How to Make Minor Exposure Adjustments


Well-Known Member
As you begin taking an ever increasing number of photos, you'll start to realize exactly what your camera is capable of. Brands and models have their own idiosyncrasies. For instance, I know my Canon Rebel T7i exposes photographs nearly perfectly when photographing indoors, but it tends to lean towards darker shadows than many other cameras when I'm shooting in bright situations. Whatever type of camera you own, know that it won't expose every single shot you take perfectly 100% of the time. It may get it right more often than not, but there will be occasions when you'll need to fine tune your camera's exposure. That's just part of good photography.

In today's post, I'd like to offer a few tips that might just help you overcome some of your exposure challenges. Most of the time, you'll be fine and you won't need to make any adjustments, but sometimes you will need to. Luckily, only minor adjustments are typically called for.

1. Shoot on cloudy days. Full sun can be harsh on a scene and it can create very dark shadows that your camera will likely underexpose. Sometimes, those shadows will be so dark that you won't be able to correct them, meaning, they'll be pure black (no detail). Clouds diffuse sunlight, softening any shadows that may appear in your photographs. These softer shadows can be tackled without much effort in Adobe Camera Raw or Photoshop.

2. Use Program mode. I love Program mode. I use it all the time. It gives me the flexibility I want, but still offers me tons of automation. When taking photos, your camera will set your lens' aperture and your camera's shutter speed, which you can override with Program shift. Also, when using this mode, you'll be able to take advantage of your camera's exposure compensation feature.

3. Use evaluative metering. There are a few different modes you can use to have your camera meter a scene. A common and widely used mode is called evaluative metering. This is an all-around good choice that does a good job under most circumstances. Just be sure to shoot in Program mode or another mode that allows you to choose how your camera meters.

4. Use Live View. On DSLR cameras, when you change your lens' aperture setting, you won't see any difference when looking through the viewfinder. You'll need to press the aperture preview button to do that. How often do we remember to do this? Probably never. The reason it's good to see the scene's actual exposure when photographing is to determine if you need to make any changes. If you decide to shoot while using Live View, you'll see exactly how your image will turn out after the photo is taken. Mirrorless cameras do this by default with both the rear LCD screen as well as through the viewfinder.

5. View your scene's histogram before taking the photo. You can learn a lot by viewing your camera's histogram while using Live View. If your scene's exposure curve is set towards the center of the range, then things are likely good. If the curve is pegged toward one end or the other though, you're in trouble. That's when you'll need to make some adjustments, which I'll talk about soon. Having your histogram curve too far to the left or the right means that part of the exposure will be clipped. Your shot will be either under exposed or overexposed and you won't be able to correct it because there will be data loss.

6. Take advantage of exposure compensation. This feature was added to digital cameras for a reason. Use it and use it often. If you see that your histogram curve is pegged all the way to the right, you'll need to use your camera's exposure compensation to fix that. Dial the exposure down some. If the curve is too far to the left. dial the exposure up a bit. As you do this, you'll see the histogram curve move and hopefully become more moderate.

7. Capture your photo. You know what type of image you're trying to capture. When you're ready, meter your scene by pressing your shutter button down half way and asses how things will look. If they're aligned with what you're going for, then snap away.

8. Always review your shots. The last thing you want to do is walk away from a scene with lousy photos. Even though you've already set things up properly, you'll still need to review what you've taken. Use the histogram on the rear of your camera to see if any of your images are clipped, too far underexposed, or too far overexposed. If they are, make the necessary adjustments and shoot again.

Using Program mode really does offer a lot of flexibility. It allows the camera to take care of most exposure related areas, but it gives you the power to make any changes you see fit. If you see that things do require some intervention, then you can easily intervene. Also, if you're trying to review your photos by looking at your camera's rear LCD screen, you might not be getting an accurate picture of what they're like. It's far more accurate to review a shot's histogram instead. That will tell you if you need to redo an image. And finally, your camera's exposure compensation feature is a super easy to use tool to quickly fix up tricky exposure situations. Become familiar with this feature and use it to your heart's content.

Do you have any tricks or tips that might help new photographers alter their camera's exposure? Do you have any questions about what I shared above? If you answered yes to either of these, please add your input below. Thanks!