Camera Features I Love: Exposure Compensation

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

To me, the exposure compensation control is one of the most important parts of any DSLR or mirrorless camera and it’s the first control—after how to adjust the ISO setting—that I look for when shooting a new camera.

It’s been my belief that camera’s designers realized that no amount of automation will produce a “perfect” exposure under all possible lighting situations and what some people might like others might not.

Since you are the final arbiter of what’s “correct” the Exposure Compensation feature lets you increase or decrease the automatic exposure in one-half or one-third tops to get exactly the exposure you like. Using the camera’s LCD screen and histogram function will help you home in on what’s correct.

One of the first tips that I give to aspiring car photographers is that they should slightly underexpose black cars to render them as black and overexpose white ones, so they look white. When you think about this concept, it makes perfect sense: By forcing the exposure toward middle gray tones, which is what your camera’s light meter will do, you end up with a white car that looks gray or a black car that appears as a different shade of gray.

But what about an image like today’s that includes both white and black cars. You could always bracket but I find it easier to use the exposure compensation dial on my camera, checking the histogram as I shoot.

How I made this shot: This photograph of a Cobra and Mercedes-Benz SL was made in private collection in San Diego with a Canon EOS 50D and EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens (at 85mm) with an exposure of 1/30 sec at f/4 and ISO 640. That lens has been replaced by the EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM.

Controlling exposure compensation usually involves pressing a button and rolling a control wheel and because no two cameras—even from the same manufacturer— do it the same way, refer to your User’s Guide for specific directions. On my Panasonic Lumix G5, for example, it’s a small toggle that’s conveniently located behind to the shutter release but none of my other Lumix camera do it that way and the GX85 manages to hide it. It’s a shame really.

Tip: If you can set the amount of exposure compensation by one-half or one-third, I suggest that use the one-third stop option because it provides you with more options allowing a more nuanced difference in exposure. But, always, it’s your call.


Ilight.bookf you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to buy Joe a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here.

Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photograph that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 and used copies are four bucks. The Kindle price, for some reason is really high. ($93.95)