15 Creative Uses Of Overexposure

15 Creative Uses Of Overexposure


The nice thing about all the rules of photography is they can often be broken with great results.  Some would even claim there are no actual rules of photography, just results.  Whether the whole image or just part of it, I’ve complied 15 great examples of how overexposure can be used to enhance the end result.


Photo by LeRe Pics - 1/80 f/8 ISO 3200

Copyright brianschulman

Photo by brianschulman - 1/60 f/3.5 ISO 1600


Photo by Yandle - 1/5 f/8 ISO 50


Photo by .Pete. - 1/40 f/18 ISO 200


Photo by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ - Exposure Not Published


Photo by skycaptaintwo - 1.3 seconds f5.6 ISO 100


Photo by katmere - 1/125 f/2.8 ISO 200


Photo by ljmacphee - 1/8 f/8 ISO 50


Photo by melody.gates - 1/10 f/16 ISO 100


Photo by cstrom - 1/1000 f/2.8 ISO 100


Photo by reborg - Exposure Not Published


Photo by ooOJasonOoo - 1.6 seconds f/3.5 ISO 800


Photo by mangpages - 1/15 f/2.8 ISO 200

Photo by Lachlan Hardy - 1/640 f/8 ISO 200


Photo by John Worthington - 1/800 f/7.1 ISO 100

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Sandy February 28, 2013 08:35 am

    I love overexposed shots! Always have done.

  • Siobhan March 28, 2012 12:20 am

    Only a few of these look like creative overexposure to me and a few look like mistakes that worked.
    My favorites in terms of the overexposure actually adding something special to the photo are the ones by melody.gate and ljmmacphee. I like the ones by ooojasonooo, reborg, and the alieness.
    Most of them, however, do not work for me. They feel like mistakes and the overexposure doesn't add anything to them. Others are more about flare than overexposure, and I know there are better examples of these, without the harsh lines between the sun and the sky.
    I rarely post my accidentally overexposed photos, but this is one I felt worked:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/superdewa/5796759084/. I would have preferred the chicken fully silhouetted against the sunset, but I only had a moment to shoot this, and I decided the result had something to it.

  • rarara December 30, 2010 03:12 pm

    I really thought some on these were very well done. I especially liked the beach, the metro stop, the bus terminal and the African plain. I think I was more drawn to the ones where more detail was left as opposed to the ones that showed a lot of white. But that is just my opinion. I was looking for good samples of over exposed photos for inspiration for a project that I am doing and I may be thinking more within the work for the project I'm about to do.
    As for all the hostility, this is something I find too often in the art world. Some people make no distinction between constructive criticism and just blasting someone's work. Art can become so subjective, and people let their personal feelings show through much too often. If your going to critique stay objective and then draw subjective conclusions from there. I've often had art directors and clients love what I did and then had some hipster art school kid tear apart my work and say it suck and that I need to go back and learn the rules of design.

  • Roger May 7, 2009 06:52 pm

    These have definitely peaked my interest and I agree that too many previous commenters are quick to judge.

    One the one hand you can of course say "these fools didn't know how to use their camera's" but what about the fools that do, and who then purposely set out to break the "rules" knowing darn well what the proper exposure is and then ignoring it. That takes technical ability too.

    Melody Gate's photo (which is absolutely fantastic) also illustrates a second aspect; 'good' photography is often not concerned with the technical or the perfect or the proper. Good photography makes you feel...

    If you have to look at a photo and _analyze_ it before you even allow yourself to take it all in, you could be missing out. Making sure the subject is in the perfect left 3rd of the frame, the exposure is exactly how your eye sees it, and the composition with the background was just right is often not necessary at all, and in many ways, not what was required in the first place to tell the story you wanted to tell.

  • Patrícia April 24, 2009 08:33 am

    got to say.... did´nt like the examples very much :(

  • joseph March 11, 2009 01:26 am

    sorry i think the last word of my last comment was over exposed..............................

