How to Capture the Perfect Exposure

August 18, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 10 Comments | |
How to Capture the Perfect Exposure Image

High Dynamic Range images are made using specialist software to merge anything up to 5 multiple exposures. It is a technique that is very much in at the moment; the camera mags are full of it. The software such as CS4 or PhotoMatrix is very clever and the contrast range that can be dealt with is amazing.

There's just one problem; it looks crap. OK, now I know I'm being contentious here, but I can't stand HDR images. They look false, surreal, of another world. There's no doubt it's a unique look, but I think images have to appear essentially real to connect with the viewer. If a picture seems to be a triumph of computer wizardry over photographic perception in my experience viewers discount the image no matter how much impact it has. I think in a few years time we'll be looking back at this HDR phase and thinking how dated it looks.

But now I'm going to contradict myself completely by revealing that I have and do use HDR occasionally. Nine times out of ten I'll try it and reject the results. There are horrid artefacts in the sky and the image just looks gruesome. But as an exception to prove the rule this image of Salisbury Cathedral was made using HDR (eg salisbury7663 below). As with all techniques subtlety is the key. So, don't take my word, try it and see. No doubt you'll disagree with a lot of the above, but that's what this game's all about isn't it? Evolving your own unique way of working and style. Enjoy.

How to Capture the Perfect Exposure Salisbury Cathedral at dawn rising above the mist lying on Harnham Water Meadows, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. Canon 1Ds mkIII, 70-200mm lens, ISO 100, f11. The exception that proves the rule. HDR software was used here to merge 5 exposures.


Born in England in 1957, David spent much of his youth travelling with his family between the UK, California and Canada. After leaving school David joined the Navy in search of further travels and adventures – and it was while sailing the seven seas that his interest in photography grew. After several years at sea he decided to pursue his passion for photography and returned to study in Gloucester, England.  After leaving college in 1985 he began work as a freelance photographer specialising in landscape and other travel subjects, which over the last 25 years, have taken him to almost every corner of the globe.

David is now established and recognised as one of the UK's leading landscape and travel photographers. His images sell all over the world – both as fine art photography and commercially in advertising and publishing. He has won international awards for: British Gas/ BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards in 1985,1989 & 1990 and also writes regularly about landscape and travel photography for a number of national and international magazines. David has worked for numerous clients including British Airways, Sainsbury's, Geo, Toyota, Qantas, Sunday Times and the Telegraph.  During the last twenty years he has also worked extensively for the National Trust covering much of the UK's landscape and coastline, which has featured in many high profile publications and several highly acclaimed photographic exhibitions. Most notably:

'New Vision' Contemporary Art Photography – AOP Gallery
'The Coast Exposed' – Maritime Museum Greenwich and the Lowry
'Climate Change – in Britain's Back Yard!' – London, Nottingham, Wales, Belfast, Bristol

“l'm still passionate about photography. All aspects fascinate me; from capturing the first light of day on a frosty landscape or making the most of a bustling market in Vietnam to portraying the dignity of a wrinkled face in China.”

David spends much of the year travelling with his wife Wendy. When not travelling they live in England, near Sherborne in Dorset.

David has confirmed the first in a series of inspirational evening events – billed as 'an evening of photographic discovery' - taking place at the Olympus Theatre, WISE Campus, Filton College in Bristol, on 9th & 10th September. So to see David in action and find out more about his photography, book your tickets online now at

All images in this article © David Noton

Entry Tags

David Noton, HDR, filters, high dynamic range, perfect, exposure, neutral, grads, graduated, highlights, multiple exposures, shadows

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#1 Mandeno Moments

This is a thought provoking article and I hope that there’s a followup that shows how to use Gimp & Photoshop to blend two shots. 

IMHO the “perfect exposure” is whatever you think it is when you’re taking photos for yourself, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If you’re taking photos for someone else, paid or unpaid, the “perfect exposure” is usually whatever makes that person happy.

12:29 am - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

#2 Tom

You can of course create an HDR from three bracketed shots.  It is a little more work but you can get the perfect exposure every time.  Takes a little learning but follow my tutorial and you will be doing it like a pro for free very soon!!!

12:51 am - Thursday, August 20, 2009

#3 Tom

Heres the Tutorial

12:52 am - Thursday, August 20, 2009

#4 Disappointed

Tom, thanks for the link! Great blog, by the way :-)

That one link alone is worth more than the three pages of fluff David wrote for this site.

3:08 pm - Thursday, August 20, 2009

#5 Ian Woolcock

As much as I enjoy reading David’s articles and viewing his work I have to say that the cathedral shot looks totally unnatural to me. It is in itself a prime example of why HDR images look fake.

Otherwise a good article, though almost a word for word repeat of one of his dispatches. Would far rather read information from a working pro than the flickr crowd.

3:52 pm - Friday, October 16, 2009

#6 Dave

Nothing ground breaking in the article, but a useful read. After reading David’s article and looking at the images at the link posted by Tom, I agree. HDR is crap.

8:40 am - Wednesday, October 21, 2009

#7 James K

good article. as discussed above there is no such thing as the perfect exposure. we all see light and scenes differently.

Nonetheless some good advice in this post.

I’ve just made a post on my blog about the workflow I use to get a well exposed shot - may be useful…

11:39 pm - Monday, February 8, 2010

#8 Florian U.

that article did start a thought-process in my mind so good job :)

Regarding HDR: Its not crap. HDR is very useful and can lead to good results. Its just when you over-do it (putting all the sliders to maximum for example), it looks unnatural and almost comic-like. If thats what you want to go for, enjoy. I prefer HDR to add just that little bit of detail in the shadows and the highlights ;)

3:03 am - Wednesday, June 2, 2010

#9 nikon s8100 reviews

Is a nikon d80 compatible with a metz 45 cl-1 flash?

1:21 pm - Saturday, June 25, 2011

#10 $1 web hosting godaddy

Wow this is very nice and very useful and can lead to good results.

10:52 am - Friday, July 3, 2015