Exposure compensation: how your meter gets it wrong and what you can do about it

Exposure compensation: why your camera's meter sometimes gets it wrong (and what you can do about it)

Your camera’s metering system is a powerful and intelligent tool. But it doesn’t always get it right. In our latest photography cheat sheet we reveal how your camera can be easily fooled, what exposure compensation function is and how this function can rescue your images.

One of the most crucial things to understand about exposure is how your camera measures light. Get to grips with this and all your exposure anxieties should disappear in a flash.

In essence your camera is trying to make everything a mid-tone grey, so if you take a piece of white card and photograph it with the exposure your camera recommends the image should appear grey.

Likewise, if you photograph a piece of black card it too should appear grey. All light meters, including the one in your camera, have been calibrated to do this, so you need to arm yourself with this information and use it to your advantage.

Of course, no scene you’re ever likely to photograph is going to be one tone, it’s probably to be made up lots of areas of bright and dark tones and colours.

This is why there are several metering modes to choose from, and, depending on what you’re shooting, you’ll need to use different ones.

Exposure compensation explained: download our cheat sheet

Exposure compensation: why your camera's meter sometimes gets it wrong (and what you can do about it)

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Despite being wonderfully clever, your camera won’t always know exactly how you want to expose your scene. It might be that you want your image to be light and airy or dark and moody, or simply that there’s a dominance of bright light that’s fooling the in-camera meter.

In cases like this, if you’re working in program (P), aperture-priority (A) or shutter-priority (S) mode, you can use the exposure compensation feature on your camera to help you out.

Simply hold down the +/- button and move the thumb dial to the right to make your images brighter (+EV) or to the left (-EV) to make them darker.

It’s quite easy to forget to set it to zero again, so if at a later time you’re wondering why your exposures are looking too dark or too light, it could be that you’ve still got some exposure compensation dialled in.

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