Exposure Compensation and DSLR Camera Program Modes

See that button on your camera? I bet you didn’t know what it’s for…until now!

See that button on your camera? I bet you didn’t know what it’s for…until now!

I like to think of photography as a journey. We start out eager with a camera in hand and images in our imagination, but at the beginning, we lack the depth of skills and technical knowledge to fully achieve our vision; we don’t yet grasp the “craft” of photography sufficiently enough yet to operate in full Manual mode and build the images we dream of.

On your way to Manual, there’s no better place to spend some quality time than in your camera’s Program modes. These are the letters on your Mode Dial, “P,” “Av or A”, “Tv or S” (Av/Tv = Canon, A/S = Nikon and Sony).

How do these work? Each of the Program modes offers us a deepening level of image and exposure control. Let’s start with P, in a scenario where we have the Exposure Compensation set to “0”.

Program Mode (P)

P stands for Program. How does our camera work in this mode? I like to think of it as “Phone +.” If “AUTO” mode (which is also on the mode dial) turns our camera into a Phone camera, which is basically a camera with no controls at all, and simply a shutter button, then P mode does that but adds one very significant extra feature - we can control the brightness or darkness of our exposure via the Exposure Compensation button (+/-).

This means that the camera reads the exposure of our frame (remember this means brightness level) , and chooses the camera settings of Aperture and Shutter Speed to create a balanced exposure. A balanced exposure occurs when our histogram or light meter are in the middle, not too bright, not too dark - at “0.”

The EC (+/-) button allows us to move that up (brighter) or down (darker) to suit our taste. How does this happen? The camera will adjust the aperture and/or shutter “in the background” to deliver a different exposure that is skewed in whichever direction you sent the compensation - “-” (to the left) is darker, “+” (to the right) is brighter. You have ZERO control over what changes are being made to Aperture and Shutter Speed - the camera does this.

So to recap = “P” mode is AUTO, but you can adjust the exposure Brighter or Darker.

Av / A - Aperture Priority

Av Mode (A on Nikon and Sony) stands for Aperture priority. This allows the photographer to set the camera’s aperture, and the camera will read (meter) the exposure and automatically set the shutter speed to deliver the exposure you specify with the EC button.

Stop for a minute and think about this - YOU pick the Aperture, and the camera picks the Shutter Speed. If you have the EC set to 0, the exposure will be perfectly balanced - not too bright, not to dark - with no parts overexposed and no parts underexposed. If you have the EC set to -3, the camera will pick a shutter speed to make the image very dark. If you have the EC set to +3, the camera will pick a shutter speed to make the image very bright.

Why would you pick the aperture? To set the “Depth of Field” and control one important aspect of what your photo looks like. Depth of Field (DOF) is “how much of my photo is in focus.” Wide apertures (lower numbers…f/2.8, f/4) mean shallow DOF, and less in focus. Narrower apertures (bigger numbers…f/16, f/22) mean deeper DOF, with more in focus.

Why would you do this? Portraits are a great example - shooting a picture where a person is close to the camera and they are in focus and the far background is not. At the opposite end of the aperture range (your f/16 to f/22 values) are your landscape photos are made - because landscape photographers typically want photos where the close nearground, middleground, and far background are all in sharp focus.

In a nutshell - select Aperture Priority mode to specify the aperture of the photo, and thus how much of it is in focus, or how much Depth of Field it has.

Tv (or S on Nikon and Sony) - Shutter Priority Mode

In this mode, you specify the Shutter Speed, and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed controls not only exposure, but also how motion looks in our photographs. Slower shutter speeds (bigger fractions of time) will show water as silky and smooth instead of stuck in time. Faster shutter speeds record shorter moments of time, showing moving objects frozen in the frame.

We choose Shutter Priority Mode when we want to control how motion looks in our photographs. Choose faster shutter speeds (smaller fractions; 1/2000th) to freeze moving objects, choose slower shutter speeds (larger fractions; 1/6th of a second, or 2 seconds) to show moving objects as blurry.

And again - whatever we have the EC button set to (remember that is a range from -3 to 0 to + 3) will dictate how the camera chooses the OTHER variable than whatever mode you are in, to deliver an image with that specified exposure.


I have glossed over one very important point until now - what about ISO? If you have it set to Auto, the camera will also pick this variable, or if you don’t it will use whatever value you have it set to - ISO400 is a good value for average daytime situations.

Phew! That’s a LOT of information. I just want to take awesome pictures!

Yes, yes it is, I know you do, and you will get there, trust me! Learning and mastering photographic exposure is challenging, and will take some time and considerable effort on your part. You have to go out and shoot, and do it wrong A LOT, and think critically about why things look the way they do. Eventually ya light bulb will go off if you stick with it and you will get it.

