Clarifying (Typical) Exposure Compensation
One aspect of Film Simulation Recipes that I get asked about a lot is Exposure Compensation. It has caused much confusion. This article is intended to clarify it, and hopefully by the end this puzzling parameter will be fully understood.
First, let’s briefly talk about the exposure triangle. In photography, the exposure triangle refers to the three main elements that control the brightness of an image: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Aperture controls the amount of light entering the camera through the lens by adjusting the size of the opening, measured in f-stops. Shutter speed controls the amount of time that the camera’s sensor (or the film) is exposed to light, measured in seconds or fractions of a second. ISO measures the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor (or the film) to light, with lower ISO values indicating lower sensitivity and higher ISO values indicating higher sensitivity. These three elements work together to determine the overall exposure of an image.
Whenever you are not shooting fully manual, but are relying on an auto or semi-auto feature, such as Aperture-Priority (you choose the Aperture, but the camera chooses the Shutter and possibly the ISO) and Shutter-Priority (you choose the Shutter, but the camera chooses the Aperture and possibly the ISO), you adjust the exposure using Exposure Compensation, which on most Fujifilm cameras is via a knob on top of the camera. You can increase or decrease the exposure in 1/3-stop increments. While some people do shoot fully manual, including myself on occasion, many photographers choose to use a semi-auto mode so that the camera handles some lesser important tasks for them. Because more people shoot semi-auto than fully manual, in the Film Simulation Recipes I state the appropriate Auto-ISO and typical Exposure Compensation, but this causes a point of confusion for the fully manual shooter: what do you do? The solution is simple: increase or decrease the exposure over what the light meter suggests by whatever the recipe says. If a particular recipe calls for +1/3 to +2/3 Exposure Compensation, simply increase the exposure over what the light meter says by that amount.
Which brings me to an important point. The suggested Exposure Compensation is not intended to be a rule, but merely a starting point. There are a lot of factors that determine the luminosity curve—the film simulation, Dynamic Range settings, Highlight, Shadow, and even Color Chrome Effect, Color Chrome FX Blue, and Clarity play a role—and that curve is applied to the exposure (the entirety of the triangle). Because of this, it’s important to judge each exposure individually, to determine how the luminosity curve best fits within an exposure, depending on the exact light situation. In other words, “typical” Exposure Compensation is nothing more than a suggestion, which will work sometimes and won’t work other times, and it is up to you to figure out what will work best for each image.
Another important point is metering. I use Multi most of the time, but sometimes I use Spot instead. It doesn’t really matter which one you use, because whichever you choose, you’ll still need to judge each exposure individually. However, it can be helpful to know that the typical metering mode used for suggested Exposure Compensations is Multi. If you are using the “typical” Exposure Compensation as a starting point, it will likely work better for you more often if you are also using Multi metering mode. It’s not critical to use any particular metering mode, but, if you are using something other than Multi, you should be aware that the suggested Exposure Compensation will be a little less helpful.
You cannot save an Exposure Compensation within the C1-C7 Custom Presets. Instead, you adjust it (on most Fujifilm cameras) via the Exposure Compensation Knob on the top plate. If your camera has the ability to Custom Name each preset, you could add the “typical” Exposure Compensation to the name as a reminder if you want to. Since you get immediate feedback on what your picture will look like, I wouldn’t get too caught up in worrying about “typical” Exposure Compensation; instead, simply look at the image, and determine if it is too dark or bright, and adjust if necessary.
Most Film Simulation Recipes often look better with a little boost in exposure over what the light meter says, and some look better with a decrease in exposure. But, it’s also situationally dependent. You might find that with a certain recipe you often use +2/3 Exposure Compensation, but then for a certain picture you set it to -1/3. Flexibility is key. To an extent, using Film Simulation Recipes is kind of like shooting slide film, in that you have to get the exposure correct in-the-field at the time of the exposure; however, your camera allows you to see exactly what the picture is going to look like, and you have some excellent tools in-camera to help, such as a histogram and highlight alert.
The takeaways are 1) the “typical” Exposure Compensation listed in each recipe is merely a suggested starting point and nothing more, and 2) each exposure should be judged individually. It’s understandable why this setting is confusing, and why I get so many questions about it. My best advice is to carefully examine the instant feedback your camera is providing you in a situation, and adjust the exposure, either brighter or darker, until it is how you want it to be. I hope this clears things up a bit.