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The metering systems of today’s digital cameras are light years beyond cameras of just 10 to 15 years ago. What this means is that in many situations, the camera’s meter, left to its own devices, is going to do an excellent job at getting a good exposure. While evaluative (or matrix) metering and center-weighted average metering take into account the entire scene, albeit in different ways, spot metering mode provides a tool for metering only the part of the scene you as the photographer consider most important.
Spot metering is especially helpful when the subject is much brighter or darker than the background, and the subject does not make up a majority of the image. Most cameras, when set to spot metering, are set to measure an area of the image as small as 1.5% of the total image area. This varies from camera to camera, so check your manual for the exact specification. In addition, while most consumer cameras use the center of the image for spot metering, usually defined by a circle in the viewfinder, others allow for tying spot metering to the active AF point, which then ties your choice of focus point to the meter.
Generally, if you’re spot metering, and your camera’s spot meter is at the center of the image area, you will have to use Exposure Lock as well. This is because if the meter only works at the center of the image, and the area you’re metering is NOT the center of the image, you will need to recompose after metering. Exposure Lock ensures that your exposure is locked in once you have metered the scene, before you recompose the shot. Exposure lock is generally activated by pressing a button on your camera while metering. It will then hold the exposure you locked in, at least until you release the shutter button. Some cameras will hold the metered reading until you deactivate Exposure Lock. On Canon cameras, Exposure Lock is achieved by pressing the (*) button. On Nikons, exposure can be locked by pressing AE-L.
When you’re dealing with a high contrast situation, such as a bright background with a dimly lit subject, or a dark background with a brightly lit subject, switching your metering mode to Spot Metering can be an easy way of ensuring that your exposure is exactly where you want it.
June 3, 2013 02:59 am
It is good you mentioned 18% gray, because when you white on 18% gray and also measure the EV on 18% gray, your pictures get an way better quality and more natural color.
Those 18% gray whiting boards are specially made for digital sensors, or are the sensors made on the 18% gray-boards? Anyway i got the tip in the past from an sales representative from Nikon when i wanted to buy an spot-meter. For sure he is not an good sales man, but from photography he got knowledge.
May 10, 2013 11:03 am
Rick thank you for a good lesson in exposure. I love this photo and have come back to it many times. I only now read the comments after the article and I have to say I cannot believe that some people would read this and actually post negative comments. These articles are posted to learn from, if you don't get anything positive from them then just move on.
April 17, 2013 09:45 pm
Just curious, can a sillouette be taken with a great cell phone? I see spot meter on my. GALAXY S lll . I've been trying to figure out how to photo this neat shadow (sil) of a floral arrangement bouncing off my white ceiling around 5a.m. each morning. If not possible, I guess I'll dig out the real digi.. Getting up @ that time of day isn't usual and I'm not awake enough to fiddle around. Maybe I should give myself a handle" the sleepy photographer" lol. Thamks. I learned a lot!
April 17, 2013 03:37 pm
@Len- There was one in front of them. I work with another photographer. Our assignments are clearly spelled out beforehand. Because of where we were positioned INSIDE the church, he was the one who shot outside the doors. I handled them walking back down the aisle, and then when they passed, I got the shot of them from behind the open doors. We miss NOTHING when we shoot together.
April 16, 2013 08:04 pm
Surely a good professional Wedding Photographer would have been standing in front of the couple to get the first image of them leaving the church as husband and wife, not standing in the dark behind them!
April 15, 2013 03:21 am
Well, meanwhile the author, Rick gave his opinion and clearly explained how this photo was made... so I guess that you can ignore my previous message :).
Well done Rick.
April 15, 2013 03:17 am
You are certainly right. It also crossed my mind when I read the caption. But please, no need to insult. We are all photography fans, and the author did the effort to write this interesting article and to share his knowledge. In my opinion he achieved his goal: to interest people to spot metering. I mean this is digital-photography-school and not some professional-talk-to-professional web site.
Indeed, two important things would have been interesting to talk about: how the spot metering measures 18% grey, and also that compensation may (or I should say- will probably) be needed.
And also, from 18% grey to pure white, it is usually +2 stops, which for me was usually too much, so I usually use 1/3 stop less.
April 15, 2013 03:14 am
@Carlos- Thanks for your subtlety. I am not "full of s__", as you so eloquently put it. The couple was standing in the doorway for several minutes before stepping out. I had plenty of time to meter, compose, focus, compensate, and shoot. Having the knowledge and foresight to do all that quickly is what makes me a professional. I knew the couple would be walking out that door. I positioned myself there specifically for this moment. I was ready when I had to be.
April 14, 2013 05:58 pm
I .Hopes again you will write some important notes on photography?have red the article. Very very useful tips i got. my hearty thanks
April 13, 2013 06:42 pm
You are full of s...! Are you telling me that in that second example you had time to do all of that before that couple just walked out of that door? Analyze the scene, decided where to spot meter, analyze again and decide that you needed to compensate that shot to get some of the white of the dress and in how much and do it? Come on! That was just a lucky shot!
April 13, 2013 05:32 am
I've often overlooked spot metering (mostly because I thought I would screw-up the shot) but mostly because I didn't fully understand it's capabilities. Thank you for the article. I think I'm going to be a little more "daring" in the future.
