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Photography Basics: How to Use Exposure Compensation (Adjust the Exposure!)

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It takes loads of creativity and a good amount of light to get a perfect shot! If you are a newbie in photography and struggle for the perfect shot, then you might have to polish your photography basics. We are here to help you attain power over your camera through a key feature of your camera. That's exposure compensation. It is a feature that helps you adjust the brightness and darkness of the picture. This feature alters the amount of light needed for the picture and helps you click the best shot that you have waited for.

So, let's dive straight into how to use this wonderful setting in your camera which will enable you to capture rich and more defined images.

What is Exposure Compensation?

The exposure compensation can be explained as a unique setting in the digital cameras that will allow you to overexpose (make brighter) or underexpose (make darker) different captured images. To define exposure, you need to gain some knowledge about two important things in which it depends upon such as the Aperture value or the amount of light that gets through the sensor of your camera and even the Shutter speed or the duration of time the camera’s sensor remains exposed to the light.

The term “exposure” can be otherwise referred to a value (EV unit) that will help you to determine how much the sensor of your camera remains exposed to the light. Besides this, if you compare between exposure compensation vs ISO then EV will certainly be more effective in giving a proper exposure to an image. 

expsoure compensation
Exposure compensation brings a huge difference (source)

How Does Exposure Compensation Work?

In most of the modern digital cameras, this setting is provided either in the form of a wheel or button. 

For brighter images: Make sure to move the button to the positive side if you wish to brighten the captured images and on the other hand,

For darker images: Move towards the negative side to give a darker look to your photos. 

For an instance, the exposure compensation in canon high-end DSLR cameras comes in the form of a dial and thereby, you will only need to turn the dial towards the left or right according to your preference and thereby get the opportunity to capture wonderful images.

working of exposure compensation
Choose the right setting to attain perfect shot

Exposure Compensation with Advanced Metering Systems

The Advance Metering Systems is currently available only in some of the high-end DSLR cameras of reputed brands. This is a unique innovation in the field of photography with the help of which the sensor of your camera is able to easily recognize the scene that you are going to capture and thereby makes the necessary changes to exposure compensation. With the help of this system, you will not just only be able to capture wonderful images in low or bright light condition but also need not have to adjust exposure in a film camera. 

How to Use Exposure Compensation?

Are you wondering how to use this feature? This setting is nowadays offered by most of the cameras that are available in the market except those which will enable you to just point and shoot. If you are new to the field of photography then it will certainly be wise for you to go through the below tutorial in order to become aware of the process to use the exposure compensation setting.

  • Choose a camera mode that uses camera meter

This is certainly the first important point that you must consider to use exposure compensation in 35mm film. Firstly, you need to choose a specific camera mode that uses the camera meter option such the shutter priority, Aperture priority, Auto ISO or program mode. Make sure to be aware of the fact that without turning on the “Auto ISO” the exposure compensation in manual mode will not be able to bring any effect to the image.

  • Find the exposure compensation setting button

This feature varies according to the brand and even model of camera that you are currently using. For an instance, in most of the popular DSLR cameras offered by Canon this setting can be adjusted just by pressing the “AV” button which is present at the back side. While to change the setting of exposure compensation in Sony camera, you will have to use the “Dial” on the top of your camera.

  • Select desired exposure compensation setting

Lastly, to define exposure or adjust this setting you just need to move the dial or button towards the negative or positive side as per your preference. For adjusting this setting, you can either look through the optical viewfinder or the LCD screen of the camera. 

While adjusting the EV unit through the optical viewfinder, you will come across a bar that moves from “0” to “Negative or “0” to Positive. If you wish to brighten a specific image then make sure to move the bar towards the positive side to give it a rich look. To adjust the EV point on a camera with a mirror glass, you just need to view the image through the optical viewfinder and select the specific brightness which you intend to maintain in the final image. 

When Should You Use Exposure Compensation?

Since you have become aware of how to use this feature, make sure to go through the further lines to gather knowledge about the major reasons for using it in a film camera.

  • Camera’s meter has been fooled

Since the camera is sometimes unable to determine the real tone of a particular scene, your captured image will either be overexposed or underexposed. For an instance, when you are going to capture the image of an object which has been placed in front of a very dark background, your camera analyzes the dark colors in the scene and thereby tries to overexpose the focus object. This will ultimately result in a brighter look to the focused object in the scene. The best possible way to get rid of this situation is by using the exposure compensation setting on your camera in order to give a proper exposure to the object which has been placed on a dark background.

  • Has not fulfilled the Photographer’s preference

If the photographer thinks that the present exposure does not suit the current scene then the best possible way to get desired results is by increasing or decreasing the EV value. Ensure to choose the desired EV value to darken or brighten image according to your preference.

How Does Exposure Compensation Work in Different Camera Modes?

Since now you have become aware of exposure compensate meaning or what EV value is all about, it will be wise for you to go through the further settings to gather information on how this wonderful setting works on different camera modes. 

Aperture Priority Mode

If you are a regular user of DSLR camera then you must be aware that in case of Aperture Priority mode, you only need to set the aperture while the shutter speed is set accordingly. Let’s take an example of how EV works in aperture priority mode. In the below Chart 1, the aperture has been set to f/4.0 while the camera has set the shutter speed to 1/50 accordingly but still, there’s no improvement in the exposure level. In order to get rid of this issue, the exposure compensation setting certainly plays a vital role. 

exposure compensation
Aperture Priority set on f/4.0

Aperture Priority Exposure Compensation(-1EV)- (Chart 2)

The Chart 2 below shows that the exposure compensation has been set to -1EV and hence the shutter speed has doubled accordingly while maintaining the aperture value constant. The below setting will enable you to give a darker look to the image which you are going to capture with the help of your DSLR camera.

exposure compensation
Aperture Priority Exposure Compensation(-1EV)

Aperture Priority Exposure Compensation(+1EV)- (Chart 3)

While the below Chart 3 shows that the shutter speed has been halved after the EV has been set to +1 and hence, the setting will result in a brighter image.

apeture priority exposure compensation
Aperture Priority Exposure Compensation(+1EV)

In both the above cases, the setting has helped to decrease or increase the shutter speed by keeping aperture value constant and thereby helped in giving the desired touch or feel to the image. 

Shutter Priority Mode

In case of the shutter priority mode, the exposure compensation setting helps in increasing or decreasing the aperture value while keeping shutter speed constant. The below Chart 1, 2 and 3 will help you to become aware how exposure works on shutter priority mode. 

exposure compensation
Shutter Priority Mode

The Chart-2 and 3 above shows how exposure compensation has helped in keeping the shutter speed constant to 1/100 while affecting the aperture value to f/4.0 or f/2.0.

Program Mode

According to several studies, we have found that it can either affect the shutter speed or aperture value in program mode to give a distinct look to the captured image. 

Know about Exposure Bracketing

There is another key feature that can help you click the same shot in different exposure. The feature is called as exposure bracketing. The auto exposure bracketing (AEB) is a unique setting in DSLR cameras that will give you the opportunity to capture random images (3 to 5) in a particular row in which the first one will have a normal exposure, the second one will be underexposed and while the final image will have overexposure.

You can enjoy this setting to get the perfect shot at different exposure and then finally during post processing you can pick the best click and work on it. 

Automatic Exposure Bracketing
Set your camera to AEB


We hope that the above facts will help you to become aware of exposure compensate meaning in a better way. Whether you are going shoot in bright daylight or in low light condition, this setting will certainly enable you to get the desired results at ease. Please feel free to convey any other information that will enable the photographers in gaining more knowledge about this setting.

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