10 Steps to Manual Mode: Light Metering Basics

a young woman taking a photo on the city streets
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This is the sixth part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this sixth part of the series, we are talk about light metering.

What is light metering?

Light metering is choosing how to measure the light that comes into your camera for a better overall exposure. Light is the most important part of taking a photo. Bad lighting will ruin a photo, no matter how great everything else is. Although you can fix some things in Photoshop, it can only take you so far. So you want to get it right in camera if you can.

What types of light metering are available?

Center Metering- This type of metering looks at the light in the center spot of the photo. That is great if your subject is in the center, but if you are following the rule of thirds it probably won’t be.

Matrix Metering- This type of metering looks at the entire photo and calculates the average light to meter. This only works if there is even light. If you have kids playing in the snow, the snow will be too bright or the kids will be too dark with this kind of metering.

Spot Metering- This type of metering looks only at the focus spot you choose to test the light. This is the type of metering I use most of the time. I want my subject to be lit correctly, and the background can be corrected later if needed.

How do we use it to take better photos?

When you get the right reading on the light in your photo, it can help you get the best exposure for the shot you are wanting to take.

How do you know when the reading is right? When you look in your viewfinder (or on the LCD screen) you will see little tick marks at the bottom with a + sign on one end, a 0 in the middle and a – sign on the other end. This is your light metering.

Under those line of symbols, there will be little tick marks to show you how bright the photo is. If the only tick mark is under the 0, the camera thinks your photo is lit correctly.

If the tick marks increase towards the left with an arrow, you photo is underexposed by that much.

If the tick marks increase towards the right with an arrow, your photo is overexposed by that much.

With the proper metering type selected for your photo, you want the tick mark to be right under the 0 for the perfect photo.

What is exposure compensation?

Want to have a little wiggle room when finding the right exposure?

You can use exposure compensation to help the camera read the meter differently.

Exposure compensation allows you to take photos that are a little over or under exposed depending on what you need.

Choosing the exposure compensation setting on your camera:

You can choose from +5 to -5, depending on how much you want the reading to change.

If you are shooting a snow scene, and you want the meter to read darker than it would normally, you can set the exposure compensation to negative to get a darker reading.

If you are shooting an indoor scene, and you want the meter to read lighter than it would normally, you can set the exposure compensation to positive to get a lighter reading.

I prefer my photos a tad over exposed just to make sure that I get enough light in my photo. If I need to, I can bring the exposure down in Lightroom without much harm.

But if your photo is underexposed, you introduce noise into it in Lightroom when you bring up the exposure. Not what you want!

3 Tricks to Choose The Right Metering:

  1. Evaluate the scene- Look at your overall scene. Are there any really bright or really dark spots you need to consider? Is your subject in good light. Can you adjust your subject to make things better?
  2. Exposure Compensation- Is your overall scene too bright or too dark? Should you add exposure compensation to make the photo better?
  3. Change when needed- Light constantly changes, especially if you are outside. Keep these changes in mind and reevaluate often to get the best light for your photo.

Action Steps:

  1. Choose the metering that is right for your photo.
  2. Add exposure compensation if necessary.
  3. Readjust as the light changes.

This is the sixth lesson of ten that will be coming in the next few weeks.

Next week we will talk about white balance and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: White Balance.

Light metering is something that can take a while to get the hang of, but will drastically change your straight out of camera photo quality. Light is everything in photography, so you need to learn to harness and meter it to the best of your ability.

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What light metering mode do you use the most on your camera? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

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