When to use Exposure Compensation

Does Exposure Compensation could help taking picture of this Black Sand Beach?

The Honokalani black sand beach is on the Maui island, in the Waianapanapa state park.  In fact, the beach is not from sand but rather from small and smooth lava pebbles.  As you can imagine, under high noon sun, this beach is really hot.

Challenge of Dark Subjects in Photography

This beach can easily fool your camera metering system.  When taking pictures, the metering system guess that the scene should be 18% gray.  This is how a normal scene reflect light.  The Honokalani black sand beach reflects very little light.  The metering system, expecting a normal scene, allow more light to reach the sensor than needed hence overexposing the scene. The black sand beach will become grey when over exposed and the rest of the picture will suffer from it.

[bctt tweet=”Nail the shot using #ExposureCompensation when taking picture of Dark Subjects.”]

Exposure Compensation to the Rescue

On most camera you can take adjust your metering system and manually compensate for a scene that is not the usual 18% gray.  Look at your instruction manual to learn how to activate exposure compensation.  A very dark scene might need one or two stops to be exposed appropriately.  The amount of exposure compensation will vary depending on your metering mode and the portion of the scene that is being measured by the metering system.

With difficult subject, like this one, proceed like this:

  • take a picture;
  • look at the histogram and resulting picture and;
  • as necessary use exposure compensation on the next picture to get things right.

Metering mode impact on Exposure Compensation

To makes things worst, the metering mode used is also coming into play.

·         Evaluative Metering Mode

Under this mode, the whole scene is measured and more weight goes to the location where focus is acquired.  In this situation, for this picture, the evaluative metering mode could provide an ok result depending on where the focus is done.

·         Center-Weighted Average Metering Mode

Under this mode, the exposure would be probably perfect.  There is a blend of white, blue and dark area in the vicinity of the center of the frame.  Changing the composition by including more of the sky or the beach will alter the metered result. Exposure compensation might help offset these change.

·         Partial Metering Mode

On partial metering mode, this frame should lead approximately the same result as the center-weighted average Metering Mode.  As the metering area is reduced, the impact of metered area become more important.

·         Spot Metering Mode

The spot metering mode is selected mostly with the intent of recomposing after taking a meter reading.  Using spot metering mode, the photographer would take reading on green leafs, press the exposure lock button and then recompose to take the shot.  Exposure compensation would not be needed.

As you can appreciate, exposure compensation is not the one size fit all solution.  Usually it is used when you wish to remain in aperture or shutter speed priority with very dark or bright scene.

When not to use Exposure Compensation?

Exposure compensation is not always the best solution.  The Honokalani black sand beach offers multiple pictures opportunities.  The correct compensation needed, will vary depending on how you compose the shot.

On a sunny day, in this location, the sunny f/16 rule is the best choice.

When to use the sunny f/16 rule instead of Exposure Compensation?

The f/16 rule state that should you take picture of scene on a sunny day, you would get proper exposure by setting your aperture at f/16 and your shutter speed at 1/[ISO].  As such, this scene would be perfectly exposed at 1/200 second at ISO 200 and aperture f/16.  In this particular situation the Sunny f/16 rule is the best solution to expose correctly.

About the Black Sand Beach

This beach is a few miles only from Hana.  Should you go to Maui, I urge you to rent a car and drive to Hana by the northern road.  The vista is fantastic, you will go through multiple ecosystems and your head will spin for a few days.  Do not expect to drive to Hana and back in a matter of a few hours.  The distance might not seem that much but it is unlikely that you can drive at the recommended speed while heading to Hana.

On your way back, stop in Lahaina to eat at the Fish Market Restaurant.  Food is great, price is fair and you will make new friends!  When you stop there, you will understand how easy it is to make new Friends at the Fish Market restaurant in Lahaina.

Exposure Compensation

Exposure Compensation – Snow Scene

Do not forget, should you shoot snow or black sand beaches, exposure compensation can help you save the shot.  The sunny f/16 rule however is so simple to use when the conditions are just right.

Tell me, do you use exposure compensation?  The sunny f/16 rule?  How do you proceed to nail the exposure in difficult situation?