Too dark/Too bright!

Too dark/Too bright!

8 week online workshop
lesson 2
Exposure compensation

I’m a little confused by exposure compensation, especially by using a positive EV for bright scenes and a negative one for dark scenes. When I have a dark scene and use a negative EV it just seems to make the shot even darker…but rather than worrying about EV is this when I should be changing aperture/shutter speed and ISO and leave the EV for use when there are extremes in bright and dark? Sorry for such a basic question…but the more I think about it the more I seem to confuse myself.

Both of these shots were taken in Shutter priority as my daughter was moving around but I managed to capture these in the few moments she stood still…but didn’t have time to switch to Aperture Priority.
– First pic: 1/1000, f/4.5, ISO 100. In the frame the pic still looked dark so I upped the EV+1 because decreasing the EV made the shot even darker. Rather than increasing the EV would I have been better to decrease the shutter speed to let more light in. I’m still thinking on my feet and making these changes on the spot it taking a bit of getting used to….but thinking about it afterwards I think that perhaps it’s starting to click (???),
– Second pic: I kept the ISO and aperture the same and dropped the shutter speed to 1/250. The subject still seemed dark against the bright blue sky so I upped the EV to 1.7 but now the background seems a bit over- exposed, but increasing the shutter speed just made the shot even darker. Would it have been better to increase the ISO from 100?
– Third pic….I love this pic so much as it really captures my daughter’s innocence and her expression in this shot is almost exactly the same as a shot we have of her when she was 6 weeks old. I converted it to black and white and lightened it, too. I tried to play around with it in colour, but I just couldn’t seem to get a good balance of colour so decided to go with black and white.

I seem to have this problem quite a bit, especially when the subject is in the shade and adjusting the settings to capture the subject in the best light throws the background out. It’s increasingly difficult to make all the necessary changes with kids on the move, but I guess that’s where practice makes perfect. Am I on the right track as I’m getting very confused??

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I'm a Sydney mum to 2 gorgeous girls and am pregnant with my 3rd daughter, who will join us at the end of March. I'm keen to learn more about capturing the best shots of my children and am excited to be learning how to use my camera.


  1. Let me see if I can make it clearer for you Sally.
    Firstly never apologise for asking questions. I’m here to help you to understand. Ask as many as you need. And I can guarantee other people will also have the same questions so you’re helping them too.
    Exposure compensation is most useful with snow or a white background (positive EV) or black backgrounds (negative EV). The reason you use it is to avoid the camera changing the white to a dull grey and the black to a dull grey. EV keeps the whites white and the blacks black This exercise is best done in snow – which is not an option for us – or a room with a white wall (really white sand is also good) and a black background of some kind.
    Exposure compensation is not as useful (although it can sometimes work) in the types images of you have here where you have a closeup against a bright sky.
    Re your question on reducing the shutter speed: Don’t forget that decreasing the shutter speed to let more light in won’t work on Shutter priority because the camera will just adjust the aperture to compensate – slow the shutter speed and the camera will decrease the aperture so you end up with the same exposure (make sense?). You would have to switch to full manual to do that.
    With these scenes the very best way to handle them is with spot metering off the skin on the face (Lesson 1, topic 5). This will ensure that the face (the most important part of the photo) is correctly exposed. If you don’t use spot metering then the camera will take an average reading of the light and dark areas and neither will be correctly exposed.
    I hope this all makes sense but feel free to ask for clarification or more explanation if you need it.

  2. p.s. Sally, I have gone back to this lesson topic and re-written it a little to cover more specific examples of when and how to use EV. Let me know if this makes more sense. This is a quite hard concept to explain!

  3. Thank you, Robyn. I think I’ve reached a point where I’ve read so much I’m getting a bit confused, but your explanation of how everything works together makes perfect sense and I don’t feel as overwhelmed by it all. 🙂

  4. Thank you Robyn and Sally – this has cleared a lot up for me! And now I understand the use of spot metering. When I did the challenge on metering I didn’t really see a huge difference with spot metering and figured I probably wouldn’t use it, but now I can see how useful it is in these situations (which I seem to find happens pretty often with kids, that they are in the shade and the background is really bright).
    The black and white photo is really lovely, all the focus is on that beautiful expression.

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