  • COUZEY March 2, 2009 12:56 am

    These are great! Obviously some will like and some will not. That is no reason to criticize someone's art. If you don't like it, 'put the needle on another song".

  • Grace @ Sandier Pastures March 1, 2009 03:26 pm

    Everytime I get an overexposed photo, I don't delete it immediately and instead take time to upload to my PC to see any hidden beauty of it. These are great examples. Not every overexposed photo is trash. Great one!

  • Sarah March 1, 2009 03:23 pm

    Wow, I think this is the 1st big controversial post I've seen in DPS. I like the driftwood, and #'s 11 & 12 are pretty cool. The others aren't really my thing, but I think they do show all the different ways overexposure can change a photograph. And I agree with Jeffrey "No one ever said these were the best shots ever produced, only that this was a way of salvaging mistakes and still coming out with something visually satisfying."

  • hurstle manuel March 1, 2009 07:49 am

    This will make alot of changes now with my photography. Overexposed photos where always deleted and for some reason i dislike them but now i can find myself using overexposed photos. thanks heaps Peter

  • Vickie February 28, 2009 10:42 am

    As I first scrolled down through these images, several of them really caught my eye (in a good way), such as the guitar player, the bird legs, and the people walking in the field. Then, I began to read the comments (whew, you guys can be vicious!) and I started second-guessing my initial opinions. Went back, looked again and, yep, I still like them.

  • Ed Penano February 28, 2009 08:05 am

    This is actually encouraging! Sometimes when I look at a photo I just took, some, Ok...sometimes MANY of my flicks come out overexposed and I end up trashing them. But after seeing this, my supposed "overexposed" shots might have just ended up that way serendipitously. Go figure... Now on to more shooting!!!

  • Gazza February 27, 2009 10:28 pm


    I am seeing wayyyy tooo much personal attacking going on here. Sure there are some photo's which may me big mistakes, maybe they were intentional.

    The main point, I think, is that perhaps we can all go out to try to bend the "rules" and come up with something outstanding (hich by the way I consider the bird to be). If we don't push to the egde nothing changes and evrything becomes boring and mundane.

    You don't like then analyse why and comment you do like do the same but don't attcak the person. To me it says add this aspect to what you consider possible when you look at a possible photo opportunity.

  • Raymond Chan February 27, 2009 12:27 pm

    I don't know, but I think some, if not most of the shots here are merely overexposed, not creatively overexposed. Just my two cents anyway.

  • Ben May February 27, 2009 09:05 am

    Very Nice Examples

  • Carina February 27, 2009 08:56 am

    I find some of these pictures very artisitcally stimulating others.. well not so much. I like the way some of the moods come across in some of these photographs. true I believe that some of them were not good examples but others were very nicely taken. Obviously a few people seem to have a rather obtuse opinion on these photos but I enjoyed looking at them.

  • jon February 27, 2009 07:03 am

    i agree these pictures are just bad pictures.

  • Joshua Camp February 27, 2009 02:52 am

    I'm agreeing with most here - blown out shots are just bad technique, but art IS subjective. IF you can get a cool effect by overexposing, do it in post and prove to everyone that you know what you're doing. I'm all for art - and sometimes bumping exposure is the best way to add depth and contrast to otherwise boring or useless pics. There should be very very few "accidental" shots if you know what you're doing. If you don't know how to use manual, use Auto, Av or Tv and pay attention to the setting results.

    For the most part, I notice "photographers" all pretending to know what's "right". Bottom line is, either you're an artist, a technician, or a fake. You must be the former 2 and get paid to be a real pro.

  • Megan@SortaCrunchy February 27, 2009 02:49 am

    Photography, like poetry, is sometimes better felt than explicated. I think creative use of overexposure adds to the feeling of the shot, and I think photos 5, 11, and 12 above are perfect examples of blow-outs adding to the sense of atmosphere and mood.

    But what do I know? I'm just a novice with a Nikon.

