Exposure Compensation – the Goldilocks Factor

Most photographs are made with an automatic or program exposure and frequently the results are not as good as they could be.  That’s because the camera’s exposure meter assumes that every scene has average brightness while the reality is that many scenes are brighter or darker than average.

For example, the beach or a ski slope on a sunny day is a brighter than average environment, and automatic exposure photos made under these conditions will tend to be too dark unless we tell the camera to compensate. Conversely, auto exposures of dark scenes tend to give pictures that are too light unless the camera is told to compensate for the lack of light.  If you see a black leopard hanging out of the window of a black car and decide to risk getting a close-up, the picture will probably depict a gray cat in a gray car, not the black animal and machine that you saw with your own eyes.

Fortunately, we can compensate for these situations by adjusting exposure compensation. Some cameras have a button with a +/- symbol (or the letters EV for Exposure Value) while other cameras may require using a menu to get access to the controls.   If your camera permits exposure compensation the manual will tell you how to adjust it. (Some inexpensive cameras lack this feature, so if you can’t find it in the table of contents or index your camera might not have it.  I’ll soon add a post with suggestions for this situation.)

To better understand all this, consider a bright environment – one filled with expanses of beach and water.  Shooting without compensation will give pictures that are too dark because the camera will assume a scene with average brightness. We can prevent this now that we know about exposure compensation.  We’ll set it to a positive value, perhaps starting at +2/3,  and we will get better results.

Take a few minutes to explore exposure compensation now so you will be be ready to use it when you need to. Set your camera on “Auto,” and take a picture. Then open the exposure compensation control, set it at +1.5 or +2, take another picture of the same scene, and compare the results.  Now set the compensation at -1.5 or -2, take a third picture, and compare it to the other two.  The differences should be obvious.  Try some other settings of the same scene and of scenes that are brighter or darker.  Just remember to set compensation back to zero when you’re finished.

Now you know how to operate your camera in an automatic or programmed mode and still have control over the brightness of your pictures.  It’s just what Goldilocks wanted: not too bright, not too dark, but just right.

I invite comments and questions.  They help us learn from each other.  And take lots of pictures – studying your results can help develop your skills.

Curtis

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