How to expose for landscapes: secrets to in-camera metering & which modes to use

How to expose for landscape photography: every question answered

Key camera settings to remember for landscapes

There are three main types of metering mode that are widely available in digital cameras, each suited to a different type of photography.

How to set your camera's metering modes: Evaluative metering

Multi-zone metering
The default mode for most cameras, this creates an exposure after taking separate readings from zones that cover the entire image.

Use it because…

  • This mode produces well-balanced exposures in the majority of situations when the subject is a midtone.
  • It will automatically try to adjust exposure in difficult lighting situations (a backlit subject, for example).
  • This doesn’t always work, though, and shooting in low light levels and on overcast days can cause it problems.

SEE MORE: Learn photography: classic tips and tutorials for shooting popular subjects

How to set your camera's metering modes: Centre-weighted metering

Centre-weighted metering
This mode takes its light reading from the entire frame, but concentrates around 60-80% of the exposure towards the centre.

Use it because…

  • This mode is less likely to be influenced by very bright or very dark areas near the edge of the frame.
  • It gives fairly predictable results, so Exposure Compensation adjustments are straightforward.
  • Just remember, it can be fooled by bright skies or dark foregrounds, typical of many landscape shots.

 SEE MORE: Photography Basics – the No. 1 cheat sheet for metering and exposure

How to set your camera's metering modes: Spot metering

Spot metering
Only 1-5% of the frame is metered for, but your camera will still try to expose this area as a midtone, so you’ll need to know what a midtone actually looks like.

Use it because…

  • This mode offers more accurate readings than others, because it’s not influenced by any of the brighter or darker areas in your picture.
  • A blue sky at noon or a sunlit lawn are good examples of a midtone. If the area the spot covers is darker, apply negative Exposure Compensation, and if it’s brighter apply positive Exposure Compensation.

SEE MORE
Spot metering: how to find the right area within a scene
Creative spot metering: how professionals expose in high-contrast conditions

Shooting in Manual exposure mode

Shooting in Manual exposure mode

By using your camera’s Manual exposure mode, you’re putting yourself in charge of the exposure process.

The metering system is still active though, and it provides feedback through the exposure level scale in the viewfinder and on the LCD screen(s).

The marker in the centre of the scale represents a midtone exposure, with around three stops of under-exposure and over-exposure either side of it.

The exposure level indicator will move up and down the scale in real time to signify how far off this midtone value the subject being metered for is.

Remember, this is the midtone according to the meter, and it doesn’t know what you’re actually pointing the camera at.

Point the lens at a midtone patch of grass or a brown tree, and the indicator should be close to the centre of the scale. If not, adjust the aperture, shutter speed or ISO until it is.

PAGE 1: Common questions about exposing for landscapes
PAGE 2: Key camera settings to remember for landscapes

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