Let’s recap:

  • Program modes offer control over Exposure (bright versus dark) as well as how our photos look by letting us isolate and control just one of three variables at a time

  • Whatever the Exposure Compensation is set to (-3 to 0 to +3) is what level of exposure the camera will deliver, regardless of the mode

  • In P mode, the camera settings of aperture and shutter are automatic, but we can make the exposure brighter (“+”) or darker (“-”)

  • In Av (A) mode, we set the Aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed

  • In Tv mode (S), we set the Shutter Speed, and the camera chooses the Aperture

  • Regardless of which mode we are in, after we set the variable, we can use the EC button to make the image brighter or darker (and the camera will change settings for us)

Give these modes a try, try them one at a time, and slow down and look at the images and what settings they were taken at. Eventually over time, with enough trial and error, you will begin to develop the understanding of exposure needed to craft together any image you can dream up!

Tips to remember:

  • Slow down!

  • When you switch modes (Av to Tv) to change what you are learning, set the EC to Zero right away

  • Try Auto ISO so you don’t also have to think of that exposure variable

  • In an effort to not overly complicate things, I avoided talking about the different metering modes, which allow a camera to examine the whole frame, a center weighted average of the whole frame, or a small spot on the frame. I’ll do a separate post on that in the future.


Homework Assignment:

  • To learn Shutter (Tv or S) - take pictures of moving cars with your camera on a tripod at every shutter speed your camera has, and look at the image on a computer

  • To learn Aperture (Av or A) - take pictures of a still life (bowl of fruit) about one foot from your camera on your kitchen counter. Focus on the fruit. Vary the aperture across the range your camera has, and look at the images on your computer.

Lightroom Best Practices: Managing a Travel Catalog and a Master Catalog

LIghtroom 1.png

When I travel on a photography adventure, I bring my laptop and use a fresh, empty Lightroom Catalog to collect and manage all the new photographs I create. Then when I return home, I import that “travel catalog” into my main Lightroom Catalog on my Desktop PC (yes, a PC!). Over the years, I have found that this is a nice, tidy way to keep things separate and maintain my master catalog at home without having to lug it around the world with me.

As with many things in Lightroom, the procedure is somewhat convoluted, and has pitfalls that can trip you up. Here’s how to embrace this workflow:

  1. First, before you begin, assess your situation as a photographer - do you have a main home/office computer with your master Lightroom catalog? if you have that AND a Laptop that you take with you on trips, then read on. If you only have a laptop and you take your Master Catalog with you everywhere, then you may not need to embrace this workflow.

  2. Plan a trip somewhere amazing!

  3. Create a new, empty Lightroom catalog on your travel laptop

  4. Ingest (then organize and edit) your new photos to this catalog while you are out taking amazing photos. During Import from your cards as you travel and shoot, be sure to Copy the photos from the cards to your laptop’s hard drive, and make Standard-Sized and Smart Previews as well.

  5. Edit them on the plane ride home, and also make sure that you are completely organized by doing the following preparatory step:

    • In Collections Panel (in Library Module), Create a top-level Collection Set with a distinctive name such as “Iceland 2018 ALL” and then drag everything else (I really mean everything) into this collection set.

    • This step ensures that when you import everything back into your Master Catalog at home, that the different Collections and Collection sets you may have won’t go missing out among your existing collections/sets due to being “shuffled” in with everything alphabetically.

  6. Copy both the travel Lightroom Catalog AND all of your RAW photos (from wherever you stored them during ingests) onto a “go between” portable USB stick or External Hard Drive. To reiterate here - you need to bring both the Catalog files and the Photos over.

  7. Upon your return home, copy everything from the external drive to your Desktop, being careful to place it in a Folder that you can recall.

  8. Fire up Lightroom with your Master Catalog, and Choose the “Import from Another Catalog” option up in the menus.

  9. Navigate in your file system to your travel catalog, and choose it.

  10. Next, ensure you choose the correct option during the import - which is typically going to be “Add new photos to catalog without moving” since Lightroom will have them mapped from where they were on your Laptop in the Folders panel (which you have to fix next..) and you don’t want to duplicate these on your Desktop hard drive. Make sure you have only the photos you want “ticked” over on the right in the grid gallery. Click Import.

  11. After the import, your Travel Photos will be found in your Master Catalog’s list of Collections/Sets with your organizational structure intact, out in your list of Collections Sets wherever that may be, alphabetically.

manus 1.png

Your last step, and one of the most important, is to re-locate all of your travel photos in FOLDERS (not collections!), since you likely have a different hard drive name on your desktop than your laptop.

To do this, simply go (in Library Module) to your Folders, and click on one of your top-level Folders(e.g. “Iceland 2018 RAWs) and click on the “!” or the box at upper right of each missing photo. Once you re-map the location of a photo in each folder, Lightroom will do the rest and automatically update the locations.


That’s it! Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

Lightroom Best Practices - How to ACTUALLY Delete Images in Lightroom Classic CC

Screenshot 2018-09-27 14.41.44.png

In this , the first in a series of “Lightroom Best Practices” posts, let’s examine the best way to do what many of us neglect, and what I desperately need to do more of - delete images from disk to make more space.

