metering … [workshop wednesday]

It’s workshop wednesday again!

I’ve received a tonne of questions to answer over the coming weeks, but for today I thought I’d follow up on last week’s post on backlighting. Some of you wanted more information on how to achieve accurate exposure, so here goes 🙂

Choosing an exposure that is both correct and creative is a pretty big topic (the first few weeks of our upcoming photography course will be devoted to it!), but one aspect of setting exposure that is often overlooked is your camera’s metering mode.

To figure out how to expose a scene with varying degrees of brightness in it, you and your camera need to work together to decide which parts of the scene are important, and how bright or dark they should be. Today, we’re looking at how to tell your camera which parts of the scene are important, which is basically what you’re doing when you set your metering mode.

My cameras have 4 metering modes. I use Canon, so if you’re using a different brand, you might need to find your camera manual and translate 😉

  1. Evaluative: In this mode, your camera will map out the bright bits and dark bits in your scene, compare it with its database of similar scenes, do some fancy maths, and tell you what it thinks will look good. Most of the time, it will do a pretty good job of compensating for backlight, highlights like light sources and reflections from the sun, etc., but sometimes it won’t see the photo in the same way you do. That’s when you’ll need to use exposure compensation.
  2. Centre-weighted average: This mode is pretty much as it sounds. It will expose for the entire scene but give priority to whatever you put in the centre of the frame. I’ve never used it, mostly because my style of photography involves allowing some parts of the scene to be completely over-exposed (if necessary).
  3. Partial and spot: In these modes, your camera will expose for a small area at the centre of your frame, ignoring everything else. The only difference between partial and spot is that spot metering covers a smaller area. Your camera might not have spot metering, in which case you’ll need to make do with partial.

So, which metering mode is best? It depends, really 😉 Partial and spot metering give you the most control, but they’re not very forgiving if you use an auto-exposure mode like P, Tv or Av and forget to lock exposure on your subject before recomposing. Evaluative metering can be a bit unpredictable, but it’s usually smart enough to choose a pretty good exposure, so it works well with auto-exposure modes. Spot metering can be very difficult, but it will force you to learn how to expose different subjects very precisely, which will improve the consistency of your results.

Whichever mode you choose, make sure you understand it, and remember that even with a suitable metering mode, your camera still won’t know whether it’s seeing something light or dark! That’s where you need to come in and apply exposure compensation as needed.

If you found this helpful, please let us know in the comments! Keeping asking questions, too … I’ll get to them all eventually 🙂

Also, if you’d like to learn more, don’t forget to check out our Newcastle photography course, and register your interest. Even if you don’t live in Newcastle, get in touch … if there’s enough demand, we’ll look at launching an online course too.


Here’s another shot of Josiah from Christmas 😉

091226_0004.jpg - one fine day photography - newcastle portrait photographer

13 January 2010 - 5.03pm

Lynnise - Could he be anymore adorable? 😉

12 January 2010 - 10.50pm

luke - @Matt: yeah, I’ll try and get more visual with workshop wednesdays as I go along 🙂

@Levi: we’re not brandist around here 😉 histogram chimping is a topic for another day … but it really comes down to what you’re familiar with. I know my cameras pretty well and can usually expose for what I want without chimping now.

12 January 2010 - 10.40pm

Levi - I find that after switching from Nikon to Canon cameras I’m relying on my LCD screen much more than my in-camera metering for exposures. Mainly because Nikon’s metering is far superior (and that’s coming from a Canon man!).

12 January 2010 - 9.03pm

naveed - thank you for explanation 🙂 these tips are really helpfull

6 January 2010 - 9.36pm

Matt Sanderson - Useful post, Luke, no doubt very helpful for people who’re unsure of what would be best.

How about some samples of a similar scene using the differing metering systems, to show the difference? 🙂

– Matt

6 January 2010 - 7.51pm

steph - loads of colour zing, great action – was he singing?

6 January 2010 - 3.11pm

lw - So colorful!fabulous!

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