April 13, 2013 05:17 am
The second photograph (bride and groom) may have been taken after the sky was spot metered but opening + 1/3 would not create a sky that bright. The meter gives you middle gray (18%). To get the sky that bright you must open at least 2 stops = + 2.
April 13, 2013 01:21 am
good article but how, pray tell, do you make the adjustments mentioned and still capture the bridal couple as they're walking out of the church? good anticipation, perhaps, but clearly nothing that can be done in an instant as the caption implies.
April 12, 2013 11:51 pm
I'm surprised that the meter's behaviour is not discussed more since it's not what most noobs anticipate. For example, pure white seen by the meter will adjust the exposure to try to make it look "Photographic Grey" which is around 18% grey, or considerably under exposed. Many of us carry around a Photographic Grey card which we have the model hold up next to the face so that we can nail both exposure and white balance.
The examples shown tend to be very contrasty and the photographer make significant adjustments to the meter reading in a couple of cases.. That's great, but a noob is unlikely to catch all that's going on. They're sitting there thinking, "I'll set my camera to Spot and take my reading off the baby's white christening gown and it'll be perfect." In reality, it'll likely be under exposed, unless the noob happens to take a reading off of a shadowed spot on the gown.
Anyway, I think that spot metering only makes sense for those that fully understand Photographic Grey or in very high contrast situations.
April 12, 2013 10:38 pm
Great article Rick. Now I know how to get the effect I want without under exposing. Thanks.
April 12, 2013 12:58 pm
Thanks Rick, you have given me some good ideas.
I really like the way you have explained this technique.
April 12, 2013 12:40 pm
OK, thanks for this. But if I am using a Nikon D3100, how do I do my metering.?
April 12, 2013 12:39 pm
Love spot metering. I use it 90% of the time. It is so useful. Great to have a read through this in case I was missing anything.
April 12, 2013 11:56 am
I changed quickly to spot metering after acquiring my 450D. When I started using it I noticed most pictures I was snaping were closer to what I wanted. I also had to change to back-button auto focusing and exposure lock with the shutter for absolute control. It is like shooting in manual. However, I often change to manual when I figure the conditions I am shooting in are going to last for a while and are not as easy to control with Av mode. It really helps improve your photography. I recommend everyone give it a try.
April 11, 2013 10:30 pm
Great article, thanks.
April 10, 2013 11:01 pm
My first post on DPS! Thanks Rick, Tim and everyone else who left comments. This article highlights an area I need to improve upon so now I'm going to practice it. Thanks.
April 10, 2013 06:34 pm
@tim that cleared my doubt pretty well. Thanks a lot. I'll try it out.
April 10, 2013 02:13 pm
My advice with spot metering and use of flash...understanding that the flash exposure settings should be set for the subject affected by the flash. The camera metering should expose for everything else. (ie background). The aperture will affect the amount of flash hitting the sensor, but not shutter speed. Due to the average speedlight at full power only lasts for ~1/850 of a sec. So longer shutter will brighten the picture not affected by the flash. With spot metering and flash, I would first determine how bright my background should be and possibly use exposure compensation if say I want it darker by a stop. Take a sample pic with no flash. Then, when I'm happy with that, add the flash and get the flash exposure the way I want it. So I'd have to aim the spot at the background in that case, hold the shutter half way down, recompose, and shoot. Just know that if it's too dark, the shutter speed may drag too much and you may get camera shake or motion blur. Flash will add a lot more to the whole equation.
April 10, 2013 11:40 am
I forgot about this function! I learnt about it a while ago and somehow didn't have much use of it back then. Thanks for reminding me of this again!
April 10, 2013 01:10 am
That was the best & clearest explanation of spot metering I have read. However, I do not know why anyone would go through all that hassle, just shoot in manual exposure mode.
April 9, 2013 09:18 pm
I use his technique sometimes. The doubt I often get is while using flash, spot metering plays any role?
Here are some example images I took using spot metering.
April 9, 2013 06:13 pm
Good article and examples.
I would like to add another very useful usage : snow.
When making photos with snow, I usually go to Manual, then I spot meter on the snow and dial in a +1, 2/3 (basically just below +2, because +2 was too much in my experience, but you may just try and check the histogram). The spot meter measures for grey, and obviously we want snow to be white, therefore this compensation is necessary. In addition such scenes usually have a lot of contrast, so we get most out of it when the snow is as bright as possible without being blown (exposure to the right basically).
These photos http://www.jurphoto.com/#/Voyages/My%20region/Alpha%20Loup/ where made using this technique, there I basically ignored the exposure of the wolves or shades under the trees, and just exposed for the snow.
April 9, 2013 12:03 pm
Good article. I've been using spot metering for some time. I moved auto focus to the back button so I can just hold the shutter half way down and recompose. It's an extra step but I like the control.
April 9, 2013 09:21 am
The exposure lock is a great, and very often overlooked, point.
April 9, 2013 09:06 am
Good article. Spot metering is very useful especially for zone system.
April 9, 2013 08:43 am
Glad to know someone is breaking metering down without going overboard. Great explanation.
April 9, 2013 05:05 am
informative, well explained with examples. thanks for sharing.
April 9, 2013 03:17 am
I have never tried spot metering before so one new thing for me to try out!
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