Using Exposure Value (EV)

Filed in Tips by 43 Comments
Using Exposure Value (EV)

Almost all digital cameras have an Exposure Value (EV) Compensation setting. This setting is needed because the camera can sometimes make incorrect assumptions about the lighting of a photo. Changing the EV will make sure your photos are always correctly exposed.

Why Do We Need Exposure Value Compensation?

Your camera is calibrated to expose images correctly for scenes that have a mix of dark and light areas. This works well in most situations because our images normally tend to have brighter areas (sky) and darker areas (shadows). On Auto, the camera chooses a brightness setting around mid way between the brightest and darkest areas and makes sure that area is correctly exposed.

This causes problems, however, when all of your image is very bright (like a white sandy beach or snow), or very dark (like deep green forest scenes). For very bright scenes, like at the snow, the camera thinks the very bright part should be the ‘mid point’. This causes the snow to appear gray (because it’s mid way between white and black). Similarly for darker images.

The snow in this image looks grey because there is too much ‘white’ in the image. This fools the camera’s settings

How To Use EV Compensation

EV Compensation helps to fix this by telling the camera to expose at a higher or lower setting than it thinks is right. For very bright settings (like the snow or beach), set an EV value as a positive number (+1/3, +1 etc). For very dark scenes, choose a negative EV number.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – that doesn’t make sense! If the subject is very bright, don’t I need to set a lower EV (negative number) to make sure the image is exposed correctly?

Well, no. It’s the opposite. It helps to think of what the resulting image will look like. In the snow, where there are lots of bright areas, the camera will choose a mid point in the bright area, so the snow will look gray in the resulting image. To fix that and make the snow white (as it should be), we need to brighten the image. Thus we need to increase the exposure and use a positive number.

The same with very dark subjects. The camera will choose a very dark point as the mid-point so everything will appear too bright in the image. We need to lower the exposure (negative number) to compensate.

Setting the EV to +1 fixes the gray snow. It’s now bright white.
Thanks to forum member snowfall1127 for the use of this image.

Exposure Bracketing

Even if you know the direction (+ or -) to set the EV, it’s harder to judge how much to compensate. My suggestion is to try different values and check using the LCD screen after each until your photo looks right (not too many very light or dark points).

Some cameras can even do this automatically (Called Auto Exposure Bracketing). I don’t recommend using this as YOU will be a much better judge of a correctly exposed image than your camera.

EV -2

EV -1

EV 0
Normal Exposure

EV +1

EV +2

Use Your Camera’s Scene Modes

If you don’t want to worry about exposure value, check to see if your camera has scene modes. The Beach and Snow scene mode automatically sets the appropriate EV compensation so these images won’t appear too dark.


Surprisingly, changing EV is a great way to capture stunning sunsets. The sun tends to mess with the exposure as it’s a very very bright spot (even at sunset). The camera tries to compensate and sets a higher exposure. This darkens the rest of the image and destroys any of the colors in the sky.

To get the colors back, set the EV to +1 or +2. This will increase the exposure which will lighten the rest of the image, and bring the colors back!


Use Exposure Value Compensation when your scene is all very bright, or all very dark. Use positive numbers for bright scenes and negative numbers for dark scenes. Experiment with different numbers until your image is correctly exposed.

Most people think this post is Awesome!
  • Awesome (628)
  • Interesting (150)
  • Useful (191)
  • Boring (45)

Join 453,659 Other Subscribers Today!

The Only photography newsletter you will ever need to read!
Free newsletter with new tips and tutorials every week.

About the Author ()

David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.

Comments (43)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Mohammed Shuaib Sheikh says:

    Learnt a lot about EV today. Thank you. Does Auto Setting over rides manually set EV?

    • Hi Mohammed,

      No, Auto mode takes the EV setting into account when taking the photo. So does Program Mode, or any of the other semi-automatic modes like AV or TV. Only the fully Manual Mode ignores the EV value.


  2. KVR PILLAI says:

    Educative, got benefited & highly impressed. Regards.

  3. Santosh Kumar Acharya says:

    Thanks sir

  4. Himanshu says:

    Thanks David sir , this post is just awesome , Your site really helps a lot :)

  5. abhilash says:

    that really clears stuff… thank u..

  6. STEVE says:


  7. George says:

    have just read your article on histograms, have seen the light, pardon the pun, will not need to spend so much time on photoshop CS2 in future be nice to get it right at the time of shot

  8. belong says:

    that explains why i end up adjusting my EV all the way down when i tried to photograph the full moon, and to my surprise it my 50d gave me a correct exposure.
    thanks for this topic.

  9. vishal says:

    Thanks for the tip. Indeed I thought it was the other way around.

