Is “Expose To The Right” Still A Valid Exposure Rule?

Ctein over at The Online Photographer has an interesting article about whether ETTR (Exposing To The Right) is still a valid exposure rule. His assertion is that it is not (anymore) in our digital age. His article may free many photographers from the guilt they’ve felt for not ETTR and/or shooting RAW.

Of course, one of the main proponents of ETTR is Michael Reichmann of Luminous Landscape. He wrote about it in a 2003 article and then again in 2011 when he basically took camera manufacturers to task for still not implementing ETTR as the default exposure technology in their DSLRs. Reichmann is a renowned landscape photographer and he has the pictures to prove whatever techniques he espouses. Simply stated, these techniques work for him, no arguments there.

As in most arguments over “the right way” to do something, there’re always good reasons for doing things one way or the other way. Rarely is there one definitive, all-encompassing way that is right. Often, it depends on the audience (pros vs amateurs), file format used (RAW vs JPEG) and even whether it really matters for most of us, enthusiast photographers. Similar to the age-old argument on whether you should shoot RAW or JPEG, often the benefits just do not stack up enough for most of us and there are many good reasons to do so as there are not to do so.

The smart photographers get to know their equipment and that includes camera, sensor, and even photo editing software. They also learn different techniques and use what works for them. Are you trying to nail a particular scene but the exposure just does not cooperate? Try ETTR and see if that solves your problem. Use ETTR from then on if it fancies you. But if your pictures satisfy your creative longings and you have tried ETTR but simply don’t see any gain in the kind of photography you take, then why sweat it? Some photographers have unnecessarily carried a guilt complex because they do not shoot RAW or ETTR.

ETTR requires that you shoot RAW and is more or less an expert in post processing. Most of us amateur photographers simply don’t have the expertise or even desire to post process every single picture we take. But then again, why not try ETTR at least once and see what it can gain you? Who knows, you may love it. The same goes with shooting in RAW.

We’re all for sharing tips and techniques that can improve your photography. We just don’t like absolutes so much because things change, technology changes and what was right a generation ago will often not apply anymore in the next. And then again, some things seem to endure a life time.

Whether you use the Zone System or trust your camera’s matrix metering, ETTR or not, shoot RAW or don’t, shoot in P or A or M, swear by prime lenses, shoot only with Leica equipment, use a light meter or not, love saturated colors,… enjoy your photography.