Digital Photography Tip: Spot on! Spot Metering

June 14, 2012

Digital Photography Tip: Spot on! Spot Metering

Most digital cameras use as their default multi-segment, or matrix metering to determine the exposure settings for a scene. With this type of metering, the camera measures the light at several points in the scene and then takes all of those measurements into account to determine the settings for the best exposure.

So, by default, most cameras measure the light levels at various points throughout the entire frame and uses those measurements to determine an exposure setting that will balance and properly expose the entire scene, balancing the bright and the dark areas of the image.

This type of metering works well most of the time, when the scene you are photographing is evenly lit.

But, you can run into problems if you are trying to photograph a scene that includes areas of different light levels. This could be the case if you are shooting a silhouette into the sunset, or shooting your subject in front of a particularly light or dark background. Any scene that includes bright light and shadowy areas could be a problem for your exposure meter if you are using matrix metering.

That’s where spot metering comes in.

Spot metering is a way of determining exposure that measures light in a very small and precise area of your image.

Spot metering is available on most cameras. It’s accessed either through a button on the body of the camera or through the menus. In fact, in order to understand how to use the spot metering feature on your camera, you may need to dust off the user manual.

But here’s the general idea of how it works.

Once you have your camera set for spot metering, you should see the metering zone on the viewfinder. This is where the exposure reading will be taken and it’s usually a small area in the middle of the scene.
Once you have determined the proper exposure, you can use your camera’s AE lock button to lock the settings in while you recompose the scene. This will make sure that your camera uses these exposure settings instead of re-evaluating the scene each time you recompose.

For Further Reading…

Spot Metering… Expose Yourself

When to Use Spot Metering

Nikon AE-L / AF-L Button

Understanding Metering and Metering Modes

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