Why Spot Metering

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Spot Metering for Correct Exposures
A short cut: Please click on your camera's model 
at the bottom of this page for your camera's free spot metering cheat sheet. 

Please remember: The difference between point-and-shoot and using 
your camera in "spot" mode and manual is that you MUST know to set three
dials on your camera in Manual Mode: 
1) Aperture, 2) Shutter speed, and 3) set exposure to spot / Partial Metering Mode

Why to use a Spot Meter? What is Spot Metering? 
How to use spot meter?

Exposure, by definition, is the determination of the amount of light to reach the film in order to produce a correct image. In other words, to have a correctly exposed image we have to have the exact amount of light entering the camera in order to register the correct image on film. Remember that light is the most important element of any photograph. Without it we have nothing. With too much of it you have an overexposed and washed-out image. With too little of it you have a dark and underexposed image. In neither case can we have an image that would truly represent the subject.

A simple and eye-opening experiment!

Step outside and point three different brands of cameras (Nikon, Canon, and Pentax) set to the same ISO at the same complex (multi-toned) scene. Please make sure your exposure mode is set to "Manual" and your shutter speed (exposure time) is set to the same value (say 1/125 sec.)
When each camera indicates a normal exposure (needle/index pointer in the middle of   '+' and '-', usually a "0") there are three possibilities:
1) Three cameras show exactly the same normal exposure (say 1/125 sec. @ f-8)
2) Two of the cameras show the same normal exposure and the third camera's reading is different (say 1/125 sec. @f-8, 1/125 sec. @ f-8, and 1/125 sec. @ f-5.6).
3) All three cameras show a different normal exposure readings (say 1/125 sec. @ f-11, 1/125 sec. @ f-8, and 1/125 sec @ f-5.6)

Considering there is only ONE technically correct exposure for that specific scene, in NONE of the above cases the unskilled photographer can be sure which of these readings would produce a correctly-exposed image.

"Meter over mind" scenario

Most cameras use some type of logic circuit to determine a subject's exposure. Each of these designs is good at capturing certain types of images. Considering that we live in a mass-produced world, no one can come up with a metering pattern that fits your exact subject every time. Since this is a book about spot metering, I will not bother you with different patterns, complex math, and their confusing details. The bottom line is that with all of these metering systems, it is the meter that determines the final exposure and not the unskilled photographer.

"Mind over meter" scenario

A spotmeter is a very narrowly angled meter capable of giving an exact exposure (not necessarily a correct one) from a simple subject (preferably the most important part of the subject). Examples of simple (one-toned) subjects are a piece of white paper, a uniformly lit wall, a forehead, snow, or a portion of the blue sky. Depending on the tone/density (removing color from the simple subject) of the simple subject (whether it is white, light gray, medium gray, dark gray, or black), usually this exact exposure (often referred to as the Normal Exposure) is changed at the discretion of the skilled photographer before the picture is taken; this means the photographer manually overrides the meter's reading by changing the shutter speed and/or the aperture opening to create his or her own desired image. The philosophy behind this simplified technique is that "if an important tone of a subject is correctly exposed, the rest of the tones follow and the entire image will be correctly exposed."

This is the "mind over meter" scenario. Spot Metering, unlike broad-angel metering used on many cameras, will always provide you with a consistent (and not necessarily correct) exposure. This consistency will give the skilled photographer the starting point, or the base that he or she needs to create the desired image. To understand how our on-camera spotmeter functions, we must educate ourselves with camera basics and general exposure.  

To further your understanding of the spotmetering technique with specific camera examples, please refer to any of the cheat sheets on the home page


When to use a spot meter?

The spot meter is used when the photographer wants to get exactly what he or she is looking for. With all other metering systems, when photographing a complex (more than one tone) subject, one can never be sure of the exact outcome. Other metering systems lend themselves to subjects that are of average contrast (short tonal range). In cases if a person is in a hurry, for the average subject, the camera's "normal exposure" generally is close enough to the correct exposure, the less-demanding photographer will and can settle for this exposure.
Spot Metering is ideal if the subject has a long tonal range (high Subject Brightness Range or high SBR), if the subject's background is much brighter than the foreground, if the overall feel of the subject is too bright or too dark, if the photographer is looking for the "desired exposure" rather than the correct exposure (Silhouette), or in  the case of a subject with a long tonal range, where the brightness range of the subject exceeds the contrast range of the film and the photographer has to compromise and to favor one part of the subject over another.

 
 

Example 1: The above subject is mostly dark. A spot reading from the white petal provided the photographer with the normal exposure (18% gray image tone with film cameras/GrayScale Density of 128 in Digital). The photographer then increased the exposure by 2 stops to assign a 72% white tone (grayscale density of 228 approx.) to the petal and let the rest of the tones to fall where they may.

