Understanding Photography Exposure

Are you already using manual exposure correction? Are you a smart-ass already?

So I definitely am!! πŸ™‚

YOU know better than your camera? YOU want to tell her where to go? YOU just have it on?

“Uhhhh, moooooooment times …”, I hear you say. πŸ™‚

Yes, I know: Camera manufacturers do their best to make cameras better and better and to build them in such a way that they relieve you of more and more “work”. And that’s what they actually do: automatic systems where the button operator can look. πŸ™‚

But now you should know better? Tell your camera how it does its job better? So let’s start all over again…

Your camera doesn’t need your help – most of the time

Whatever you photograph, using the best automatic of your camera is a good idea. So you can fully concentrate on your subject, get the most out of it.

You also have image control – the ideal way to get better pictures!!

But sometimes your camera just makes bullshit. It makes photos clearly too bright or too dark. This applies especially to very bright or very dark subjects, because the exposure measurement of your camera is deceived. The same applies to backlit photos and other high-contrast situations. Because of the different types of exposure metering, cameras today already do a lot right. But it doesn’t work with the extreme subjects just mentioned.

Over the year this affects about 10% of all motifs – all others are perfectly exposed by your automatic camera all by themselves.

So it would be nice if you could tell her where you’re going, wouldn’t it?

So: smart-arse mode AN!!! πŸ™‚

In the many e-mails I receive, I read that many people try to take pictures in M mode (manual mode = without the help of an automatic). Because they think THIS is important: choosing exposure time and aperture would be the only real way to take perfect photos. It’s not, believe me, because there are very few situations where completely manual photography makes sense at all.

The constant handling of the camera only distracts you from your subject.
Estimating the exposure time and aperture at the beginning takes too long until you are really ready to take pictures.

Even professionals don’t always work manually when it’s really important.
Manually set apertures and exposure times are not “better” than the same values if they are automatically set by your camera.

Manual Exposure Compensation

Manual exposure correction gives you full access to exposure at all times. You can make photos any brighter or darker. Either to

  • correct a misexposure of your camera, or
  • to deliberately make photos lighter or darker.
  • And you stay in your automatic mode! So the rough work is done by the camera, but you always have the possibility to make pictures brighter or darker. Fast photography and still always perfect results are your reward!

Working with manual exposure correction is actually quite simple: Simply press the manual exposure correction button and adjust the value with the selector wheel in the desired direction.

Note: Please refer to your instruction manual to see how manual exposure correction works on your camera. If you are looking for something concrete and need to know quickly how something works. Then the user manual will be happy to help you. But operating instructions have never been meant to learn how to take pictures! That’s why you don’t have to learn them by heart. πŸ™‚

If you set the manual exposure correction in the PLUS direction, you let more light get onto the sensor. More light makes for brighter images.

However, if you set the correction in the MINUS direction, less light enters the camera. Less light means the image gets darker.

Take a look at the following example to see what it looks like when you shoot the same subject with different correction values:

In the picture above you can see in the middle how the camera would have exposed this average (neutral gray) subject: Correct! If you still want a brighter or darker result, you can do it with exposure correction.

Manual Exposure Correction: Everything runs over the exposure time

Manual exposure compensation only affects the exposure time. By extending or shortening the exposure time, more or less light reaches the sensor. This makes a lot of sense, because you should have already set the aperture, because you want to achieve a certain depth of field.

The exposure meter of your camera always suggests an exposure time in an automatic exposure mode (e.g. the above recommended aperture priority). And now you can simply “run over” it with the exposure correction.

Manual exposure compensation values

Please read the numerical values you set as follows:

0 = no correction, the camera exposes as suggested by the exposure meter

  • 1 = 50 % less light = the image is only half as bright
  • 2 = 75 % less light = the image is only 1/4 as bright as at 0
  • 3 = 87.5 % less light = the image is only 1/8 as bright as at 0
  • 4 = 93.6 % less light = the image is only 1/16 as bright as at 0
  • 5 = 96.9 % less light = the image is only 1/32 as bright as at 0
  • 1 = 100 % more light = = the image is twice as bright as at 0
  • 2 = 200 % more light = the image becomes 4 x as bright as at 0
  • 3 = 400 % more light = the image becomes 8 x as bright as at 0
  • 4 = 800 % more light = the image becomes 16 x as bright as at 0
  • 5 = 1600 % more light = the image becomes 32 x as bright as at 0

(By the way, older or simpler cameras often only let you set values up to +/- 2.)

Put an end to it!

Very important:

As soon as you have taken the desired photo with the appropriate exposure correction, please set it back to ZERO.

Only then is the manual exposure correction deactivated again. However, if you leave it active, you will take too bright or too dark photos for the rest of your life (or until you happen to notice it at some point).

Practical work with manual exposure correction

Let’s get into practice – now it’s going to be really easy. The practical procedure is as follows:

You take a picture and check it in the display of your camera. You will find out if this photo is too light or too dark. If the exposure is not as desired, follow …

Press and hold the manual exposure compensation button and adjust (turn the control dial) in the desired direction. If the image is too bright, move it towards MINUS. If the image is too dark, you correct in the PLUS direction. You simply estimate the value by which you want to correct.

You take a second photo with the estimated correction value. After a second image check, you will see if the photo has the desired brightness.

If not, continue correcting until you are satisfied with the result.

If so, take your final photo and be happy. πŸ˜‰


But there is one thing to consider when working this way: The cut-out and your motif should not change between the individual test photos!

Too often I see photographers getting bogged down, for example because they choose a different cropping for the second photo than for the first. Then it is possible that a particularly bright or dark part of the motif “cheats” its way into the detail. And this spot can then significantly change the exposure metering and thus also prevent the exposure correction from appearing as desired.

Thus, make sure to always use the same detail! If the subject changes extremely between the first and the second photo (e.g. because at sunrise you shoot exactly in the few seconds in which the sun appears behind the horizon), you can forget about the exposure correction.