Thursday, August 19, 2010

Basic DSLR Photography (Part II): Metering

Most articles in this blog were written by my wife and I just managed to write 3 articles to date. I am a very talkative person but a bad writer; just can’t translate what's in my mind into writing. Today however, I happen to read two comments, one each in two of my photography articles. I am delighted to know that someone out there, somewhere and somehow found my articles enlightening and helpful, so this further motivates me to embark on the Part II of my Basic DSLR Photography. Here we go…

We now have some understanding on the Exposure Triangle; knowing what is ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture and how important they relate to photography. So what's next?

Nothing is more important than the brain behind your DSLR camera, the Metering. Metering is the way your DSLR camera determines exposure or how it measures light. It will tell you what is the correct exposure (but not always the ideal one) for a scene you want to capture by giving a set of exposure combination ie. shutter speed and aperture based on a preset ISO speed.

Most of the DSLR camera today is equip with at least 3 metering options namely matrix, center-weighted and spot metering which varies in performance and accuracy under different light condition. Different camera manufacturer have different terms and symbols but generally they all work the same. Since I am a NIKON user, I will explain using NIKON terms and symbols so, non Nikonians, please pardon me ya…

Matrix Metering

This is the default DSLR camera’s metering setting, most commonly used and recommended in most situations. How matrix metering works is by dividing the scene you capture into multiple zones, analyze each zone and evaluate by comparing these data with a database of thousands of pictures inside DSLR camera for exposure calculation. I set my DSLR camera metering to matrix most of the time and use mostly when I do my landscape photography. For a beginner, lock on to this metering option and you won’t go wrong until the day you find yourself in some tricky and high contrast lighting situations.


As indicated by its name center-weighted, this metering option concentrate towards the centre part of the scene, ignoring the corner. It is handy in high contrast, back light scene and classic for portrait photography. Use this metering option when your subject is relatively large and dominates the middle part of the frame. For example, if you want to portrait a beautiful fair complexion model with the sun behind her, this metering option lets you correctly expose the middle headshot. If you use matrix metering in this situation, most probably your fair complexion model will have a charcoal face due to underexpose and she will definitely bash you up for this!!
Spot Metering

At the beginning, I too was confused on the difference between center-weighted and spot metering and I think it was largely due to the misleading symbols. Both work similarly but for spot metering it measures only a very small area of the frame (about 1%-5% of the viewfinder, according to WIKIPEDIA) and evaluates the exposure surrounding your focus point only. I repeat… surrounding your focus point only. So that means it measures the exposure wherever your focus point is and is not limited in the center of frame like center-weighted metering. It is very useful for those camera like NIKON D300s with 51 focus points but not with NIKON D60 with just only 3 focus point. No wonder I couldn't understand when I was using my D60 at that time until I obtained my D300s.

Having written this much , it's about time to put our theory into practice. So what are you waiting for? Grab your DSLR camera and get out to capture some light!


Anonymous said...

We are so blessed to have a fellow nikonian like you.

Anonymous said...

Sifu, can you enlighten us on the bracketing function of the camera? Many thanks!!

Rachel n Chong said...

I've just posted an article on Bracketing. I hope it helps you:)

Nathan said...

I stumbled across your photography posts on google. I am a totally newbie.
Frankly for a newbie your posts are the best I have ever read.
Short and concise. Uses human language and not too much jargon.
It provides enough basic understanding for something potentially complex for someone new to build on.
There are so many "comprehensive" resources, but a lack of basic and brief overviews.
So once again. Thankyou