Photography 101 - Exposure Compensation

6 years ago

*This post was recently featured on the front page of BlogHer.*

Today I am talking about exposure compensation.

What the what?

Don't work, it's much easier than it sounds!

First, you need to pull out your DSLR, and find the exposure compensation button. It looks like a plus sign (+) over a minus sign (-).

On the Nikon it's usually up top...

On the Canon it's generally on the back...

Find it? If you're having trouble, pull out your camera booklet.

I am seriously excited to talk about this button today. It's one of my absolute favorite tools and I use it all the time on my camera. Especially when I am shooting pictures of my kids and don't have a lot of time to think about exposure.

So what I am going to do is tell you about it, show you some samples, and then I want you  to give it a try!

Before we begin, you need to take your camera off auto. That's the little green camera or square on your settings dial.

Green does not mean go!


You should NEVER shoot on auto. It's totally bad karma. Shooting on auto has been proven to make individuals gain weight and show signs of significant hair loss...

Okay, maybe I am going too far, but you should seriously never shoot on auto. Pinky swear you'll stop so we can move on, o'kay?

Turn your dial to P. (P stands for Program Mode. Trust me, it's good stuff.)

Now, with your dial on P, stick your kid or pet or weird neighbor in front of a window so we can take  some pictures.

Set your ISO to something good for indoor lighting. Somewhere around 400 is great.

Tell your subject to look out the window and watch for the ice cream truck.

I know, I know, it's mean, but it works every time.

(Be sure and dress your subject up in some ridiculous outfit that they will adore and thank you for later.)

Now this picture above is straight out of the camera. Scouts honor.

See how dark it is?

Let's try again.

What's happening is my light meter is reading all the light in the whole frame. It doesn't know who is a window, and who is the cutest baby in the whole wide world.

Hello? Isn't it obvious?

My camera light meter knows to expose the image to what it thinks is a good, nuetral, evenly well-lit image. But the light coming in from the window is so powerful, it's causing the subject to appear too dark.

(Also, if you notice, I am shooting at an angle towards the window. If I turned and shot with the window directly behind my subject, aka adorable babe, she would appear a dark silhouette.)

You have had this problem before, right?

Now here's how to correct it. Enter: exposure compensation!

Your exposure compensation dial can be rotated be adjusting the plus (+) and minus (-) to over or under expose your lighting. If your subject is appearing too dark, you will want to use the plus (+) and increase the stops. (Stops are usually measured in third steps, like +.3, +.7, +1.0) Every camera is different, but my camera will let me go all the way to +3.0. Every time you rotate or adjust your exposure compensation, you are over or under exposing your image one stop.

Here's where the coolness comes in: I just took a picture. The picture is too dark. I have learned in the past that I should think about my shutter speed, iso, and aperture, and adjust them so my picture isn't so dark.


By the time you figure out all that stuff, your kid has moved on and the image opportunity is lost.

Just make a quick adjustment with your exposure compensation and you're good to go.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't learn about exposure, and aperture, and film speed, and all that good stuff.

You totally should. But, you should learn about this too.

Okay, let's get back to the adorable babe before she looses interest.

I am now going to take another picture with the same settings, except adjust my exposure compensation two stops to +.7

See! It works! Man, I love it when that happens.

And it helps to have a baby who is well rested, well fed, and dressed in pink pom-poms.

Now go try out your exposure compensation button on your DSLR. You can even try a self portrait if your kids won't hold still.


To read this orignal post at Tech4Moms go here. To check out my personal site full of DIY projects and photography, go here

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