Example 2: The above subject is mostly bright/white. A spot reading from the white petal provided the photographer with the normal exposure (18% gray image tone with film cameras/GrayScale Density of 128 in Digital). The photographer then increased the exposure by 2 stops to assign a 72% white tone (grayscale density of 228 approx.) to the petal and let the rest of the tones to fall where they may.

Example 3: The above subject is mostly dark/black. A spot reading from the forehead of the model provided the photographer with the normal exposure (18% gray image tone with film cameras/GrayScale Density of 128 in Digital). The photographer then increased the exposure by 1 stop to assign a 36% Light Gray image tone (grayscale density of 178 approx.) to the forehead and let the rest of the tones to fall where they may.

Example 4: The running water subject is basically average. The lighter parts are balanced with the darker tones and the overall image as you look at it is neither dark or bright. A multi-toned / Matrix reading from the entire image will provide a reading that is close to the correct exposure. In this case the spot metering will not be necessary although it can be used to provide the photographer with a reading that can be interpreted to provide the approximate correct exposure.

Explanation of the terms used:

Our Tone Ruler - Digital standard Scale is built around the 18% Gray image tone that when correctly exposed will create an 18% gray image tone or a GrayScale density of 128 (256/2).  Each tone is ONE STOP away from its neighboring standard tone. One stop approximates to 50 GrayScale Divisions in Photoshop. Please note: You must desaturate (remove color) in Photoshop and use the eye-dropper to measure image tones.

Please note: 
4.5 % Black image tone has a marginal detail
  9 % Dark Gray image tone has a good detail
18 % Medium Gray has the best Detail
36 % light Gray image tone has a good detail (Caucasian Skin Tone - approx)
72 % White image tone has a marginal detail

The Film Contrast Range of a Slide Film and a Digital Film approximate to 5 stops. 

Standard Subject tones (Tone Ruler)

4.5%
Black

9%
Dark Gray

18%
Medium Gray

36%
Light Gray

72%
White

028*
Gray Scale Density

078
Gray Scale Density

128
Gray Scale Density

178
Gray Scale Density

228
Gray Scale Densi
tyty

Corresponding Standard Image tones

Free Spot Metering Cheat Sheets for many cameras

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Partial metering with Canon Elan II E
Partial Metering with Canon EOS Rebel G
Digital Partial Metering with Canon Rebel XT
Digital Partial Metering with Canon Rebel XTi

Partial Metering with Canon Rebel 2000
Partial Metering with Canon Elan 7 E
Spot Metering with Canon EOS 3
Digital Spot Metering with Canon EOS 5D
Digital Partial Metering with Canon EOS 10D
Digital Partial Metering with Canon EOS 20D
Digital Spot Metering with Canon EOS 30D
Spot Metering with Canon A2E
Digital Spot Metering with Canon PowerShot G3
Digital Spot Metering with Canon PowerShot G5

Partial Metering with Canon EOS Ti (300V)
Spot Metering with Minolta 500si
Spot Metering with Minolta 700si
Spot Metering with Minolta Maxxum 5
Spot Metering with Minolta Maxxum 7
Spot Metering with Minolta Maxxum 9
Spot Metering with Minolta STsi

 

 

 

 

Digital Spot Metering with Nikon CoolPix 990
Digital Spot Metering with Nikon CoolPix 995
Digital Spot Metering with Nikon CoolPix 4500
Digital Spot Metering with Nikon CoolPix 5000
Digital Spot Metering with Nikon CoolPix 5700
Digital Spot Metering with Nikon CoolPix 8700
Digital Spot Metering with Nikon D50
Digital Spot Metering with Nikon D70

Digital Spot Metering with Nikon D80
Digital Spot Metering with Nikon D200

Spot Metering with Nikon F4
Spot Metering with Nikon F5
Spot Metering with Nikon F100
Partial Metering with Nikon N50
Partial Metering with Nikon N55
Partial Metering with Nikon N60
Partial Metering with Nikon N65
Spot Metering with Nikon N70
Spot Metering with Nikon N75
Spot Metering with Nikon N80
Spot Metering with Nikon N90
Spot Metering with Nikon N6006
Spot Metering with Nikon N8008s

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Spot Metering with Pentax ZX-5N
Spot Metering with Pentax PZ-1p
Spot Metering with Pentax MZ-S
Spot Metering with Pentax 645N (Medium)
Spot Metering with Pentax Digital Spotmeter

Spot Metering with Pentax Analog Spotmeter
Digital Spot Metering with Pentax *ist D
Digital Spot Metering: Sony DSC-F717
Digital Spot Metering: FujiFilm FinePix S7000

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|Why spotmetering|About the Author|The Back Cover|A sample Page |
|Reviews|Appendix|How to Order|Gallery|Cheat Sheets

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