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Definition of Term


    a camera feature to allow the user to adjust the automatically calculated exposure


    Exposure compensation is the control by which you temporarily adjust your camera’s definition of what is “properly exposed.” Put simpler, it’s a way to force the camera to make your photos darker or brighter to the degree that you tell it.

    Try the exposure compensation sim below – you’ll get the hang of it!



    Manual mode gives you precise control over your photos, but using any other mode relinquishes “exposure” back to the camera. While a camera does a pretty good job of guessing the proper exposure in most situations, it does a terrible job in others.

    What if there was a way to metaphorically take your camera by the scruff of the neck, show it who’s boss and get it to quickly and easy under- or over-exposure a photo without having to jack around with Manual mode?

    Enter exposure compensation.

    Armed with the power of exposure compensation, you can happily shoot away in your favorite mode (Automatic exposure, Shutter priority, or Aperture priority) and kick the exposure lighter or darker as necessary when a tricky lighting situation emerges. It’s like Manual mode ‘Lite.’

    How to use it

    One of the best things about exposure compensation is how easy it is to use. There will be some button combination unique to your camera, but you shouldn’t have to dive into any complex menus. On the Canon T3i, it’s as simple as holding down the “+/-“ button and rolling the main dial button thingy. Like this:


    When to use exposure compensation

    Simple: when you need it. I’m not trying to be coy with that answer, but you’ll want to use exposure compensation whenever your camera is not producing the right exposure for whatever reason.

    There are, however, a few instances where I find myself employing exposure compensation regularly:

    At dusk

    Sunsets and the moments afterward are surprisingly tricky lighting situations. Our eyes do a wonderful job of adjusting for this light, but our cameras do not. At this time of day, shots tend to be grossly over- or under-exposed depending on whether you are facing the remaining light from the sunset or not.

    Super bright scenes

    The bright sun shining down on a white-sand beach or snow-covered landscape produces tons of light, so much so that it can confuse your camera. If these scenes are turning out a little darkish, “stop it up” with some exposure compensation. Don’t go crazy though, or you’ll over-expose your highlights.

    High dynamic range (HDR) scenes

    HDR is just a fancy way of describing scenes with really bright areas AND dark shadowy areas. Your eyes can resolve these scenes just fine, but cameras’ sensors have a tough time. 


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