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Video: Shooting Flat for Better Exposure Information | Exposure Triangle, Pt. 4

Welcome to the fourth & final part of our Exposure Triangle series! At this point, you should already have a firm grasp of the exposure triangle and understand how it works, compositionally. You should also know the histogram and highlight alert. In this article, we’re going to continue exploring what it means to get to the perfect exposure, this time focusing on how to shoot flat for better exposure information. This technique, which is often reserved for video production, also works exceptionally well for still photography. Like the previous parts of this series, this article expands on concepts covered in our Photography 101 workshop.

If you missed the first three articles, you can find them below:

Why Shoot Flat?

Avoid Highlight Alert and Histogram Discrepancies

shooting flat exposure triangle information jpeg preview vs raw
In-camera highlight alert vs. Lightroom highlight alert

In the image comparison above, you can see how the highlight alert in-camera is showing areas of the image in which the highlights are blown out; in Lightroom (pictured on the right), however, some of those areas have actually retained detail. Both refer to the same RAW file but render different results in-camera. What’s happening is we’re seeing the image based on a JPEG preview rather than the actual RAW file. The JPEG image represents a processed version based on your picture profile or picture style settings in-camera.

shoot flat better exposure triangle information setup comparison
In-camera Histogram variations resulting from adjustments made to picture style settings

To further illustrate this point, the images above show what happens to the histogram if we dial in a high contrast setting vs a neutral (flat) or standard setting. The camera settings haven’t changed, but as you can see, the histogram has definitely shifted. Again, the preview image we see in-camera is the JPEG preview with the picture style attached. This means that the in-camera playback can misrepresent the image information if it is not set up correctly.

Make Exposure Decisions Based on a More Accurate Playback

You might wonder why we should bother customizing our picture style settings if it doesn’t affect the RAW file. While it’s true that these picture style settings only affect the actual image when we’re shooting in JPEG instead of RAW, what we see on the back of the camera can influence our decisions for dialing in exposure; therefore, the closer we get to our RAW file when playing back our image in-camera, the better chance we’ll have to maximize dynamic range and retain as much detail as possible in our files.

Gain a Post-Production Advantage

When I do post-production demonstrations, I often get asked how I make it look so easy to get to the final image. How is it possible to get to a fantastic final image in just a few clicks? In addition to using specially designed presets, the answer lies in shooting flat to get better exposure information. With a better RAW file to work with, we arrive with better images in post.

These are the reasons why it’s best to shoot flat for better exposure information.

[Related Reading: How to Read a Histogram | Quick Reference]

How to Shoot Flat

Customize Picture Style Settings

shoot flat better exposure triangle Pye ideal setup 1

The images above outline my ideal settings for shooting flat. Here’s how to arrive at those settings:

  1. Go into your camera’s menu system and locate the Picture Style settings (which might change in name, depending on the camera body you’re using)
  2. Scroll down to the User Defined (or custom) settings and hit “Enter”
  3. Select the “Neutral” picture style
  4. Scroll down to Contrast and set your contrast and back it all the way down to minimize the contrast in your previews; when it’s set, hit “Enter”
  5. Scroll down to Saturation and lower the saturation point; when does, hit “Enter”
  6. Exit the menu and begin taking pictures

It’s that easy and the impact is noticeable.

[Related Reading: Get Perfect In-Camera Exposure with These 3 Overlooked Tips]


We hope you enjoyed this video and lesson (the last of a four-part series) on why and how to shoot flat for better exposure information. You can revisit these and other concepts in our Photography 101 workshop and dive further into the fundamentals of portrait photography.

Be sure to catch our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!