Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Exploring how exposure compensation works, part of Introduction to Photography.
- I'm still working these trees, and I mentioned earlier that when I was standing here looking up at them, I could see perfect silhouettes and they looked like flames and that's very cool. I'm sorry, I just saw an image that I hadn't seen before. I'm still working the shot, I can't stop. This is really nice. Anyway, but what I'm thinking here is, when I look at just these silhouettes like this, that's nice, but, as I stand here looking at it, I can see detail. I can see lemons on these trees, I can see texture on those trees. Why am I just seeing a silhouette in my camera? That's because my eye has a much greater dynamic range than my camera does.
Dynamic range is the range of darkest to lightest tones that I can see, and with my eye, I can see detail in those shadows, and I can see clouds up above. My camera only has about half the dynamic range that my eye does. So, I have to choose. I can either see detail in the sky or detail in the shadows. The camera's light meter, by default, is going to choose settings that will ensure that I see detail in the highlights at the cost of the shadows, so I can only see stuff up there in the sky.
I can compensate for that, though, with something called exposure compensation. Pretty much all cameras have an exposure compensation control these days. Even cell phones have exposure compensation. Check your camera's manual to find out where it is. It should be available to you, even in full auto mode. On this camera, it's this dial up here on the top, and so, here's what I can shoot from right here with the camera metering as it thinks things should be. I'm going to dial exposure compensation in a positive direction.
I'm going to dial it up to plus two, and what that does is basically brighten the frame, so now when I shoot, I get this. And look at here, I'm starting to see detail on the trees. I'm going to go up to plus three, and I can see even more detail on the trees. All of that has come at the expense of the sky though. The clouds are gone. The clouds are completely blown out. I cannot get both in a single frame. I can't get detail in the sky and detail in the shadows. Now, this is a particularly high dynamic range scene. I'm shooting directly into the sun.
I'm shooting into something that's back lit. You're going to find high dynamic range in a lot of different places. Even shooting indoors, you'll find times where you've got a dynamic range that's bigger than your camera can handle. Exposure compensation is going to be the trick for compensating for that, and battling it, and putting detail back where you want it. If you're working with an SLR, you're not going to see a change as you dial your exposure compensation up and down. You're not going to see a change in the viewfinder. You have to take a shot and look at it and see where the detail is. Now, earlier, I said, it's not a great idea to be shooting and looking and shooting and looking.
When you're in an extreme situation like this, you're probably going to have to do that until you get more experience and more accustomed to understanding when you need exposure compensation and when you don't, so take a shoot and look at it. If you're seeing a full silhouette, and what you would like to see is detail, then you're going to dial the brightness of the scene up by dialing in a positive exposure compensation. Sometimes, you'll want to go the other direction. You will be finding that the sky is, or, something bright in the scene is too blown out and you want detail in there, so you'll dial in negative exposure compensation to pull the overall exposure down and bring those brightened details back, and that's not just something like a sky.
That could even be bright sunlight on a flower. You might need to dial some exposure compensation down. The easiest way to understand this tool is to get out and use it, so, look it up in your manual, go out, work some shots, work some geometry, and play with dialing brightness up and down using exposure compensation, and really take note of the difference in detail in different parts of the image.
Then it's time to take to the field and examine the rest of the factors that influence the quality of your photographs, including light metering, focus, composition, and flash. Ben also introduces techniques for shooting portraits and shows what you can do with an image editor in post. Last but not least, he'll provide a roadmap for learning more with the lynda.com extensive library of photography training. The path to becoming a better photographer begins with the first step. Start here!
- Exploring cameras and lenses
- Understanding media
- Controlling exposure
- Composing with autofocus
- Shooting portraits
- Understanding form and geometry
- Exporting and editing digital images