There’s no one ‘right’ way to use your camera’s exposure system, but here are some strategies we like to use when working with challenging subjects and conditions.
Exposure is always open to interpretation! The camera can try to anticipate the kind of picture you want, but so much depends on the scene itself, the contrast range, which part of the picture is the subject – and, above all, how you want it to look – that you can’t always rely on the camera to guess correctly.
There is another issue with light meters in cameras. They can only measure the light reflected from the subject, so they will be fooled by unusually dark- or light-toned subjects. That’s why you sometimes need to take over.
6 tricks for coping with challenging exposures
01 Contrasting backgrounds
Dark backgrounds can help your subject stand out but will confuse the meter. Centre-weighted or spot mode is likely to give a more reliable result than matrix metering.
02 Overexposed skies
Matrix metering can leave skies above landscapes overexposed. If that happens, tilt the camera slightly upwards, lock the exposure, reframe and shoot.
03 Grey snow and ice
This isn’t the camera’s fault – it doesn’t know snow is meant to be white! The solution is to apply an EV compensation adjustment of +1 to +1.7EV.
04 Pools of light
The most interesting lighting is often the trickiest for meter readings. But where the illumination is constant, you can take a spot reading in M mode and stick to it.
05 Shooting at night
You’re generally shooting scenes with bright lights as part of the composition. Don’t try to measure the exposure – just switch to Manual and use trial and error.
06 Deliberate silhouttes
The camera doesn’t know you want a silhouette, and it might increase the exposure to bring out the shadows. Instead, take a spot meter reading from the background.
When to use spot metering
Histogram: photography cheat sheets for achieving perfect exposure
Expose to the right: the camera technique every landscape photographer must know
How to use a camera: exposure modes made simple
3 exposure techniques every beginner must know (and when you should use them)
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