Gear Guide

DSLR light metering options and how they work.

After a long time practicing Landscape photography, i faced many different light conditions, now i can safely say that taking a photograph with proper exposure setting in one and only shot can be sometimes a big challenge. In these situations most photographers use the bracketing option that takes 2-3-5 or even more shots in a row, all on different exposure level (EV) to cover the whole light range of the scene from brightest highlight to the darkest shadows. In short the well know as HDR (High Dynamic Range) capturing method.

So far so good, but for me controlling the whole shooting process is very important part of the workshop, that’s why i use, let’s name it “manual mode” of light metering that allows me in most cases covering the necessary range with two shots. To do so i use the light metering of my DSLR camera, more exactly the Spot light metering. I will explain the reason of the selected option later in these tutorial. 

Step 1

First of all let’s see  quicklly what those metering options do and how they work overall, without going in deep explanation (for further information please refer to user manual book/pdf). If you already know the function of these options, then skip to the step 2.

Light metering Nikon
example of light metering icons in menu of Nikon Dslr cameras

1. Matrix metering

  • This meter gathers information provided by the lens as it evaluates proper exposure calculation, This meter analyzes a scene’s overall brightness. These is the most popular LM option, very handy for beginners, although i can’t recommend it, cause usually you will get very average flat images.

2. Center weighted metering

  • Gathers and averages information based on the center area of the framed scene. Very handy for reportage photography where you have less time for settings and your subject usually is in center of the composition.

1. Spot metering  (About these method we will talk in the second step of these tutorial)

  • The spot metering will read information only from the area of your focus point. Your camera sensor calculates the luminosity level of these area and shows on EV-meter if your settings have to be changed to take the shot on proper (+/- 0) exposure.

As you see, there is plenty options of how your camera read the luminosity of provided frame. Every of these option is good under certain circumstances. My choise for Landscape photography (like the image below) is the Spot metering. Let’s see how i use it.

Step 2

Final result of blended image
Final result

When you shoot similar scene where you have a lot of contrast between the bright sky highlights and the deep shadow areas, the only sure is that you will be not able get proper exposition setting for both these areas with one and only shoot. In these case you should use the Matrix metering option that will automatic calculate the proper settings to allow your sensor capture average amount of highlight and shadow areas information. Easy option but still not the best one for professional final result. Bellow i will explain how you should shoot your high contrasted scenes.

Having my camera mounted on the tripod to keep it stable i set it to spot light metering and will take 2 shots. First i set to capture properly the highlights areas in the sky and the second the shadows of the house. The information that i have captured in these two RAW files, is more than enough for my later post processing in Photoshop.

Capture Nr.1 spot light meter set to highlights. Settings: 1/320sec, f8, ISO100
Capture Nr.2 spot light meter set to shadows. Settings: 1/30sec, f8, ISO100

Both images was taken on +/0 EV. Now pay attention on the camera settings. With the camera setted to Spot light metering option it says that the brightest highlight on the left and darkest shadow on the right image areas have difference almost 3 stops of light, that means by taking one and only shot with Matrix metering, i would be never recover the out-burned highlights and any attempt to bring the shadows back, would give me very noisy image.

Few things that you have to know about the spot light metering.

  1. These is probably the most important thing that you have to know about the spot metering. As you move the spot through your frame, actually you move your focus point. Of cause you don’t want necessary to focus on these area, as it may be the sky or just an area that is out of your focus point. Remember that you don’t have to take the shot by letting the focus point on the area where you was read the light metering, just let the camera tell you how much you want to adjust the shutter/aperture/iso settings, set it and move the focus point back to your subject, refocus and take the shot.
  2. If you look at the grid on the images above, you see that there is some limitation on where i can set my spot point. If we suppose this is how we want to compose our scene but the brightest or darkest area are out of the grid where i can set my spot then we could have problem. It is still possible to move a little bit your camera, do the light metering, set the camera settings, bring back the camera to proper frame and take the shot. Head pain, not functional, result can be disappointing. In these case just go on the safe side and use the bracketing mode by taking shots of 3-4 light stops.

Tutorial about how to blend the images in Lightroom you can find here 

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