A Case for Manual Metering

Many photographers complain about under exposed or dark pictures that they get from their D-SLRs. In most cases, the camera is not at fault. It’s just that the pictures are not metered right. All SLR cameras come with at least three metering modes. In Nikon terminology, they are called Matrix (default), Center Weighed and Spot metering.  The camera meters’ job is to achieve an overall exposure that corresponds to 18% grey value.

With Matrix metering, the camera evaluates different areas of the scene and makes an exposure decision for you.  With Center Weighed metering, the evaluation is largely based on the center part of the frame and with spot metering, the metering will be based on a small area (spot) within the frame – usually where the focus is set.

Yes, yes, I am stopping there. I know you are not interested in pure theory anymore. OK, let’s get to the point. The whole idea behind this article is to bring home, the point about manual metering and of course to sway the fence-sitters to this side of the aisle.

Now, look at this below picture. This was taken back in August, when I was in San Francisco for a work related conference. This is a section of the hotel that I was staying. Do you see something very familiar in this picture? Not about the building, but in terms of the light, the exposure etc. Yea, my new D-SLR sucks; it’s not as good as my p&S camera right?

Lazy metering

What happened? Yes, you guessed it right? I didn’t meter the scene right. I just left the camera to do all metering for me. It tried and gave the best it can. Can’t complain a thing.  This is usually what happens, if we try to take the picture of a scene with varying contrast and lighting and we just let the camera do it’s magic.

Now look at the picture below. I have to admit, it’s not the best possibly metered picture here. I could’ve taken it more carefully and got a better exposure. But hey, at least it’s far better than the one above right? In this picture, I actually (spot) metered off a mid-tone area on the building and was able to capture the scene better.

Manual metering

The above two pictures are right out of the camera and I’ve done zero adjustments on them.

Modern SLR’s have come a long way and in most of the cases, your auto metering (matrix or pattern) works just fine. But there will be times, when the camera metering system gets confused and fooled by the varying light intensity. In such cases, make it point to meter the scene manually to get the correct exposure.  (I will  surely write another article on how do I meter a scene)

There are hundreds of articles written by experts and novices like me, about camera metering and I know I am just adding one more to the list. But I see that there are so many out there, still not convinced about the need to let go their auto modes. If I get to convince one more of those non-believers, then I can pat myself (just once, at least) on my back right? Hey, did I convince you this time? If not, let me know why?

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3 Responses to A Case for Manual Metering

  1. Gopesh Sharma says:

    Very informative article.

  2. Pingback: Photography: How to meter manually? – Part 1 | Liju's Photography

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