Camera Metering

Communication is the key to every relationship, right? Well, the same applies to you and your camera. It’s usually a love-hate relationship, based on the last set or prints you ordered. But if you haven’t given your camera any direction, don’t you deserve some of the blame? Yes, you do!

The key to taking better pictures is to understand what your camera is trying to do and knowing when to step in when it might be confused. Your camera’s meter is how it determines what aperture and shutter speed to use when taking a photo. The camera will do a great job choosing those settings, but you have to help it out sometimes.

So let’s take a look at an argument my camera and I got in recently. I was trying to get some shots of my son and his friends having fun at a backyard party. I was shooting up at them from a low angle and the sun was behind them. In this case, I told my camera to use it’s MATRIX meter setting, which is the most “automatic”. Matrix is the term Nikon uses, Canon refers to the same mode as Evaluative and Sony refers to it as Multi-Segment. By selecting matrix metering, I told my camera “hey, it’s up to you, just make it look pretty”. So my camera took the high road and tried to make everyone happy. It tried to expose the bright sky properly, thus making the whole scene dark:

Matrix metering

Well, I obviously could care less about the sky, but I never opened up and told my camera that, so can I be mad? Well with digital I have no excuse since I should be monitoring my camera’s feed”back” (get it?) and better communicating my desires. Luckily, the camera manufacturers give us two more settings that allow us to be clear in our desires.

CENTER-WEIGHTED metering is the “I trust you, it’s just that…” setting for your camera. With center weighted metering, we are saying we care about the whole scene, we just care most about the center of the photo. Center weighted works great when there is a slight difference in lighting between your foreground and background.

The “you betrayed me, don’t say another word” setting is called SPOT metering. With spot metering, we are telling the camera to throw all of the rest of the scene under the bus, we only care about the very center of the photo. This comes in handy when there is big difference in brightness between the foreground and background, like in our backyard party example.

So to create the proper exposure for this photo, I locked in the exposure by using spot metering and putting my son’s head in the middle of the view finder. I then pressed and held the exposure lock button (AE button, located by your thumb on most digital SLRs), reframed the photo to include his buddy before taking the photo. I think you will agree, a much better photo:

center weighted

We will detail how to set and use these settings in a future lesson.

Bottom line, was the first crappy photo my camera’s fault, no, I just needed to fully express my desires to take better digital pictures…

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