LOGIN/SIGN UP function is disabled for upgrade and maintenance. It will resume on 22/01/2022 10.30 AM SGT. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.
Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

[Lesson 3] Use Exposure Compensation to Shoot at the Desired Brightness

The 3rd lesson of this series is on exposure compensation. If you are able to adjust the exposure well, you will be able to shoot the subject at the desired brightness even if, for example, the subject is backlit. Here, I will explain the basic ways of using exposure compensation. (Report by: Yutaka Tanekiyo)

Pages: 1 2

What is ‘exposure compensation' in the first place?

"Exposure" refers to the brightness of the final photo. Although the camera automatically adjusts the exposure when it is not in the M mode (Manual) or B mode (Bulb), you can use the exposure compensation function to deliberately make the picture brighter or darker. By using exposure compensation, you can set the brightness of the photo closer to what you desire. Even so, there is no "correct" exposure compensation value. While there may be scenes in which a darker or brighter exposure is suitable, the key is to determine the brightness based on the photographer’s desired image of the subject.

The way exposure compensation is carried out differs depending on the camera. Some models require you to turn an electronic dial while pressing an exposure compensation button, while other models are equipped with an exposure compensation dial. By adjusting along the exposure compensation scale, the image can be made brighter with positive compensation and darker with negative compensation. Do remember that the shutter speed or aperture value will also naturally change to suit the amount of compensation.

Let’s check out how exposure compensation can change a picture. To illustrate, I shall use the example of a bronze statue that I saw on the street.

1. Shooting a bronze statue that appears dark due to backlight

Yellow arrow: Direction of light

The backlight shining at the bronze statue at an oblique angle from above. It makes the statue appear dark when viewed directly from the front, but I shall take this as my first shot.

2. Image appears dark when shot without exposure compensation


When shot without exposure compensation, the statue looks as it appears, with the area cast in shadow somehow looking dark and depressing. To make the face appear a little brighter, for the next picture, I tried shooting with a positive exposure compensation.

3. Image is too bright when shot at EV+2


When shot at EV+2, both the bronze statue and its surroundings became too bright. While the aim of brightening the picture may have been achieved, the bronze statue’s texture appears washed out.

4. Shot completed at EV+1!


The picture was captured at the appropriate brightness when shot at EV+1. By adjusting the brightness closer to the image I had in mind, the picture is better able to convey my photographic intent.

[Tip] How to find the ideal exposure

  • Determine to what extent the dark areas should be brightened
  • Make sure the details and texture are not lost

Determine the brightness based on how you want the subject to appear when adjusting the exposure compensation. You can try to find the exposure that fits your individual preferences. On this occasion, since I wanted to convey the bronze statue’s texture while making it look brighter, I therefore tried for an exposure that would make the eyes look brighter while retaining the texture of the hair. Decide on a reference before proceeding with exposure compensation.

Retaining the hair texture



When you look at the forehead, the hair is too bright when shot at EV+2, with no sense of the texture being retained.

Making the eyes brighter



The areas around the deep-set eyes turn out the darkest. I used positive compensation to make this area appear brighter.

Keep in mind scenes in which exposure compensation is effective

It is easier to determine the appropriate exposure when you know in advance the kinds of situations for which exposure compensation would be effective. Good results can be obtained easily by using positive compensation for scenes with a lot of white and bright subjects, and negative compensation for scenes with a lot of black and dense colours, as these colours have low reflectance.

Making white objects look white

No compensation

When shooting subjects with high reflectance (bright and white) such as clouds or snow, the picture will somehow tend to appear dark and grey if you allow the camera to automatically determine the settings.

Positive compensation

When you want to make the image brighter to reflect how you see it, it is good to start from a compensation of about EV+1. Change the compensation value according to how much of the screen is being occupied by subjects that have high reflectance.

Making black objects look black

No compensation

Use negative compensation when capturing black objects low in reflectance such as steam locomotives. Be careful not to over-compensate the exposure in the negative direction as the details might be lost.

Negative compensation

The picture becomes dense and dark when negative compensation is carried out. If there is a light or other reflections, start with a compensation of about EV-0.7. Negative compensation is also effective for shooting tree trunks and wooden buildings.

Yutaka Tanekiyo

Born in 1982 in Osaka. After graduating from the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Kyoto Sangyo University as a German language major, Tanekiyo worked as an assistant to Toshinobu Takeuchi, after which he became an independent photographer.

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.

Published by Impress Corporation