Metering the Overall Scene With Your Camera
We touched on this in the absolute beginners guide if you came from there so now we will expand a little further about the various ways of metering a scene.
Metering is basically your eyes or your camera evaluating a scene for the intensity of light within it and making any necessary adjustments to reach a perfect exposure. There is generally just one perfect exposure for any given scene although “perfect” is subjective and different people see perfect in different ways.
I.e. Sometimes I like a shot to be well balanced and even in its lighting, other times I like high key images that are purposely overexposed…it is one of the best things about photography…YOU decide!
Your DSLR will have various “in house” methods of metering the image and setting the exposure, the main ones are:
- Evaluative Metering – General overall metering where the light is taken from the entire scene as an average (like your own eyes).
As you progress with photography, you will learn to “see” evaluative metering through your own eyes and truly understand it. That sounds strange but let me explain what I mean.
You already do this, every day and every second that your eyes are open…think about it. As you look around, your pupils widen and contract depending on the light in the scene you are viewing. When the light gets too bright and your pupils are already at their smallest (smallest aperture), you squint (add a neutral density filter), if that doesn’t work, you then put sunglasses on (polarizer filter)!
Sometimes, you simply turn your head slightly to one side to eliminate the glare of any particularly bright areas…it’s all natural.
When out and about shooting photography of any sort, think about what light you are actually seeing and how it could affect your images. Your camera cannot automatically add filters or “sunglasses” but it can close the aperture for you…but that is not enough.
If you see a scene that catches your eye and you want to shoot it, look at the light as an overall entity…evaluate it. If the overall scene has a general, flat and consistent brightness, you are good to go.
If the entire scene has any particularly bright areas or hot spots, they could well affect your camera’s metering system…it will “squint” (close the aperture if in any of the auto modes…AV, TV, Auto, Program) and therefore underexpose the rest of the scene.
This is one main area where photographers new to the world of the DSLR can come a little unstuck as images don’t come out as they initially saw them. Your eyes see the scene perfectly so why can’t this expensive, shiny DSLR do the same all the time?
Unfortunately, technology has yet to reach the quality of the human eye, it still has limitations so don’t beat yourself up over it.
There are ways to combat and overcome this which will change your photography forever. Let’s use a typical scenario as an example…landscapes.
You see a stunning view and just have to capture it. Your eyes see it perfectly and all looks good so you fire away. You either get a well exposed sky but the land is seriously underexposed or the land is exposed well and that sky with all those beautiful details is blown out.
Even though you are seeing it well, the scene has what’s called a high dynamic range. That means there is a vast difference between the lightest and darkest parts of the image, you can distinguish this with your eyes but your camera cannot, it needs help. So, to correct this you can…
- Come back another time and shoot the scene, sunset, early morning etc…patience is a virtue with landscapes. Wait until the scene has a more pleasing and flat lighting. If the sun was directly in the scene before, wait until it has moved out of the shot as that will affect the metering big time. Failing that, change your viewpoint and eliminate the hotspot/s by shifting your perspective.
- Use a graduated filter. Great one this for landscapes and I will probably mention it a few times throughout the site. A graduated filter is a half clear and half dark piece of glass with both ends meet in a gradual merging at the centre.
You place it on the front of your lens and adjust it so that the clear part covers the land and the dark part covers the sky. This will “flatten out” the harsh contrast giving a much more balanced lighting. The dark part of the filter is “neutral density” so it will not affect colours or anything else in the shot.
- Try using the “*” Exposure Lock button. Sometimes you can get away with this if the scene has a single pin point of brightness like the sun. As the sun is affecting the overall scene bringing the exposure down (squinting), you can simply and quickly eliminate it.
Turn your camera just enough away from the scene so that the sun either leaves the image entirely or is at the very edge. Press the exposure lock button (* on Canon DSLR’s but could be different on your model) which will hold that exposure for a number of seconds. Turn back, recompose your shot and fire away.
If the shot is spot on, perfect. If it is still a little dark (underexposed), move the sun out even further and try again. If the shot is over exposed, bring the sun in a touch to the edge and try again.
You can also use this button as a kind of spot metering system (see spot metering below). If you are using a zoom lens you could simply zoom into the area you wish to expose well, hit the exposure lock, zoom out and take the shot. If you don’t have a zoom you will have to walk to that area and do the same ; )
Next Page – Centre-Weighted Metering