Red Lodge, Montana

It’s not very bright … but I can fix that!


What do you do when your camera doesn’t take the kind of pictures you want it to take? Some are too bright and some are too dark. Cameras are pretty smart but they don’t know every one of the situations you will be taking pictures. It helps if you can spend a little time and try setting your camera to one of the shooting modes to help it out. Even if you do this and your photos are still too dark or bright you might think about one of the most useful tools on most cameras (I’m not talking cell phones here): exposure compensation.

Exposure compensation is noted with an icon that looks something like this: +/-. What it is going to let you do is make a dark photo brighter or a bright photo darker. Exposure is what happened when your camera took an image and the result is what is represented on your LED screen. Let’s say you take a photo and it’s just too dark and you can’t see much. Exposure compensation lets you add exposure to your photo by either one of two things:

  1. It opens up the aperture (f stop): the iris of your camera lens which will let in more light; or
  2. It will slow down the shutter speed and allow more light to enter the camera because the shutter is open longer. It will let you do just the opposite if your photo is too bright.

How each camera allows the photographer to do this is different. This is where you need to look in your camera’s users manual to learn how to do this. Usually it involves pushing the +/- icon button while you turn another dial towards the + to make your photo brighter or towards the – to make your photo darker. You will notice that you can do this in degrees, either a little darker or brighter or a lot darker or brighter. Just retake the photo until everything looks as it should. If you have this feature on your camera there is no reason your photos shouldn’t be properly exposed.

Rodman snow photo Feb2014

This month’s photo is of the local scenery. Most photos taken in the snow will be too dark because of how the camera reads the bright snow. This one was taken before the sun was up and the snow was not as bright as in full sun.

Some cameras may reset exposure compensation when you turn off your camera for the next time you use it. My camera — and many other cameras — do not reset the exposure compensation and will continually make exposures based on how it was previously set. I had someone with a fairly nice camera talk to me about their camera taking too many dark photos. I checked the exposure compensation and everything was set properly but any photographer will tell you that cameras are just as frustrating as computers if they aren’t set properly. I still make mistakes and just start shooting when my camera was set for a different situation. Just figure out what’s wrong and try again.

I’m a stickler for proper exposure even though I can usually fix any small mistakes in Photoshop because I remember my photograph teacher saying that you have to get the best negative you can so you can make the best print you can. Digital photography is more forgiving than negative or slide film but still it helps to get the best image you can with the equipment you have. I also do not rely on the LED readout of my image to know if it’s properly exposed, I rely on the histogram.

Histogram before adjusting

A histogram showing a photo that doesn’t have enough dark or light areas.

The histogram is the graph of the exposure which is a feature of many cameras. If you want to know more about what a histogram is look at my article from May 2009. Happy shooting and… I don’t want to see any more dark photos on Facebook.

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