Understanding The 3 Primary Metering Modes

Photography - 101 Understanding Exposure
12 minutes
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We've talked about how to read and adjust your settings based on the light meter. But what exactly is the light meter using to get its reading and this is where we jump into metering modes. The metering mode is essentially what the camera is looking at in the scene to give you a certain reading on that light meter. Now one of the modes is known as basically averaging. Okay, so averaging is where the camera takes all of the bright and dark values of a scene. And just imagine that scene is being presented and it's a black and white.

It takes the brightest values, it takes the darkest values and it averages everything together. Now based on say the majority of images that are captured camera makers have come out to say essentially, a scene on average should be somewhere around 18% gray, if we balanced out all the whites and all the blacks, we get somewhere to that little middle gray point. This is what the camera when averaging considers is a technically correct exposure. Now the problem with that is that if you're shooting a scene that's very bright, say on the beach, it's gonna give you a very bright reading. The camera might tell you that it's overexposed when in reality You're just shooting a bright scene. Likewise, if you're shooting a dark scene, say someone that's wearing a dark suit, well the suit itself is darker than 18% gray.

And so again, the camera is going to give you a funky reading, it's going to say that it's underexposed, when in reality, it's just a dark suit. So this is what averaging is doing is taking everything in the scene and just averaging it together to figure out whether this scene is correctly exposed. If it is, we know that our light meter pops right into that zero point or right where that middle arrow is in the center of the light meter. Another way of metering is basically partial metering and partial metering essentially is going to well take a certain partial area of our scene and it's only going to consider the overall exposure that one little area. Now partial metering could be say spot metering, which we've used a lot and spot metering is just using that tiny center point, that small three to four or 5% area of the image and every carmaker it does vary a little bit, but it only reads the exposure off that tiny little area.

So whatever that spot meter is over at the time, that's where the reading is going to come from. If this spot meter is over a bright area, that's when it's gonna be if it's over skin, which we've been using a lot while you're metering then over skin. So partial metering is only metering off of one small area. Some cameras do allow you to actually move the area based on the autofocus point. Some cameras don't the rebel does not actually might find the mark three doesn't either. I think it's always centered based on that center AF point when you're using the spot meter.

Okay, so we have averaging and we have partial metering. What about the next that third primary way of metering? Well, we call it basically a multi zone metering system and this is essentially where the camera itself will break apart an entire scene. It might break it into four pieces and might be 16 pieces, it could be thousands of pieces, but this is known as evaluative or matrix metering on different cameras and what it's doing is it's breaking the scene up in all these different zones is running this complex algorithm that is essentially based on every single camera itself so we don't really know what it's doing. Canon cameras they do a certain thing rebels are I'm sorry Sony cameras, they do a certain thing now icons do a certain thing Panasonic does a certain thing. All of these evaluative or zone metering systems are all different depending on the manufacturer.

Because of that, we really don't know what they're doing. Now oftentimes they get the right exposure, but oftentimes they don't. In particular, when you're basically using a type of scene and you're composing your scene with, say, an off center type composition, it doesn't expect that. So the zone metering systems are a little bit kind of difficult to use, I'd recommend using or at least avoiding them for the most part. The reason is that with these different zone or multi zone type metering systems, we don't know what it's doing, you'll never understand exactly what the cameras doing, because these are all proprietary for each camera maker and each brand. Okay, so what we would stick to typically is going to be some sort of averaging or partial metering system.

And I'm going to show you now kind of the in between. So let's go ahead and I'm going to bring up my little dialog here on the back of this I'm going to hit q to bring it up and we can hit this little metering button. I love touchscreens, I'm going to go ahead and touch it and get it all grubby with my grubby fingers. So right now, it's an evaluative. Now this is that multi zone metering system for Canon they refer to as evaluative. Nikon calls theirs matrix.

Everybody call this something different. Next, we have partial metering on this camera. Now this is basically going to give us a select area, it's only going to read light from that area. But typically, again, because I don't know exactly where it's reading, I prefer something like the spot meter, which is going to be the next one. So let's go ahead and go to the spot meter. With the spot meter, it's only using that very specific center area, that three to 5% area.

And this makes it absolutely beautiful for say metering skin tones on a portrait for metering the sky or anything in particular. Okay, and then finally, let me go ahead and bring that back up. Again, we have center weighted average. Now it's kind of a mixture center weighted average. So why don't we we've kind of said is really in between one we're using averaging, where it's basically an average out the entire scene, but center weighted means that it's going to give more preference or more weight to the center area, the image so it's kind of like mixing, partial and averaging. Now the two that I use most when I'm shooting is basically spot metering.

If I'm shooting a scene where I have complete control over the scene, like for example, this one, I always do spot metering because it allows me to dial in the metering mode and get the perfect exposure exactly where I want it in one tribe. If I'm shooting say on the go, if I'm shooting in journalistic situations where I don't have control, then I'm typically using center weighted average because I know in a journalistic situation, typically my subjects are going to be close to or in around that center area, the frame. And so that's what I want to give that metering, kind of a little bit of extra weight there. Okay, so those are the two that I use the most. Now, when you're in manual mode. This is really important.

Remember, when you're in manual mode, the metering mode is simply telling you the light reading. So let's go ahead and do this. I'm going to go ahead and select my spot meter. And let's go back to here, select spot, and what I'm going to do is bring this spot right over the center area. So let's bring up our viewfinder. And I'm going to go ahead and go into movie mode to Okay, so I'm gonna move this so her skin tones are basically right over the center of the image.

