Controlling Brightness, Easily

Lesson 1 in our Essentials of Photography Series –
by Joe Klocek

[Level: Beginner]

You got a great real camera because you want to make the best pictures of the things most important to you. Perhaps you’ve realized that merely buying the camera isn’t enough, now you need to figure it all out. Don’t worry, Mike’s is here to help guide you on your photographic journey.

There’s tons to learn and it can be overwhelming. To make it painless and fun I suggest you start with the camera in Auto and just concentrate on composition. Look left and right, up and down before clicking the shutter button. Ask am I including something that’s not relevant, or is something missing that would more effectively convey the feeling of the scene?

Then when you’re ready the next step is to take control over the brightness. It’s really quite simple, here’s how:
Turn Mode Dial to P SettingDial

Now find the button that has a “+/-” symbol. That’s exposure compensation, essentially a tool to make your pictures brighter and darker. The location of it varies from camera to camera, but they all have this capability.


It’s now time to experiment so go ahead and shoot a picture.


In a scene like above the camera wants to balance the exposure but the highlights get too bright to make out details.

Now press that +/- and you’ll see positive numbers and negative numbers. Select a negative number and shoot the same picture as before. It’ll be darker.


By underexposing we’re creating drama and preserving those details in the highlights.

Now select a positive number and shoot again. It’ll be brighter.


In this case overexposing is not successful, but you should start to understand the idea better

The goal here is to give you control over your shooting without distracting you too much with technical stuff.

Now you’re armed and ready, so get out there with your camera in P and use exposure compensation when needed. Here’s a few tips:

  1. White on white, such as snow scene: overexpose
  2. If your subject is backlit: overexpose
  3. Dark on dark, such as black lab puppy on dark sofa: underexpose
  4. One light source such as candle or neon: underexpose

Using exposure compensation will allow you stay focused (pun intended) on composing great photographs with more say over the brightness. Spend time with each subject to make sure it’s framed the way you want, and in focus. Before we go any further, remember why you got a real camera in the first place, to make great photos.

Shooting pictures should be a fun experience. The rest will come and the goal of this blog going forward will be to lead the way.

Click here for the next module: The f/stops here

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