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01.06.2019

When to Use Exposure Compensation

Looking for an easy way to make photos brighter and darker without getting bogged down in technical stuff? You need exposure compensation.
 
Exposure compensation is a great way to quickly change the brightness of a photo when you’re using one of your camera’s automatic or semiautomatic shooting modes. By dialling in a positive or negative value, you are telling the camera to make your photo brighter or darker, which it will do by adjusting one of the three things that affect exposure – shutter speed, aperture, or ISO.
 
Adjusting image brightness like this is a great way to get creative by shooting a picture that’s brighter or darker than normal, and is also a way to correct your camera if it’s been confused by a difficult situation. You don’t have to abandon the convenience of an auto shooting mode to do this, a quick adjustment of exposure compensation is all that’s needed.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, When to Use Exposure Compensation© Bill Fortney

Some of our cameras have dedicated dials for exposure compensation, while others use the rear dial for this adjustment. Either way, the principal is the same: to brighten an image by dialing in some positive exposure compensation. For a darker result, use negative values. You’ll see a scale in the camera’s viewfinder and on its touchscreen that shows you the amount of compensation currently in use.

  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, Exposure compensation
  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, Exposure compensation

Try this with your camera now. Set it to an automatic mode like SR+ AUTO, P, or A, and take a note of the exposure values it picks for a scene. This might be 1/500 sec at F8. Now apply +1 stop of exposure compensation and point the camera at the same scene. The shutter speed should read one stop slower (1/250 sec at F8 in our example) as the camera is letting in double the amount of light by lengthening the shutter speed by one stop.
 
Applying negative exposure compensation has the opposite effect. Setting this to -1 would shorten the shutter speed by one stop, letting in half the amount of light.

When to Use Exposure Compensation?

The short answer to this question is: whenever things don’t look quite as you expected. But there are some common situations where you’ll find yourself reaching for the exposure compensation dial fairly regularly.

Backlit Portraits

When you photograph someone against a background that’s brighter than they are, your camera can get confused and try to pick an aperture and shutter speed for the background, not your subject. The result is a perfectly exposed background with a dark (or even silhouetted) person standing in front of it.
 
One way around this problem is to apply some positive exposure compensation, so the whole scene is brighter. How much depends on how much backlighting is present – try a few variations to see the effect.

  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, When to Use Exposure Compensation© Xing Liu
  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, When to Use Exposure Compensation© Xing Liu

Sunsets

One time when you want a perfectly exposed sky, and don’t need to be too worried about the foreground being dark, is when shooting a sunset. If you feel that the sky could be a touch darker to bring out the colors better, dial in a little negative exposure compensation. Just -0.5 to -1 stop should do it.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, When to Use Exposure Compensation© Seth K Hughes

When Photographing Bright or White Scenes

The apertures and shutter speeds chosen by your camera are meant to reproduce scenes containing a range of average tones, like mid-grays. Therefore, when you shoot a scene containing bright whites – like a snowy landscape – your camera can pick settings that underexpose and make the white snow look distinctly gray.
Remedy this by applying some positive exposure compensation, which forces the camera to let in more light and brightens up the white tones.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, When to Use Exposure Compensation© Daniel H. Bailey

When Photographing Dark or Black Scenes

Likewise, when photographing very dark scenes, your camera may pick a shutter speed and aperture that overexposes these, rendering blacks as gray. You can fix this by dialing in some negative exposure compensation, which will darken the scene.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, When to Use Exposure Compensation© Afton Almaraz

A word of warning: when using exposure compensation, be sure to return the control to ±0 when you’ve finished, otherwise all subsequent shots will be affected.

Your Next Steps

  • CHALLENGE Go out for a walk with your camera and shoot some pictures in your neighborhood. Every time you take a picture, play with the exposure compensation dial to see the effect that this has on your imagery. Post your results to social media with the hashtag #MyFujifilmLegacy. You can also submit your work here for a chance to be featured on our social media channels