The simplest way to define a "good exposure" is to say that it means choosing a combination of f/stop and shutter speed that will allow the right amount of light to expose the film. It is important to understand that if the film receives less than this optimum amount of exposure, the negative will be too thin in the areas that correspond to the darker parts of the subject. What makes proper exposure so crucial is that the only time your film can record visual information in the darker shadow areas of your subject is during exposure.

FIGURE 1 An example of a print made from an underexposed negative.

Of course, underexposure will cause the entire negative to be less dense than normal, but the lack of density in the shadow areas of the negative is critical. When a negative receives too little exposure, it will be transparent in areas that you would ordinarily expect to print with full texture and detail (dark hair and fabric, for example). Because the necessary detail is not in the negative, these areas print as black, empty spaces.

Deliberate underexposure can often be used to create striking effects, but in general, these unnaturally dark areas are distracting and spoil the quality of your image. Of course, any dark area of a print can be made lighter by dodging when you make a print, but no amount of careful printing can give a print detail that doesn't exist in the negative.

As you will learn in the Chapter 10, underexposure is just as damaging to digital image files as it is to film.

For this reason, avoiding underexposure is essential. The rule is: A negative has to receive at least enough exposure to ensure that the important darker areas of the print appear realistically well lit and detailed.

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