tracey medcalfe photography | You're Smarter Than Your Camera - Spot Metering

You're Smarter Than Your Camera - Spot Metering

November 20, 2015  •  Leave a Comment
You're Smarter Than Your Camera - Spot Metering
Good morning and welcome to the 2nd blog in November.  This month I have picked 3 topics that cover useful functions on many cameras and this week it's spot metering.  You will see that there are a number of choices you can make with regards to exposure metering and metering combined with focus.  Which you choose is definitely personal preference in terms of what comes most naturally to you.  Enjoy the blog!

Thanks for reading,

What is Spot Metering?
Ok, so there's no prizes for the drawing above....just a very quick outline of what you should see through your viewfinder when you are using spot metering!  

Metering is the brains behind how your camera determines shutter speed and aperture based on lighting conditions and ISO speed.  It can be entwined with focus or completely detached from it.  In auto mode your camera probably uses a matrix to evaluate the frame and determines the exposure based on all of the points in that matrix.  This is complex and in many situations provides a very effective way of metering.  The alternative is 'spot' metering.  This is where you specify a single spot in the frame (usually in a mid-tone area or skin for portraits) and the camera will meter for that spot only and ignore everything else.  The spot is small, usually between 1 and 5% of the total frame area.  Have you ever taken photographs in the snow only to be disappointed that the snow aspect of the image came out very grey?  You can control this with spot metering.
When Should I use Spot Metering?
It is most effective and often necessary to use this method of metering when the subject in your image is very light or dark compared to the rest of the image.  With matrix metering or auto, if you are trying to take a photograph of someone on stage for example.  Most of the image will be quite dark as it will only be lit by the stage lights.  The camera on auto will try to get the exposure right for everything in the matrix...which includes the background.  The way the camera assesses the light is to capture that which is reflected off the subject, which for this example, means a little from the performer and even less for the background.  This results in the performer being overexposed so that the background can be exposed as well as possible.  In our example, we probably don't care about the background, what you want to see is the performer.  You need to spot meter for the performer which will expose them correctly and result in the background being underexposed.

The two images below are from an Aladdin stage performance.  The first one shows the photograph taken with auto metering.  The background is dark and so the camera tries to meter for the whole frame and this results in the subject being overexposed.  The second image is using spot metering and the metering is on the subject and thus the camera doesn't worry about the exposure of the background.
So How Do We Spot Meter?
You will need to have your camera out of auto mode so in either manual, aperture or shutter priority mode.  Using the menu, you can then can then choose the single area auto focus (AF) mode.  The spot usually defaults to the centre of the frame, but you can choose to move it to a more appropriate spot if necessary.  Of course, you can also lock the metering for a specific spot and recompose the image. 

In the Nikon cameras, the metering is linked to the focus mode.  At this point you can either choose to keep the focus and metering attached to the same point or separate them by assigning the AE-L/AF-L button to AE lock only.  Sorry, Canon users.....I'm sure there is something very similar on your camera, but this method is specific to Nikon users!
Next Time
The last week for the 'You're Smarter Than Your Camera' blog.....oh no!!!!  But don't worry, 2016 will bring a new blog which will be just as fun, infomative and hopefully interesting to you :-)  I will reveal all in the final blog next week and in the December newsletter.
Your Challenge
Find out how to set your camera on spot metering and see how it changes your images from matrix metering.  You could try moving the spot around and taking the same image - the camera will meter for the different elements that are within the 'spot' and you will notice a significant difference in the exposure of the image.
Thanks so much for reading and as always, I would love to hear any comments or questions you have.  
Have fun with your photography,
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