Wednesday, February 27

Coffee With Beryl: One Little-Know Setting That Could Be Affecting Your Photos

We are having a gorgeous week and I have to confess it has been hard to homeschool and blog because I want to be outside. We do school in the morning and have been going to the park every afternoon and it has been so good for all of us. We enjoy these clear cool days and know they won't last long. I would rather do more school during the summer and have more time off during the late winter/spring.

Due to my hanging out at the park too much, I haven't put anything together for today, but luckily Beryl sent me a guest post.  I also received an email from Lori P. who is going to send me more scans from her vintage paper collection which we will be sharing with you.  So thank you Lori and Beryl!!!



At just about every Momtographie class I teach, there is always one (or more!) student(s) who raise their hand with THIS burning question.

"Why are my pictures so dark/light?! I'm following your directions by NOTHING is turning out the way I want" 

It's the question am asked most often in the midst of my students learning the technical side of their camera for the first time, and immediately before doing anything else, I check one pesky little setting.

The one that many momtographers mistakenly change without even realizing what they've done.

The setting is called exposure compensation, and it is easily manipulated on your camera with a little button that looks something like this:

To this day I still don't have a clear answer as to what the purpose of exposure compensation actually is, except to annoy momtographers when they've accidentally change it and messed up all of their photos!

The gist of exposure compensation is this: while in a manual modes such at P, S/Tv, or A/Av it can bump your exposure up or down just slightly. 

Bump it up a few stops towards the + and your photos will get brighter, Bump it a few stops towards the - and your images get darker.

But the one thing I was always unclear on was what exactly that was doing to the overall quality of my photos.  Since I wasn't ever sure, I always avoided the button and instead focused in my efforts on learning how to master manual mode.

(P.S. if you want to master manual too, you might want to join me this Spring in my new e-course Momtographie Online!)

I know that the exposure compensation button is conveniently placed on your camera where it's easy to accidentally push and change without realizing it.

I'm guilty of unknowingly changing this setting in the past. I learned the hard way when there was a set of photos I had taken that were all WAY too bright and I had no idea why. After hours of frustration and research I discovered my exposure compensation was set to +1.0, thus overexposing ALL of my images.

So many of my students make this same error. They get so excited about learning their camera, they begin to trust that playing with the buttons and settings is the way to learn, but then they make that one little change with the exposure compensation button and then can't follow the bread crumbs back to figure out exactly what set them off course and and what changed to make all of their photos look absolutely dreadful.

When was the last time you checked your exposure compensation to make sure it's set to 0? Go check now and then report in the comments if you found that it was 'off' of where it should be.

And, if you've found a useful reason to use exposure compensation in your own photography, or know the answer to my question about what it's actually doing to your image quality then I DEFINITELY want to hear about it!

Until next time,

Happy snapping!



Beryl Ayn Young is a wife, mama, teacher, and photographer who offers photography lessons to nourish the mind, body, and soul over on her personal blog. Beryl believes in lifelong learning, photographic healing, and a glass half full perspective. She teaches e-courses and and provides photo coaching aimed at teaching you how to improve your camera skills and cherish life’s journey. Connect with Beryl over on Facebook Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter, she'd love to meet you!


  1. Recently, I came across this older post from the Pioneer Woman about exposure compensation. I have been using this to lighten or darken my pictures. I is easier that changing aperture, shutter and iso settings.

    thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

  2. You might find this article helpful in explaining EV.

  3. Hi,
    I use exp. comp. when I need to control the exposure a little better for example, when outside shooting with snow all over the ground, camera thinks its brighter out than it really is because of all the white. I usually bump my exp. comp. UP a half stop so it will slightly over expose my snowy scenes. Another example is when I am trying to produce silhouettes and shooting into the sun, I will often bump it DOWN At least a half stop if not more to underexpose and get those dark, rich sunset colors and make the silhouette nice and dark. This of course is all if I am shooting in av or tv mode.
    :) Caryn

  4. I learned about exposure compensation on Pinterest and since then have been using it quite often to lighten up my pictures without needing to turn on my nasty flash.
    I do agree that you should keep track of what it's set to, but I wouldn't say it should always be at zero.
    Here is the article where I learned about it on Pinterest:

  5. Exposure compensation can actually be very useful. When taking photos of something that has a lot of dark - say a person in a black shirt or suit, your camera's sensor is designed to view that as being overly dark and the camera will pick the exposure to be too bright and often over-expose the subject's face. Knowing this, you can quickly use the exposure compensation button to move the exposure to -0.5 or -1 to make up for that. The same is true of a subject dressed all in white. The camera sensor wants to darken the exposure, so you can correct that by using the exposure compensation button.

  6. I agree with some of the other comments-- it shouldn't always be set to 0. I would argue for spot metering and for it to be set to the level that is appropriate for the skin color (+1 for white, etc).

  7. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments! I most definitely agree that if exposure compensation is working for you than you most definitely should use it...I found that after learning manual mode and learning to spot meter I found that to be a better method for me to meter instead of the exposure compensation button. My hope was simply to give a bit of beginner background for troubleshooting photos when they 'go bad' and I've found that a lot of beginning momtographers have changed this setting either without realizing it or have forgotten that they changed it the last time they went out to shoot. I absolutely loved reading all the posts and articles you sent me. Thank you!

  8. My was set to 0/0 still. I didnt even realized the button was there, but I've had it on other cameras. I've never used it and I've never come across any tutorials where I was instructed too. Love you blog & all your Actions!!

  9. this function is known to photographers as bracketing. it's a useful tool when you know how to use it. over or under exposing beyond your original metering.


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