedding photographer, my wife and I often find ourselves shooting portraits when the sun is highest in the sky: conditions generally considered to be unfavorable in portraiture. In the past these situations were addressed with fill flash, reflectors or frantically searching for open shade. The current range of Nikons gives us another option – creative underexposure.


Having the ability to draw details from shadows so cleanly has changed not only how we shoot and post-process, but also the equipment we need to take certain kinds of shots.

Our flash triggers have been mostly redundant for 2 years now and our flashguns only really come out on the dance floor. We don’t use reflectors at all. The extra couple of minutes spent in post is negated by the time saved setting up equipment while shooting — allowing us to spot and shoot scenes quickly, taking advantage of beautiful but often fleeting lighting conditions.

Check out the piece to see some examples of what's possible.

I had skipped some generations of Nikon DSLRs and found myself picking mine up less and less given the weight of a fully loaded body, but I just picked up a D750 recently and it has won back my mindshare from other cameras like my iPhone.

The D750 isn't in their pro line of DSLRs, with their built in vertical grips and magnesium body construction, but that means it's much lighter. I love that it has integrated WiFi so I can quickly get pictures from my DSLR to my iPhone. It's something Nikon should've added years ago and that all modern DSLRs should have as a default feature, and I doubt I'll ever buy another camera that doesn't mark that checkbox.

And yes, the shadow recovery is fantastic. I've pushed shadows in RAW photos out of the D750 up to 4 stops, and I've heard that 5 stops is possible. Even before reading Gallen's article I'd been shooting as he recommends, usually with exposure compensation of -0.3 to -0.7 turned on by default. To me, it's far more convenient to shoot this way and bring shadows up in Lightroom than to shoot two or three photos at different exposures and blend them using Photoshop or something like HDRSoft's Photomatix Pro. Call it the lazy man's HDR.