How to adjust exposure for dark or light garments

Getting your exposure right can be tricky, especially when it comes to having to shoot both dark and light clothes in one session. In this product photography tutorial, we will show you how to set up your exposure settings to ensure you get the most professional, well-styled looking shots of your clothes on your eCommerce store. 

As discussed in a previous tutorial - organising your rail before a photo shoot - it helps to group your garments according to light gradient. Separating your products into light and dark tones means you spend less time adjusting settings, leaving more time to style your clothes in the way that best represents your brand or outlet.

In any case, it’s crucial to know how to set exposure settings correctly. Too high? Your product will look washed out, devoid of any noticeable features. Too low on the other hand means not enough light will bounce back into the lens, making all your garments look darker. 

Continue reading this product lighting tutorial to learn all about how to adjust the exposure settings of your camera.

View the video tutorial

The equipment you need to effectively adjust your exposure settings

  • Camera - Any camera will suffice but a Canon EOS 5D Mk III is recommended as the industry-standard for professional product photography
  • Studio lighting - A source of continuous cool LED lamps are recommended for lighting to ensure exposure, shadows and contrast are kept consistent
  • Your garments - Separated into dark and light batches to minimise time spent adjusting exposure settings

Tips on adjusting exposure when photographing light garments

In this example, we have a white long-sleeved top. You can see from the first image on the right that the shot doesn’t quite match up to how the product looks in real life - it’s too dark. 

The colour of the shirt simply doesn't look as white as the product. Clearly the amount of light entering the camera's lens needs to be increased - by increasing the exposure level. 

By raising the exposure slightly, you will begin to see it looks more like the product in real life.

Raising it too much however means that the finer details in the garment begin to get ‘washed out’. 

So to calibrate your exposure settings for a particular shade of garment, take three shots. One like the darker original example, one a little brighter, and one on the top end of where the features such as material and texture start to become invisible. 

You will see that it’s slightly better to have your lighter garments a little underexposed so the details are brought out and contrast against the material, rather than over-exposed and washed out. 

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Tips on adjusting exposure when photographing dark garments

Adjusting your exposure for dark coloured garments, such as the one shown in our example, works similarly. To calibrate exposure, take a number of shots with higher exposure settings, lower exposure settings and a few in the middle.

Compare the shots and decide on which settings you’d like to use to shoot your clothes depending on which shot gives you the most accurate representation. Generally, it’s best to overexpose darker products to bring out all the features and detail in your garments. 

However, by raising the exposure of a dark garment too much, you will misrepresent the colour and tone of the garment - potentially leading to unhappy customers not being delivered the product that was promised. 

Again, you can also experiment with the direction your lighting is cast on your garment in order to highlight certain features or to really create dynamic and interesting shadows. 


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Tips and tricks

  • Use light direction to cast contrasting shadows across the garment in order to highlight key features like fabric, print and texture
  • It's better to underexpose light garments to ensure details are not 'washed out'
  • It's better to overexpose dark garments to bring out features that are hard to see from a single shot

Don't feel like reading? Watch the tutorial in full (2 mins)

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Stephen Warr