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Exposure Compensation | Day 16

I wanted to tell an inappropriate joke here about compensation – it involved men, bars and alcohol. I decided to use my better judgement and let you imagine it instead.

Compensation, says m-w.com is:

a : the act of compensating : the state of being compensated
b : correction of an organic defect or loss by hypertrophy or by increased functioning of another organ or unimpaired parts of the same organ
c : a psychological mechanism by which feelings of inferiority, frustration, or failure in one field are counterbalanced by achievement in another

Basically, you counterbalance some sort of lack of judgement or performance by achievement in another.

Exposure Compensation is the act of telling your camera to ignore its own judgement of correct exposure and adjust one way or another – by stopping the exposure up or down. This can be done for artistic reasons or because your camera doesn’t isn’t able to best guess what’s appropriate for the situation.

Hey, maybe that bar joke wouldn’t have been so bad, afterall?

exposure compensation on a nikon

+ (Positive) Exposure Compensation tells the camera to allow in more light than the meter says is correctly exposed – it makes your photo brighter.
– (Negative) Exposure Compensation tells the camera to allow in less light than the meter says is correctly exposed – it makes your photo darker.

Here’s a great tutorial on how to set the exposure compensation on a Canon. And here’s a tutorial and how-to for Nikon Cameras.

So, um… what in the world is it for?

If you shoot manually, and you know how to control exposure using the 3 elements of exposure you may never need or choose to use exposure compensation. If you don’t know how to shoot manually (tsk tsk, my friends!) and you’re relying on your camera to judge exposure for you, you can use this tool to tell your camera, “Hey, I want you to guess the best settings for this shot, then go ___ stops brighter (+) or ____ stops darker (-).”

This little trick is kinda like having a cheat code in a video game. Those can unlock levels or rewards, and the Exposure Compensation button for a photographer is a nice little trick to keep in your back pocket if you don’t have a full grasp on manual mode shooting.

Since you all paid such good attention to my tutorials the first 13 days of this series, this tutorial is only, you know… just so you can tell your friends. 😉


  1. I have been taking pictures the past year, bringing them to the computer, and adjusting the light in Picassa. Just recently I have been aware of the +/- button on my Nikon L22. I have found that a few seconds of adjusting this – has produced more vibrant colors. It seems to almost always need turned down, as my lil Nikon wants to burst the Oregon Cloud Cover over every shot. 🙂 This would have been a handy tip to know -Thanks for sharing!

  2. I am a little confused on when you would know to use this. Would you use exposure compensation after you take a picture and look at it and say “oh- it is too dark, I should adjust my exposure compensation button?” or is there a way that I would know to use it before I took the picture?

    I had a list of other questions, but after spending 5 minutes with my camera, I think that I answered them. And I decided that it seems like you are basically doing the same thing with this as you are when you adjust the shutter speed and f-stop. So, after reading the first part of this series, I don’t see why I would use this button. Although I am glad that I now know what it is!

  3. I have been using the Program setting and adjusting exposure this whole time. I want to get better at manual, so I don’t have to!

  4. I’m so glad you told me what this button was for! I’ve always wondered and I’m a lazy person and haven’t looked it up! I just played with it a bit and it made me happy to see it work.

  5. and here I thought that button was only to toggle between aperture and shutter speed on my camera 😉 hee hee.

  6. I just stumbled upon your 31 day series yesterday and I am loving it! This is exactly what I needed. I decided a few weeks ago to get serious about learning to use my D40 and I’m learning so much from this series. Thank you!

  7. I must have been using exposure compensation this whole time…not changing my aperture?! I am really confused. I am trying to find videos to help me understand the difference between the two and what buttons to push for each one. I have a Canon 3t…HELP!


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