June 12, 2013

Understanding Exposure Compensation For Better Photographs

There are photographers who choose not to shoot in Manual Mode. Instead, they prefer to use automatic by choosing between the Aperture Priority (A for Nikon and Av for Canon) or Shutter Priority Mode (S for Nikon and Tv for Canon). There are times though when these programmed modes will not expose the subjects correctly. To help solve this problem, one must learn how to use the Exposure Value Compensation or EV Compensation on the equipment.

What is Exposure Compensation?

It is so easy to get lost in the technical definition of the term. In order to avoid confusion, let us try to use something that everyone can understand. Exposure compensation allows you to tell the camera to adjust the amount of light it “sees.” It helps in keeping the image from being underexposed (too dark) or overexposed (too light with loss of details).

How Does It Look Like?

EV settings on a camera

Look for the button on your camera that has the (+/-) sign. Press it to see a slider that looks like a ruler. You will notice that it has two sides, the right has (+) values which adds light to your image, the left has (-) values which lessens the amount of light entering the camera. The value is by default set to (0) in the middle.

How to Use the EV Function?

Even with good sensors there are times that your equipment makes an error in its calculations. The following scenarios show instances of when to use Exposure Compensation:

  1. When you have a white or light subject like a bride in her wedding gown, the camera by default will adjust its settings and the result may be an underexposed image. In order for you to get the natural looking colours, you have to dial the controls going to the positive values. This will help to lighten the images whilst still keeping the details visible.
  2. Black or dark subjects “confuse” your camera. Dark subjects are often misplaced by the device in the middle-grey area, resulting in an image without any details. To address this issue, you have to dial the EV down to the negative values. This will help bring the fine points back to your subjects. This setting is also good when dealing with backlit subjects.
  3. Landscapes that have both light and shadowed areas can be a little tricky. In this situation, your camera will calculate the values according to the bright area. It can lead to washed out details with properly lit shadowed parts. To resolve this, you must be ready to compromise. Choose the value that would give you enough points of both the foreground and background. Be prepared to see some loss of details in the well-lit portion of your landscape.

There is no specific formula on how to get the proper exposure. The best way to learn more about your camera’s output and performance is through trial and error. Experiment with your shots. Take photos of everything and anything under different lighting conditions. Study and learn how to read the histogram of your photographs. This will give you a more accurate idea about the lighting conditions of your images. Once you determine what the problems are, take new photos adjusting the settings of your camera every after shot until you get a more natural looking image. Learn how to work with your equipment. Take the time to really understand your camera’s controls and the way it takes images. This would take you a long way when it comes to getting the correct settings every time you press the shutter button.

If you’re still unsure of what to do, here is an activity that you can try to help you gain more confidence.

exposure compensation example

  1. Choose any stationary subject like flowers in a vase or fruits in a bowl
  2. Place your subjects near an open window or any place that has ample lighting in such a way that the subject is properly backlit (See, In the example photo above, it’s a car/van in front of a bright sky)
  3. Set your camera to aperture priority mode. Look at the top dial on your equipment, rotate it to A (Nikon) or Av (Canon)
  4. Using the programmed EV value (0), take a shot. After the first try, adjust it to +0.3 then take another shot. Your third photograph should have an EV of -0.3 and so on…
  5. Keep shooting and adjusting the values until you have at least 4 or 5 images with different Exposure Compensation values. Transfer them to your computer to see which one is better.

The key is in experimenting, as you can see from the above shot that the image taken at EV (-1) gives the best result – both the sky and the car are properly exposed with no considerable loss of details!

Whilst it is possible to correct the photo issues using various editing programs, it is best to start with a good shot. Try to take a photograph using different exposure settings and then go after editing if it’s really needed. Check which one comes out better. Will it be the underexposed photo, the overexposed or the one that you shot using the right settings?

After experimenting with your shots using the suggestions above share your images on our Facebook page. Please include the camera and settings that you used.  We hope that this post has helped to encourage you to pick up your camera and experiment with your shots!


About the Guest Author:

Nadia Hyeong loves following the latest news on gadgets, wireless technology, music and the latest developments from companies like Sony, Apple and O2. Feel free to follow her on Twitter and Google+