  • ionized February 27, 2009 02:38 am

    I actually really like many over-exposed photos (but I also really love the way lomo photos look, and think graffiti is beautiful), and always felt that a lot of the 'wrong' examples in photography books don't look as nice as the over-exposed ones. I don't think it's fair to act as if any one of us can say what is or isn't art, because it's subjective and personal. Some people want to do things 'correctly', others want to create a 'feeling' or mood. Anyway, for the people who took a lot of the above pics, nice effort, and i hope the writer isn't too discouraged from the negative comments, as at least I enjoyed the article.

  • Jimmy P. February 27, 2009 02:34 am

    With digital, under exposure is best you can always adjust it in Photoshop or whatever. There is more data there and you have more to work with. With overexposure the data is just not there at all.

    Not the same as with film.

    And I agree that many of the shots would be better at a "proper" exposure. You can always "play" with the shot.

  • vevans February 27, 2009 02:15 am

    Some of these images here are very good, however, quite a few of them could be pushed even further, treated in Photoshop to remove the last traces of detail in the whites for a truly surreal feel. Some of them, as they are just now, look a bit amateurish and before you say anything, it may have been amateurs who took them, but that's no excuse to leave an image when a little more attention could do so much for it.

    Then again, simply blowing your highlights when you should be using D&B or HDR (I'm thinking about that streetlamp and the clouds behind the driftwood) isn't a particularly clever creative statement - it just looks like you can't control your exposure.

  • Floriantanplan February 26, 2009 07:52 pm

    I can hardly see any interest in any of those pictures (well ... maybe n°11 looks good, but not due to overexposure). The poor girl on the first picture would be much prettier without this horrible red border tone on top of her nose ... I don't think that someone taking an outside portrait at 3200 ISO does care about creativity anyway.

  • Peter February 26, 2009 02:29 pm

    An interesting effect nonetheless, has got to be one of the top ten greatest put downs ever.
    There is good art, Bad art. then there is your effort.
    The great thing about Digital Photography is that you can take thousands of photos, but if they turn out rubbish it has not cost you anything, so delete it and go back and try, try, try, again. Hopefully, eventually you may get it right.
    You could try a graduated neutral density filter on top of a pile of other neutral density filters, or better still, a range of evening shots merged together in HDR.

  • RinceyNZ February 26, 2009 11:40 am

    "No one ever said these were the best shots ever produced, only that this was a way of salvaging mistakes and still coming out with something visually satisfying."

    exactly. I've had comments from people saying (about my wind turbine pic) "not good enough for a competition entry, but interesting effect nonetheless"

  • Jeffrey Kontur February 26, 2009 01:48 am

    Not all of the examples are my cup of tea, but I'm not hostile to them as some seem to be. On the contrary, on the whole I really love the artistic effect. I'm a huge advocate of producing a vision from your mind rather than documentation from the little machine you hold up to your face. I agree with AA, to all those who are so happy to throw jabs, let's see how your work is so much better. No one ever said these were the best shots ever produced, only that this was a way of salvaging mistakes and still coming out with something visually satisfying.

  • MeiTeng February 25, 2009 10:58 pm

    Great photos! Didn't know overexposure can work to such great advantage for these shots. Thanks for sharing.

  • reborg February 25, 2009 02:55 am

    I'm reborg author of #11 "sympathetic convolution" with columns and shadows. Thanks for the post! The data: f/10 1/60s iso100 14mm. The story: it was not shot with the idea of overexposing it, but it was a tricky subject and I decided to expose for the shadows to have some texture in the floor and ceiling. When I saw that the result was overexposed I liked it anyway and published this instead of other "well" exposed picture of the same subject. So, here's an example of overexposure by mistake but selection on purpose! :)

  • dcclark February 24, 2009 11:54 pm

    Wow, I'm amazed at the hostility in some of these comments. Sure, some of the photos above aren't great. On the other hand, some of them set certain moods very well. (And once again -- the bird legs shot -- spooky! I love it.) A photo which breaks a "rule" may not be great art, but it's not automatically crap either. Consider each photo for its own value.