And generally when I'm spotting, meaning I do like to get a Little bit closer than this. I'm gonna go and record this to make sure my autofocus is off and let's go ahead and get a zoom and just I can get a correct focus here. So I'm going to zoom in, get the right focus. Okay? Perfect now wouldn't My dear stay still okay, I'm gonna get this all ready to go perfect. Okay, so right now basically if I bring up this meter, it tells me that it's a little bit on the overexposed side, that's because it's only metering on her skin and that's exactly where I want it to be.

If I'm metering for skin, generally, for someone that's fair skinned, like Whitney, we typically would want it to be a little bit overexposed, enter between two third to one stop overexposed. Now as I bring this down, okay, so if I slow it down, you'll see that again, it gets brighter, we can see certain areas in the background actually completely blowing out, but since the spot metering is just over her skin, it's only giving us a reading on that skin tone area. Now, let's say if I go ahead and bring it down, I'm going to go ahead and go the other way. Okay. So right now, the background. I'm going to say that at one 1000 Have a second the background is actually correctly exposed.

It's not blowing out it's not being clipped, but her skin tones are underexposed. And that's the exact reading that has given me it's showing me that her skin tone is under. So spot metering is a wonderful tool when it comes to gauging a reading directly on a particular area that you're shooting. Okay, so I'm gonna read and take the camera off the tripod here. Let's go ahead and I'm going to switch this Now let's go back to just regular camera mode. I'm going to go into spot metering and I'm going to use aperture priority.

Okay, so I set the aperture to F two, that's where I want it to be. It's at ISO 100. Now because I'm in this mode, the metering mode that I select is what the camera is going to use to actually adjust the shutter speed. This is where it gets dangerous. If you're using spot metering, and you're shooting in a journalistic type situation, I'm just moving around and shooting wherever that spot meter is, it's going to adjust the settings accordingly. So I'm going to take one shot here I'm just gonna back up a little bit and it's primarily over her dress and her dress is white.

So again, it kind of wigs A little bit seems her dress being white. Remember that a minute ago we were shooting with around one 500 of a second for our shutter speed. Instead because the dress was white the camera overcompensated, it darkened it down to one 16th of a second. Okay, so it underexposed. Now watch this if I step in and let's say that I shoot, well, let's say if I go for a hair, let's say for some reason I meet her directly over her hair. Okay, we're going to go with kind of this close up shot with just one I actually, let's go both eyes.

There we go. I'm gonna crop right there. Okay, now what the camera does is it basically meters for the hair. And when when it meters for the hair because the hair is dark. It goes for one, one 20th of a second or one one 60th of a second, we get this super blown out image. This is the danger of spot metering, depending on where that meter is in the scene when you're moving around and kind of shooting journalistically.

It's going to adjust the exposure. That's why when we're using assisted modes, I would highly recommend you stick with basically a more Essentially general metering mode and that's the one that we use is center weighted average for Canon cameras. Okay, so I'm going to do that now I'm gonna go ahead and switch back to center weighted average. Remember, this mode is basically going to average the scene, but it's going to place emphasis on the center area. Now, let me do that exact same thing I just did. So with this on center weighted average, now we're going to go ahead and take that same shot the first shot, it did a better job, this time I went down to one 1,000th of a second.

Remember that it's averaging, it sees a lot of bright stuff in the background. And so therefore, it's averaging and kind of darkening the exposure to bring that bright stuff in the background down. But if I go in closer now, and I use, let's say, again, that same shot up close, this time a one with one 400 per second, which is exactly where we want it to be. So this is what I mean. But metering mode when you're in these assisted or automated modes are extremely important stick with something that's going to be a little bit more general a little bit safer for us. That's the center weighted average because in general center weighted average when using this system modes will give you a usable image.

Now, of course, for the scene, well, I want to go ahead and get a couple more shots here. We've been shooting here a little bit, but I want to get some more shots. So what I'm gonna do is let me switch out, I'm gonna switch out to an 85. Before I do that, let me go back to spot metering. I'm also going to flip back into manual, I'm going to spot meter directly on her skin. And I'm just going to bring this down right to your skin, I'm going to get close.

And again, I want it to be a little bit overexposed. So I'm going to go with one 500 of a second, which takes me to around two thirds overexposed on her skin, and that's perfect. Right about there. And now all I got to do is just bringing my fill light, and we're solid, we're gonna shoot the scene a little more, get a couple more variation, the shots and then we're going to move forward. Alright guys, so that is spot metering. Hopefully that all makes sense to y'all.

We got a bunch of great shots in the scene. And with every adjustment that we made, we just spot meter for the skin and we shot with it in manual mode and that's a beautiful part about shooting in manual is spot metering, you get the first shot on the first try or you get the perfect shot on the first try, and then it stays consistent throughout the entire scene. So I want you all to go out and practice these different metering modes, learn them understand them. And remember that when it comes to metering Well, we have two favorites, whenever shooting manual generally will always be spot metering, unless we're shooting journalistically in manual situations where I might use center weighted average. If you're using any of the assisted modes, I'd highly recommend staying away from spot metering because it's going to change the exposure with every single shot based on whatever your spot meter is over.

But those situations again, I would recommend using center weighted average or whatever the equivalent is in your camera. That's it for this video. Let's head on to the next one. Now.

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