The art of underexposure

September 12, 2008

When I first began making photographs, I began using color and slide film. Working with film was always a challenge, but one could expose the film or chrome differently to achieve a desired affect. I have always been fascinated by the way a camera can record color.

UmbrellaThe art of black and white photography is being able to play with tonality and contrast. Some photographers are able to process a scene in black and white. It’s such an art, and there is such beauty in black and white imagery. I love color though, by underexposing just a fraction I feel like a photographer is able to saturate the colors a bit. Shadows can create a mood. Underexposing also creates contrast.

There is a tonal range in an image. Cameras record light differently than we see it, our eyes are able to process more of a range of light than a camera can, meaning we are able to see the detail in shadows. I love to look around and see how the light is falling on a particular scene. I’ll observe the scene, look for the most interesting light, or the most fascinating subjects, or something different.


As a news photographer, we have an obligation to tell the story as we see it in front of us. Sometimes we are bound to the news value rather than an aesthetic, but such is the business of photojournalism, we are there to record a scene and to show history as it’s being made. But there are other moments. In many situations, I feel that scenes are recorded and the significance is narrowed down to a frame or two that are supposed to represent exactly what happened.

What is the significance of a scene? What was the moment that defined an event?


But there are myriad moments that define an event.

Veterans 2

The media at times dictates news rather than recording it, but all around there are moments happening that define it as much as anything else. Finding those moments is easy, it’s recording them in a way that somehow reflects their emotional significance that provides more of a challenge. Through the art of photography, we are able to capture those moments in a way that reflects the way we see them. We are thinking and feeling, and our cameras are there to record that, our presence in a scene, how we process everything that is going on around us. I care about how that looks, as a photographer we are interested in the aesthetic, but the ultimate goal is to make the viewer feel what it was like to be there, or feel something about the scene. If my images are able to capture that, then I have done my job.

I was lucky enough to be able to cover the Democratic National Convention, and being able to see history in the making and at the same time record it was an amazing experience.

Thayer Obama


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

This is one of the best blogposts on the reuters photo blog in a long time. I totally agree with Eric Thayer, this is how I feel about photography as well.

Oh, and the photos aren’t bad either =)

Posted by Max Edin | Report as abusive

Oh wow.. Some amazing images. The photograph of the servicemen against the darkening sky and the one of the gentleman in the wheelchair are stunning.

I just found this blog and I’ll be checking back often.

Posted by Chris Oquist | Report as abusive

Yes, underexposure really sets a mood to the photograph. In fact, I believe that in underexposure there’s so much of use of contrasts that it sort of helps bridge the gap between color and B&W photography. The subject can be highlighted, nevertheless, some details of the photograph lurk in the dark and in discovering them lies a part of the excitement of underexposure.

Posted by Danny George | Report as abusive

The oddity of this convention is that its central figure is the ultimate self-made man, a dazzling mysterious Gatsby. The palpable apprehension is that the anointed is a stranger — a deeply engaging, elegant, brilliant stranger with whom the Democrats had a torrid affair. Having slowly woken up, they see the ring and wonder who exactly they married last night.

Posted by Janice | Report as abusive

I would also like to respond to one of your comments in the narrative. “. . .Through the art of photography, we are able to capture those moments in a way that reflects the way we see them. We are thinking and feeling, and our cameras are there to record that, our presence in a scene, how we process everything that is going on around us…” I understand what you are trying to do in this statement but my concern is about what happens when you “capture moments in a way that reflects the way you see them” In my view this is exactly how we as the public get such a slanted view of what is going on in the world. It is slanted based on the views and opinions of the people recording the event. Your honest if refreshing, but what happens if how you emotionally experienced an event or a person causes others to make a horrible mistake in their selection of a candidate to run this country.

Posted by Mary | Report as abusive

@ Mary The camera has always ‘lied’, photos never purely document reality. But surely that is an inevitable part of any journalism. And one that can make it endlessly fascinating. For me one of the most exciting things about the internet is that readers can now access so many accounts of world events and are no longer restricted to one or two versions.

Posted by Kate Day | Report as abusive

I like your stlye of story telling, not only do the photos look warm, they feel warm. Very emotioanl technique. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by Phoenix Photographers | Report as abusive

It’s not very easy to take a good underexposed photographs. The work I saw in the post is really good. Congratulations.

Posted by Aleksy Antoniewicz | Report as abusive

Fantastic Photos. My day never ends without searching for these photos.

Posted by Arvind Sahu | Report as abusive

Great; In actual fact very good site…successes are in advancement

Posted by DNA Art | Report as abusive

very well, good job my friend i will try next time. great collection, the dark sky is my favorite.

Posted by Canvas Art | Report as abusive

“By underexposing just a fraction I feel like a photographer is able to saturate the colors.”

Isn’t the opposite true? Underexposing results in less saturated colours?

Posted by Photo On Canvas | Report as abusive

Well written article and great photos to match.

Posted by Canvas Prints | Report as abusive

Very well said. A image itself saying 1000 words.

Posted by Photos to Canvas | Report as abusive

cheers a great blog post

Posted by Canavs Art | Report as abusive

Excellent blog post and great photographs. cheers

Posted by Canvas Prints | Report as abusive

Photos are incredible… so inspiring!

Posted by Pictures On Canvas | Report as abusive

This is a great post, thanks !

Posted by Canvas | Report as abusive

[…] Photographers – The Art of Underexposure. Told from a news/record keeping […]

Posted by Rapturous! Inspirational & Interesting Photography » Exposed! Over- and Under-Expose Photos! [Break the Rules!] | Report as abusive

Very inspirational photos, I must agree.

Posted by acrylicframes1 | Report as abusive

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Posted by Design Principles | Report as abusive

Great blog always offer the best and authentic information without creating exaggeration.

Posted by Craigslist90 | Report as abusive