Lightroom makes it VERY difficult to actually delete images from your computer - and by actually delete I mean to literally get rid of the files themselves - to get them both out of your Lightroom catalog and off of your hard disk and into your Waste Basket / Recycle Bin.

Let’s cover several scenarios - let’s say you are in Library Module active, browsing around in a Collection. Don’t like an image? Just hit “delete” right? Nope. That action will merely remove the photograph from the collection that is currently active.

How about right-clicking” on it? Nope. That action only allows “Remove from Collection.”

How about going up into the menus at the top of the screen and see what’s in the “Photo” menu? Nope. There you only get “Remove Photo from Catalog.”

What if I hold in CMD (Mac) or Cntrl (PC) and then browse to the Photo menu at the top? VOILA! In doing this, we get this option:

Screenshot 2018-09-27 14.50.23.png

“Remove and Trash Photo.” This is what we want!!

But, doing this one photo at a time isn’t very efficient. So, what’s the shortcut?

As I go through Lightroom, organizing and editing photos, I like to use the “X” key to Flag those photos I KNOW I want to delete. Then, periodically, I will go through and gather all of these “rejected” images into one location, and purge them from my hard drive AND catalog in one fell swoop.

To make this easier - create a Smart Collection, whose one rule is that the photos are Flagged with “Rejected.”

Screenshot 2018-09-27 14.56.17.png

All of the images you flag with “X” will then be collected into this Smart Collection - which you should use as a good excuse to go back through and make sure that you want to say goodbye to forever.

When it comes time to make the purge, simply[y browse to this Smart Collection, then select all (CMD-A) of the images, and then while holding in CMD-SHFT, go up to the Photo menu at the top navigation and choose “Remove and Trash Photos.”

The August 21st 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

2012 partial Solar Eclipse, East Shore< Lake Tahoe © Grant Kaye

2012 partial Solar Eclipse, East Shore< Lake Tahoe © Grant Kaye

Early on the morning of August 21st of this year (2017) there is a full solar eclipse, visible across most of the United States.


The path of totality starts off the coast of South Carolina, and races across the lower 48 states, making itself visible in Oregon around 9:30-10:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time, depending on where the viewer is located on the path of totality. 

So, where do you go to view this magnificent, once (or if your lucky, twice) in a lifetime event?

Xavier Jubier's excellent interactive Google Map of the path of totality is a wonderful planning tool, as it overlays the moon's shadow (path of totality) over an Google Map that you can pan and zoom, and click on a point to pop-up a window that shows the exact start/finish time of the event (in UTC - subtract 7 hours in you are in the Pacific Time zone) at the location you choose.

Xavier's Planning Page - CLICK HERE

Once you figure out where you are going to be, what can you expect to see?

During a total solar eclipse, if you are underneath the path of totality, the moon passes in front of the sun, and it's shadow falls on the earth and obscures almost all of the sun's light. If you have a long lens pointed at the Sun, you may see solar prominences, as will "Bailey's Beads"  which are the refractions of sunlight around topography of the moon. 

If you are shooting the landscape, with the sun in the frame, you will see an eerie dusk-like sky, with stars and planets, and a near-total lack of shadows on the ground. 

Typically I would go through my archives and post some sample images, but other than the above image made in 2012, I have never been lucky enough to photograph a solar eclipse, let alone a TOTAL solar eclipse. So, I will look to the excellent work of my colleagues to show some examples of what is possible, to get your creative ideas flowing: 

Beware when freviewing the images that are out there, there is a LOT of fakery. If you see an INCREDIBLE image that looks too good to be true, it probably is. 

Mountain Workshops 2016 - Paducah Kentucky

This year's Mountain Workshops have come and gone, and I couldn't be more proud of what my two students were able to achieve in a week's time. 

This year, my timelapse class consisted of Mindy Miller, staff photographer for the University of Florida, and Lex Selig, Western Kentucky University Photojournalism student. Neither of them had shot a timelapse prior to coming to Mountain Workshops in Paducah. 

I love being a part of Mountain every year, it's one of my favorite places to teach for so many reasons. The faculty and staff are all incredible folks, and it's an honor and a pleasure to gather with them in a different town in Kentucky each year to record the stories of the town and it's people. At Mountain, the atmosphere is always electric, and the enthusiasm and dedication to top-notch storytelling are always infectious. 

Check out Mindy and Lex's timelapse project here:

Huge thanks to the major sponsors of the Workshops, Nikon and Canon: Mary, Jeff, Andy, and Kris are the best in the business, all of you always go way above and beyond to get everyone at Mountain incredible gear to use in our storytelling projects. 

Here's an awesome video recap of our week in Paducah, shot by Lonely Planet CEO Daniel Houghton, freelancer Adam Wolffbrandt, and workshops coordinator Tim Broekema. 

Lastly - to Mindy and Lex - (Lex! Go to sleep!) congratulations, you guys #crushedit.