  10. donna says:

    just wanted to say that love your new look, and thanks for the wonderful information given.
    I’m here in New Zealand and haven’t found a sight like this here

    Thanks again


  11. victoria says:

    Hi David
    Just thought I’d say a thanks to your always generous sharing of info… it’s great to get these reminders from you, and encouraging when you suddenly get something right!


  12. Paulette says:

    Unless the sun disc is actually in the frame, I find that a minus EV works best to retain saturation in the sky color. Maybe things work differently when the sun in below the horizon?

  13. ken says:

    Thanks… until i read this article, I got it the other way around.

    I guess I’m learning slowly on how to use my DSLR.

  14. Dale says:

    I like to think of the exposure value as using a higher ISO setting without getting the graininess. I took a night shot with +2 EV and it eliminated the jitter compensation and took a great shot at night without the flash. So how does the EV relate to ISO. I assume its a similar effect.

  15. asli says:

    ı think very nice and intersting you know tecknologhy is going future :)

  16. Tracey Powell says:

    thanx for that tip, it was very clear.
    Just wondering how to meter when a person is standing in front of a very bright subject, like lake etc.I want nice detail in background, but correctly exposed subject.
    any ideas?

  17. kangakid says:

    Thanks for clearing up which way to change the ev as I always got it mixed up and took pictures at both end of the scale just to make sure I got the best result.

  18. Tackylady1 says:

    Can’t wait to try this. Thanks for the helpful hints.

  19. Ajay says:

    “troy says:

    So when you change the ev setting what is the camera actually doing? Does the shutter/fstop change??”

    anybody can answer this? i’d like to know too


  20. judy says:

    Thanks for the clear instructions – especially in a beginners eyes. A photographer in Alice Springs suggested I set my camera on cloud and vivid to get good sunsets, seems to work well. The problem of dark or over bright in tall timber areas will be fun to take now.

  21. Roy says:

    I love these tips. Being a total novice and trying to drive a Nikon D100 to boot, I feel like I would if put in Schumi’s Ferrari and having to work out what all the steering wheel buttons are. But these help no end…
    On forst look I agreed with Milan, but then decided the EV+1 pic was the better.

  22. jadon says:

    Well I didn’t know that . You learn something new everyday, Can’t wait to try your methods out, Cheers David.

  23. Paper Cup says:

    it actually depends on how you look it. the first looks very mystical and even shady (like some dark fairy’s place!) . the second looks more angelic cos it’s whiter. :)

  24. Milan says:

    It is true the snow appears grey but the original picture is looking to me much better than the fixed one.
    Does somebody share my opinion?

  25. Louis Poulin says:

    Now i know what ev stands for.
    -Have been using the bracketing feature
    on my Pentax optio 60 camera and really
    enjoy it…Louis,Ottawa Canada

  26. troy says:

    So when you change the ev setting what is the camera actually doing? Does the shutter/fstop change??

  27. Barbara says:

    Thankyou for the great tip. I always wondered what the heck I was doing wrong with my snow scenes pics. Now I know!!

  28. Mel,

    Changing the EV does make a scene brighter or darker, as you see in the example images.

    When photographing bright scenes, your camera will tend to under expose the image, so you need to set EV positive to even it out.

    David Peterson.

  29. mel keiser says:

    “just the opposite”? if the scene is bright increase the EVand if dim lower the EV. why then on your sample lilly photo the shot gets darker when you lower the EV? thanks

  30. Chris says:

    As a novice photographer, I always appreciate topic like this. All this time I always thought is the otherway around, no wonder some of my images had wrong exposure. thanks for the tips

  31. David Bird says:

    Thanks for the EV article…have just been playing around with it on my Nikon D50 DSLR. that has manual EV compension of +/- 5.0 in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps. Excellent results!!! Thanks. Can’t find in the book (yet) if there is a ‘bracketing’ mode. Does anyone know?

    Limbri NSW

  32. eli says:

    very well explained! simple and clear. Thanks..

  33. william risk says:

    I use minolta film cameras and have aways had good results letting the camera set the exposure for snow and sand scenes. but I have had some exposure problems with the konica minolta 7d digital and I returned under g/tee for check and repair to minolta in Germany in June and I am still awaiting it’s return. Hopefully I’ll get it back before winter arrives and I can use the exposure tips Best Wishes to All
    Willie Risk.

  34. Peter says:

    Now that really clears things up and makes it very simple

  35. Jerry Choate says:

    I’ve made lots of gray snow scenes, and white beaches never looked as well in prints as they did in person. Now I know why.

  36. george@gophotos says:

    A good article. I tend not to use my EV much, instead relying on post editing to “fix” things. This is a reminder to use the camera’s facilities more often and save time mucking about afterwards, by having a better exposed image to work with in the first place.

    :) george

  37. pradeep d rajmane says:

    very intersting topic and answer
    but i think this doesn’s follows
    if person is standing in sand.
    as he will also appear to bright
    if exposer set to higer side that
    is to +ve side.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *