I’ll use Canon cameras as an example here, because that’s what I’ve got. If you look at the back of your Canon DSLR camera, you’ll likely see a few buttons. One of those buttons probably has a Q written on it. If you press that button while in Live View, you’ll see the menu that was on the LCD screen come alive. It’ll become editable. There’s a scale on the screen that runs from -3 to 0 to +3. That’s the exposure compensation scale. While that’s highlighted, use the arrow keys on the back of your camera or the dial up on top to change from zero exposure compensation to something more or something less. Doing this will result in brighter photos or darker photos. There you have it in a nutshell; exposure compensation.
When I usually think about this feature while pondering photography, I always come back to the generic use of it. You’re taking photos and feel that your resulting images are either took dark or too bright. While I’ve encountered those types of situations a fair share, what I actually encounter much more often is a scene that’s too dark because of something that’s bright in it. Just the other day, I was attempting to capture landscape images and all of my shots were coming out really dark. And land was nearly black while the sky was blown out with brightness. This can be especially prevalent at dusk, when there isn’t enough light on the land to counter the brightness above.
So yes, if your overall scene is too dark, increase your exposure compensation up a notch and if it’s too light, decrease it a notch. Just be sure to keep your eye on your shutter speed because it can slow down quite a bit, causing camera shake and blur. If you notice that you’re in a situation like the one I just described, with the very dark land and very bright sky, the trick is to increase your exposure compensation by at least a value of 1 (one). You may have to go up even more. You’ll need to counter the sky and even though that will appear especially blown out, you’ll likely be able to correct it in post-processing. What’s an even better solution is bracketing. If you capture the first photo with a value of -1 and then the second with a value of 0 and then the third photo with a value of +1, you can combine these images in post-processing to give you either an HDR image or you can use masks to remove any areas you don’t like, leaving you with a fully well exposed photograph.
Do you have any suggestions for when to use your camera’s exposure compensation feature? What do you like about using it and what don’t you like? I firmly believe that it oftentimes takes more than one shot (using a tripod) and then a combination of the multiple photos to get the one you want. The dynamic ranges on our cameras simply can’t capture all the light correctly that’s in the atmosphere.