What is exposure compensation? If you’re new to photography or have moved beyond your camera’s auto modes, this clunky photographic term might sound a bit confusing. But rest assured, it’s not – and our new photography cheat sheet should help clear this up.
Put simply, exposure compensation is a feature on almost all cameras that allows your to make a picture lighter or darker than the recommended exposure. There are numerous instances in which you might want to use this handy function – and we explain all this below in our infographic.
You’ll find the exposure compensation button on your camera, marked with a “+/-” icon. Your exposure compensation option gives you incredible leverage as a photographer to fine tune your exposure to take pictures in low-light or high-contrast scenes where you might not have been able to get a quality picture before (for more on shooting in high-contrast see Auto-exposure bracketing: how to conquer high contrast).
A plus (+) setting makes your image brighter (for instance, making snow appear whiter), while a minus (-) setting makes an image darker (such as shooting your child in a school play, spot-lit against a dark background).
Each movement up and down the scale is recorded in what’s called a ‘stop’. A full stop change will double or halve the amount of exposure. Most cameras offer intermediate ‘half stop’ or ‘third stop’ increments for more subtle adjustment.
How much exposure compensation you need will vary depending on your subject, as well as on the metering mode you’re using. For a snowy scene, a setting of +1 is about average (but +0.5 or +2 may sometimes be needed). With many subjects you can take a shot, look at the result, and then reshoot with a different amount of exposure compensation to ensure you get the effect you want.
Most cameras now have an exposure compensation feature, whether it’s a DSLR or a compact, and to find out more about how it works and when to use it, check out our cheat sheet below.
Feel free to drag and drop our infographic on to your desktop and save it for a handy reference. And for more on how to use this and other camera features, check out our in-depth guide 99 Common Photography Problems (and how to solve them).
10 common exposure problems every photographer faces (and how to overcome them)
Photography Bascis: the No. 1 cheat sheet for metering and exposure
Histogram: photography cheat sheets for achieving perfect exposure
Expose to the right: the camera technique every landscape photographer must know
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