Purposely over expose portraits

edited September 2014 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
Dear wonderful, amazing and brilliant Moose (for creating such a fabulous webpage!),

I would like to learn how to over expose on the D3200 to create a bleached, washed out, beachy look on portraits and floral shots. I would ideally like the background to be almost all washed out, if possible. I am not very familiar with the manual settings on the D3200 yet, thus assume I know how to turn on the camera....and that's about it! I have a reflector and tripod that I can put to use, although I would ideally like to hand hold as I rather like the washed out look and would eventually like to use the technique at a whim. Is there a way to post an example of the look I am attempting to shoot?

I also wanted to thank you for the tips when taking my daughters wedding invitation portraits, the shots turned out beautifully. My sincere thanks!


  • edited September 2014
    I can't help much on the actual question, but I think the key words you need for a search are "high key portraits." If you do a search for this, you should find tutorials on how best to get what you're after. Be prepared to play a lot with lights; lots of light and bright backgrounds.

    I'm answering this mainly because nobody else seems ready to. As it happens, I tend to work more for the opposite effect, "low key", though I might rethink it if I find myself in a room full of babies. Here, a D3200 explores the dark side:


  • edited September 2014
    It would be best to post an example of the look you’re trying to achieve. Just share the link here since we can’t upload pictures to this forum.

    To overexpose (assuming you’re in P, A, or S mode) just adjust the exposure compensation, but I’m not entirely sure that’s what you’re trying to achieve.

    I know it’s possible to underexpose the background such that it’s pitch black while keeping your subject exposed properly, but this involves a relatively advanced flash technique.

    I’m uncertain if the reverse is possible (i.e. overexpose the background while keeping the subject exposed properly) unless the background is already super bright. If the background and subject are equally lit and you want them to be exposed differently, I think the only way is to do it in post-processing.

    Edit: As always, @bruto is awesome in able to identify what you’re trying to achieve! Seems to me the high-key look can most easily be done in a studio environment with the correct backdrop and lighting.

    Otherwise, you’ll need an already super bright background.
    This appears to be a useful link: http://digital-photography-school.com/4-tips-perfect-white-background-high-key-photography/
  • edited September 2014
    As I said, I've done little of this on purpose, but from the little I've tried the overexposed look comes only partly from actual overexposure. You still need your subject to be exposed with most, if not all, of its colors and tonal range visible and its own highlights not blown out. The rest of the effect is gained by lighting such that as little shadow as possible is cast, and by finding a light background that can disappear when brightly lit.

  • edited September 2014
    If you shoot in RAW mode there's another way to make a photo higher key, and that is to change the curves. If you open a file in View NX2, go to the custom picture control sub-program, and elect manual control, you get a graph with which you can play around. I have clearly not mastered this complex program, but in playing with it. I found that you can get part of the way there by moving the white point (right hand slider) to the left. This compresses the color palate, but moves the gray point proportionally.

    A rudimentary example follows:

    We start with the original photograph taken with a manual 35mm lens and accidentally somewhat overexposed. Not a prime candidate for high key since there are green trees in the background, but it's a bit washed out to start with:


    Now the same picture with the white point moved too far to the left, but no other custom curve manipulation. Since it was not correctly exposed in the first place and used only outdoor light, the right edge of the face is over-whitened. I hope this gives a quick and dirty idea of what you can do with the custom curve program, which is very powerful.


    As I say, this did not start out to be a high key picture, and if it had I could have used a larger aperture for more background blur. The initial overexposure was simply an initial bad guess on my part, shooting a preset lens that does not meter on my camera. It's a perspective control lens shifted all the way to the left accounting for the loss of detail on the right.
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