PHOTOCADEMY Lesson #4, proper metering with your DSLR!
This week's lesson is a follow up to last week. We set the foundation of every lesson from here on out with how to use the meter on your DSLR. We go over step by step how to use the meter and what it means. Keep shooting!
Welcome to Photocademy Lesson #4, Don't be Duped by Your DSLR's Meter. KA Why would we give this tutorial such a name?
Does our meter really dupe us? We are going to find out in today's lesson.
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In our last lesson we learned about metering modes and how each one works. Be sure to watch it and our histogram video first before watching this one.
Let's review how to hold our camera while metering. Proper technique is to hold your left hand out, palm up, with your thumb facing to the left then place the lens onto your hand. On most DSLR cameras your meter will turn on when you push the shutter down half way. In order to get an accurate reading you will need to point the camera towards the scene you want to photograph. Do not point the camera downward and use the screen, this will give you an accurate reading of the grass at your feet, but not an accurate reading of the scene you really want to photograph.
The next step is to make sure the camera is in manual, shutter priority or aperture priority mode. You will not see a meter in your viewfinder when in a program mode. As an aside, learn how to change your aperture, shutter and ISO settings WITHOUT taking the camera away from your eye. This will greatly improve how efficiently you can change your exposure and give you more confidence when creating photographs. Your camera's viewfinder will have a readout for aperture, shutter and ISO to help guide you in the process. If you are not sure where they are or what they look like, check your camera's manual.
We learned in the last lesson that our camera reads the amount of light coming through the lens and gives us an exposure recommendation. That reading is displayed to us in the viewfinder with a scale. You can customize the scale on most cameras, so we will be talking generally since yours may look different from ours. Most scales show a 0 in the middle, a "-" on one side and a "+" on the other. The goal is to adjust your exposure settings until there are no dashes to the left or right of the 0. We could call this, "Zeroing out your meter." We will come back to that point in a bit.
If your scale is set up with the "-" to the left of the zero and you see dashes to that side of the 0, the negative side, then you are underexposing the image per the meter reading.
If the dashes are to the right then you are overexposing. The hashmarks generally represent 1/3 stop increments, so if you have 3 hashmarks to the left then you are 1 stop underexposed, and if there are 4 to the left than you are 1 and 1/3 stops overexposed.
If you are really out of whack and more than two stops under or overexposed, your meter will not show you the hashmarks needed to get to zero. If this happens to you, don't panic and start messing with your settings randomly. Pause, remember how your aperture, shutter and ISO settings work and then go back and set your aperture to let in the proper amount of light, then determine a proper shutter to fit the scene. Finally, tune the ISO to adjust the sensor's sensitivity to meet the needs of your aperture and shutter choices. If you need more help with this go back to Lesson #1, Graduating from Program Mode.
The meter on your camera is not perfect; in my experience it gives an accurate reading about 1/2 to 2/3 of the time. If you are using strobes, especially off camera strobes in the studio that accuracy is much lower, but that's a whole different ball game that we'll tackle later. Accuracy is also skewed by using the wrong metering mode. As we learned in the last lesson, The Master Guide to DSLR Metering Modes, we recommend using matrix, multiple or evaluative mode almost all of the time. If you do choose to switch to spot or center weighted modes be sure to change it back when you are finished so as to not completely frustrate yourself on your next outing with your camera.
So how can we use a device on our camera that is imperfect? When we combine the meter readings, our knowledge of exposure, and our histogram we can improve our accuracy rate way up to 95 or 99%.
Lets take this step by step. You just walked to a room or the light changed while you are outside shooting landscape photos. Before we start make sure your camera is on manual mode and matrix, evaluative or multi modes depending on your camera.
Step 1, hold your camera up, looking through the lens and compose the image how you like it artistically.
Step 2, check the meter reading and adjust your settings as necessary so there are no hash marks to the left or right of the 0. Keep in mind how you want to create the image, so start with your aperture to determine depth of field, then set your shutter speed, and finally your ISO. Optimally, throughout this process you should be looking through your viewfinder without taking it from your eye.
Step 3, focus and take a photograph.
Step 4, take a look at the image on the back of your screen with the histogram visible. Evaluate your histogram. In most situations, aim to 'shoot to the right,' which means you want to make sure there is no flat spot on the right side of the histogram. Be aware that your graph can have spikes on the right and/or left sides. These spikes can, depending upon the image, be perfectly normal and not affect your result in a bad way. There is no hard and fast rule, you just need to learn your camera and continually judge the quality of your photography.
Step 5, Rinse and repeat. If the histogram shows you that the image is over or underexposed, adjust your exposure appropriately and take another photograph. Check your histogram again and repeat until your image is perfect.
Now to review. Using the meter in conjunction with the histogram is a proven way to obtain solid exposures. If you are shooting and not getting the exposure results you were expecting, check your exposure mode, metering mode and your histogram. You don't need to check the histogram after every image, only after the scene or light changes. And remember that your meter isn't perfect, it's only one of the tools in your toolbox.
If you want to master your meter and histogram, you need to practice, practice, practice therefore, we have some homework for you.
First, practice setting exposure in manual mode using your meter scale and histogram. Keep the camera up to your eye and adjust aperture, shutter, and ISO without moving it.
Next, create over, under, and normally exposed images based on the meter without checking your histogram. Note the exposure accuracy of the images.
Finally create under, over and normally exposed images based on your histogram. These should be more accurate.
Be sure to watch our next lesson Focus Your Way to Sharper Photos . Keep Shooting!