The Most Useful Exposure Override

Use Exposure Compensation for Technically Excellent Digital Photos

by Peter K. Burian

I made this image without exposure compensation producing under exposure.
I made this image without exposure compensation producing under exposure.
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

Plus or Minus for a Better Exposure

After taking a digital photo, check it on the LCD monitor in Playback mode. If the exposure (brightness) is not quite right, plan to re-shoot with different settings.

The most intuitive override is exposure compensation. Simply set a + level to make a brighter image. If you want to make a darker image, set a - (minus) level.

This feature is usually accessed with a [+/-] button or from the electronic menu. Available with nearly all digital cameras, exposure compensation works perfectly in Program (P) mode and in the semi-automatic Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes. However, exposure compensation may NOT operate in AUTO mode or the subject-specific Program modes: the Landscape, Portrait, Sports, etc.

We do not often take photos of black - or other very dark-toned - subjects. But when we do, the camera may make an image that's too bright; blacks may be gray instead of rich dark black. In that case, use a - (minus) exposure compensation when re-shooting, for a darker photo.

After I set a +1 compensation level, the exposure is close to perfect.
After I set a +1 compensation level, the exposure is close to perfect.
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

Practice Using Exposure Compensation

As a test, try taking some wide angle photos of a light-toned subject. For example, find a scene that includes a lot of bright snow, water or sky. You'll probably find that your images are underexposed: too dark.

Set a +1 exposure compensation level. Take the same photos again. The new images will be brighter, hopefully close to perfect. That makes sense because the + exposure compensation level causes the camera to make a photo with more exposure.

Tip: Take care not to make images that are excessively bright. It's important to maintain some detail in the brightest areas: texture in snow, for example. If you find that a +1 level produces images that are excessively bright, try again. This time, set less compensation: +0.5 or +0.7, for example.


The Bottom Line

While you can fix some exposure errors with Photoshop or other software, it's best to get image brightness just right, in-camera. That will save time later and reduce the risk of damaging pixels. Naturally, you can also use exposure compensation as a creative tool: to make an image thatís not necessarily technically perfect but is more pleasing to the eye.

NOTE:
This article is adapted from Peter Burianís BetterPhoto.com course: Mastering the Digital Camera and Photography




Article by Peter K. Burian. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.