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Hands-On Exposure Control; Creative Metering For Expressive Results Bookmark and Share

When I began as a photographer, my biggest concern with metering was having an image that just “came out.” That simply meant that the exposure was accurate and the image wasn’t severely under or overexposed. If I had a decent exposure from which I could make a good print, that was all that mattered.

But as I’ve grown as a photographer (and I’ll admit it—as cameras themselves have gotten better and more sophisticated), getting an accurate exposure has become easier. Increasingly, however, I’ve wanted to move beyond that and use metering creatively. I wanted to be able to get exposures that the automatic features of my camera just couldn’t deliver. Many of us have come to rely on and trust the multi-pattern (Evaluative, Matrix, etc.) Metering modes in our cameras. The “optional” spot and center-weighted metering patterns are more “restrictive” in the sense that they emphasize smaller areas of the frame for the purpose of metering. The results with these patterns, however, can often be more dramatic, especially when working with areas of strong contrast.

Multi-Pattern Vs. Selective Metering
All Photos © 2008, Ibarionex R. Perello, All Rights Reserved

Multi-Pattern Vs. Selective Metering
Multi-pattern metering did an excellent job revealing the range of detail from the highlights to the shadows of this tree. That’s exactly what it’s designed to do.

Multi-pattern metering on any D-SLR is meant to capture as much shadow and highlight detail as possible within the camera’s dynamic range.

But what drew me to the scene in the first place wasn’t the whole tree, but the shaft of morning light that was hitting an individual branch. To create the impact of what made me stop in my tracks, I switched over to the camera’s Spot Metering mode and metered off the highlighted branch. I knew that it would underexpose the shadow area of the scene and I would consequently lose shadow detail, but that was fine. I welcomed the increased contrast.

Emphasizing With Light

Emphasizing With Light
The answer to what Metering mode to use for a given scene comes easily when you ask the question, “What do I want to emphasize in the frame?” If I want detail throughout the entire scene, I won’t hesitate to use the camera’s Multi-Pattern Metering mode. However, if it’s a small element of the frame that I want to bring attention to, then switching to center-weighted or spot metering becomes a no-brainer.

When I saw this woman reading in an airport I was struck by the illumination from the skylight overhead. It was the dramatic lighting and feeling of her isolation that caught my eye. Multi-pattern metering would have provided me shadow detail of the background. That would have been good if I wanted to show more of the waiting area, but that’s not what interested me.

Instead, I switched to spot metering and metered off of her arm, knowing that much of the scene would fall into deep shadow. By obscuring much of what was around her in shadow, the image evokes the feeling of aloneness that resonated with me.

Beginning With Contrast

Beginning With Contrast
Expressive images often have very strong contrast, with vivid highlights and formative shadows. By exposing for the highlights and letting the shadow go completely to black, I am drawing the viewer’s eye to a dramatic interpretation of a scene.

In midtown New York, I loved the shaft of light that cut through two skyscrapers and hit the façade of this classic building. The Multi-Pattern Metering mode would have provided me more shadow detail, but the image just wouldn’t have the same impact.

I was sitting on a park bench in Central Park, when I saw this lone leaf being backlit by the afternoon sun. There were other leaves in the shadows, which I could have exposed for, but it would have not only detracted from the main leaf, but also would have risked overexposure of what to me was the most important element in the scene.

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