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Autofocus, auto white balance, a low-light and dynamic range capability that puts film to shame: the modern digital camera is filled with really cutting-edge amazing technology, and one of the most impressive is the camera's light meter. Light metering technology has come a long way in the last 20 years, and the metering modes in different cameras are really very often the selling points of certain cameras. What you may have noticed already is that your camera offers different light metering modes. In some cases, it might have up to four different light meters. We're going to look at what those are for.
By default, we've been encouraging you to stay in your cameras matrix metering mode, which is sometimes called an evaluative metering mode. The way matrix metering works is when I point my camera at a scene, the frame is divided into a grid and each cell in the grid is metered, and then the camera uses all sorts of snarly, algorithmic processes to kind of average all those out into a good assessment of what the correct exposure should be. Most of the time that works, and most of the time matrix or evaluative metering is all you need to use.
You can put your camera in that mode-- it's probably its default mode--and you can just leave it there. But then there are times like this. So Ben is standing in front of what's going to be a really nice sunset up here, but it means he is very, very backlit. When I point my matrix meter and frame him up, the bright sky in the background is confusing the meter. It's basically throwing the average off. There are so many bright cells in the grid as compared to his face that when I take the shot, I get an image where his face has been plunged into darkness. The camera is in one way doing a good thing. It's exposing to be sure that I don't lose all the detail in the sky.
Unfortunately, in the process of doing, that it's underexposing him, and he is ending up all dark. There is something I can do about that though. I can change my metering mode. If I switch to a center-weight metering, what's going to happen now is when I frame the shot it's going to continue to divide the frame into a grid of cells, and it's going to meter them all and average them, but it's going to give extra statistical weight to a circle of cells in the center. When I take that shot I get this, and this is much better. Now, I've lost the background; it's gone. But look at his face.
I can actually see detail there. Now you might go, "But I wanted the background." You're just not going to get it. One thing is as amazing as modern camera technology is, as we've discussed, what I can't have is full dynamic range in this situation. Yes, with my eye I can see detail on his face, and I can see bright detail on the background. There is no photographic technology yet that's good enough to do that. So I am willing to sacrifice the background here to get detail on his face. Let's look another metering mode. I can switch over to spot metering, which does kind of like center-weight does, except instead of averaging, all it does it meter a very small spot in the center of the frame, and that's it.
It doesn't pay attention to anything else in the frame. So I am going to put the spot right on his nose. Actually, I am going to put it on his eye to be sure that I'm focused on his eye. Take my shot. For the most part this doesn't look that much different than center-weight, because I think in this case the center part that it was averaging is pretty much the exact size of his head in the frame. So I am getting go to exposure either way. What's spot metering can be good for as in a high-dynamic-range scene like this, if there is something in the frame--it may not be in the center-- if there is something in the frame that you absolutely want to insure that you get good detail on, put your spot meter on that, meter off of that, and then take your shot.
You've got to be careful when you're doing that though, because if what I am metering on is way, way, way in the distance, remember I am on autofocus there, and then when I reframe, he might be out of focus. So what I would want to do is meter on that bit and then use my exposure lock button. Most cameras have a button that you can press that will lock those exposure settings. Then I can reframe my shot, focus, I'll still have those other exposure settings, and I can take my shot. So using exposure lock in combination with spot meter is very often essential. As with so many settings on your camera, after you've used a specialized setting like a spot meter, I want to be sure to change it back.
I don't want to keep spot metering as I move back into kind of my more normal shooting. So I am putting it back on matrix mode. Again, most of the time matrix mode is all you're going to need, but anytime you're on a backlight situation, someone standing in front of a window-- anything that's really bright in the background, it doesn't necessarily have to be bright light; it could just be something white, sometimes that will throw off a meter-- then you want to look at some of these additional metering modes.
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