    But of course, photography is a very subjective art -- but I think a few too many of us here are automatically dismissing anything that doesn't look like a "normal" good photo.

  • Matt February 24, 2009 09:31 pm

    You can definitely tell by the comments that overexposure isn't for everybody. I know everytime I post a picture on flickr of a shot I purposely overexposed, it generally doesn't get that good reviews.

    Me? I love overexposed shots. Obviously not every one of them, but I love the unique look that it can bring to a shot. Fortunately photography is art, and not all art is appreciated by everybody. It just has to be appreciated by the creator.

  • Jeremiah February 24, 2009 04:19 pm

    Second example is awesome. I wanted to try something like that a long time ago, in the underground KL train tunnels, but there was only one of me and there were too many people passing around.

  • Farshad Palideh February 24, 2009 03:26 pm

    I didn't like this series

  • Julie Cortens February 24, 2009 02:20 pm

    Enjoyed looking at these "over exosed" photos and went down to the beach and played with my own today. It too is very over exposed, but I like the effect. Thanks forthe creative push.

  • Alain February 24, 2009 09:03 am

    Why give the exposure settings? Unless we know the "correct" settings, this data is useless.

  • Michael VanDeWalker February 24, 2009 08:01 am

    High Key has it's place. Over exposed is just over exposed to me.

  • AA February 24, 2009 07:12 am

    I'd like to see some photos from those saying that these ones aren't good. Show us your work, we want to see it!

  • RinceyNZ February 24, 2009 05:37 am

    Just recently I tried to take a photo of a wind turbine but it was far too bright for long exposures to show the speed of the blades, but I took a couple of photos anyway.
    f/32, 1", ISO200, Pol Filter, then a massive -4EV in post to give:

  • Linas February 24, 2009 03:48 am

    Well, only few of these pictures were good examples - you can really find better use of this technique. Neither I think that we can call these pictures "Creative". I see this list as fast way for publicity of Peter Carey himself and his blog. On the other hand, I think picture "Photo by ljmacphee - 1/8 f/8 ISO 50" represents creative way of overexposure quite well, but it's sad that it's not really sharp and detailed.

  • dan February 24, 2009 03:11 am

    I would love to show another creative example by my wife. This was done in front of a window on a bright day. So the white background is really just an overexposed window. The woman is lit by a Canon Speedlight 580.


  • vlada February 24, 2009 02:53 am

    very bad samples for overexposure.... dont like any of photos :(

  • Nathan February 24, 2009 02:52 am

    I really liked melody gates' shot, as well. Also, the shot by LeRe is great; I don't think they would have been able to bring out her eyes like that otherwise (barring some post production).

    Ilan, I enjoyed your shot as well - nicely done!

  • dcclark February 24, 2009 02:43 am

    Wow. Neat stuff -- the photo of the bird legs is absolutely spooky for me. Looking through my own photos, I don't find anything which was "creatively overexposed" -- instead, anything like that got tossed out. It's another good tool to have in the photographic toolkit.

  • Jon February 24, 2009 02:02 am

    Can't say I'm a big fan of these examples.

    High key portraits can look really good but most of these just look like bad exposures, in my opinion obviously.

  • Helmut Watterott February 24, 2009 01:30 am

    I like overexposing but prefer to do it controlled using curves or levels in Photoshop. Having all the pixel data in raw means you can apply the effect where and when you want without destroying the original image.

  • Ilan February 24, 2009 01:27 am

    Great examples!
    I really enjoyed the one by melody.gates and ljmacphee
    Not totally sure the last one is overexposure, though...

    And here is something of mine :P


  • spiny norman February 24, 2009 01:18 am

    Half of those would look better properly exposed.

  • Terrance February 24, 2009 01:04 am

    send me some tips on my black a white photos