In photography, exposure is the total amount of light allowed to fall on the photographic medium (photographic film or image sensor) during the process of taking a photograph. Exposure is measured in lux seconds, and can be computed from exposure value (EV) and scene luminance over a specified area.
The "correct" exposure for a photograph is determined by the sensitivity of the medium used. For photographic film, sensitivity is referred to as film speed and is measured on a scale published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Faster film requires less exposure and has a higher ISO rating. Exposure is a combination of the length of time and the level of illumination received by the photosensitive material. Exposure time is controlled in a camera by shutter speed and the illumination level by the lens aperture. Slower shutter speeds (exposing the medium for a longer period of time) and greater lens apertures (admitting more light) produce greater exposures.
An approximately correct exposure will be obtained on a sunny day using ISO 100 film, an aperture of and a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second. This is called the sunny 16 rule: at an aperture of 16 on a sunny day, a suitable shutter speed will be one over the film speed (or closest equivalent).
Ultimately, there is more than one correct exposure, as a scene can be exposed in many ways, depending on the desired effect a photographer wishes to convey.
The true characteristic of most photographic emulsions is not actually linear, (see sensitometry) but it is close enough over the exposure range of about one second to 1/1000th of a second. Outside of this range, it becomes necessary to increase the exposure from the calculated value to account for this characteristic of the emulsion. This characteristic is known as reciprocity failure. The film manufacturer's data sheets should be consulted to arrive at the correction required as different emulsions have different characteristics.
The zone system is another method of determining exposure and development combinations to achieve a greater tonality range over conventional methods by varying the contrast of the 'film' to fit the print contrast capability. Digital cameras can achieve similar results (high dynamic range) by combining several different exposures (varying only the shutter speeds) made in quick succession.
Today, most cameras automatically determine the correct exposure at the time of taking a photograph by using a built-in light meter, or multiple point meters interpreted by a built-in computer, see metering mode.
Negative/Print film tends to bias for exposing for the shadow areas (film dislikes being starved of light), with digital favouring exposure for highlights. See latitude below.
Negative film's latitude increases somewhat with high ISO material, in contrast digital tends to narrow on latitude with high ISO settings.
Areas of a photo where information is lost due to extreme brightness are described as having "blown-out highlights" or "flared highlights".
In digital images this information loss is often irreversible, though small problems can be made less noticeable using photo manipulation software. Recording to RAW format can ameliorate this problem to some degree, as can using a digital camera with a better sensor.
Film can often have areas of extreme overexposure but still record detail in those areas. This information is usually somewhat recoverable when printing or transferring to digital.
A loss of highlights in a photograph is usually undesirable, but in some cases can be considered to "enhance" appeal. Examples include black-and-white photography and portraits with an out-of-focus background.
Crushed blacks cause loss of detail, but can be used for artistic effect.