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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Indoor Pictures and White Balance

When taking pictures indoor, especially in tricky lighting conditions, the auto white balance or the preset values (tungsten, florescent etc) may not give you the best and accurate color.  This is particularly true in case of indoor courts or with concerts or stage programs. Here is a tip that you can use in such cases. Dial the WB setting to K (custom WB) and adjust the Kelvin value and take some trial pictures.

Start with the K value for tungsten (2500-3500 K) or fluorescent (4000-5000 K) and vary the value until you get a picture with colors matching to what you see with the naked eye. The process may sound cumbersome, but it’s very easy when you get the hang of it.

(Yes, I hear the argument in favor of post processing, but I would prefer to get it right in the camera itself. Don’t be lazy folks, it’s doable, trust me)

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Door County, WI (Oct, 2010)

Here are some pictures from my recent trip to Door County, WI. I rarely get to go out,  just for photography and this trip was no different.  Every year my family and I go with our friends to see some fall colors. We usually have a large group, but this time the trip was planned at the last moment, so only 2 other families joined us.

We had been to Door County once, and it was such a beautiful fall color experience that we had high hopes for the trip this time. Unfortunately, it was 2 to 3 days past the peek and the leaves were starting to fall. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. Still, I was able to capture some nice pictures (you judge).

Welcome to Pumpkins County 😉

Elison Bay

Elison Bay

Peninsula State Park

View from Eagle Tower, Peninsula State Park


Beach at noon

No caption - I just like it.

Check my Flickr account for more pictures from this trip. Please don’t hesitate to comment on the pictures or ask any question you may have.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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Transfer/backup your on-camera pictures as often as you can.

For a change, this is not one of my mistakes, but by a friend of mine. SD and SDHC cards are so cheap these days that, we often find a 4GB or 8GB card in everyone’s camera. I use a Sandisk 8GB card myself.

This past weekend, my family and I went to Door County,WI with a few of our friends. My friend, who’s also a photo enthusiast was shooting all day with his camera – a Canon and towards the end of the day, while he was reviewing the pictures on camera, he accidentally formatted the card. Oops!, he lost the whole day’s work in a matter of seconds.  He tried to conceal his frustration and agony by declaring that ‘it’s not the end of the world’. But I know, how upset he was.

So the lesson here is to backup your on-camera pictures as often as you can. Also, this is a warning to all those, who use the high capacity cards these days, including myself. We tend to use a single card to capture the shots and sometimes, it will be days, before the pictures are transferred to the computer or a backup device. I guess nobody wants to loose their work accidentally or by mistake. Well, ‘you learn from my friend’s mistake’.

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Manual focus and Live view.

For maximum sharpness, clarity and focus, set your camera on a tripod and use the manual focus with the live view feature on your camera. You can zoom the picture to 100% in live view and adjust your focus to get the maximum sharpness and focus. This is particularly useful with portraits and close-ups.

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Long exposure NR

When the Long Exposure NR is set to ON on your Nikon camera, the camera will work to reduce the image noise for you. But that comes with a caveat; you will have to wait about the same time as your exposure time, for the camera to do it’s job. That’s in fact doubling the time between shots. I’m not gong to comment on the use of LE-NR. But if you ever use it, make sure that you understand the implications. I had an interesting experience, when I was taking some fireworks pictures. LE-NR was set to ON on my D90 and guess what, I missed some nice fireworks display, while the camera was working for me. So be careful when you use this nice feature. Folks, “you learn from my mistakes”.

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Here are some orchid pictures. These were taken at the Batavia, IL orchid show.



Orchid - I wish the clip was not there.

Another orchid - I don't know what to call it.

Please check my Flickr account for more orchid pictures


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