photography exposure metering

exposure metering: under-exposure / over-exposure vs exposing correctly

When I posted this photograph of Peiwen & Eric’s wedding in Melbourne, Australia, on Facebook, someone asked the question: how much did I over-expose this photo by?

We have to be very clear with our terminology regarding over-exposure and under-exposure. This photograph is not over-exposed. It is exposed correctly! Did my camera’s light-meter jump all the way to the right-hand side? Yes, it surely did. Does it matter? No, it does not. Why not? Because I exposed correctly. Not under, not over, but correctly.

This photograph (which is ambient light only), is exposed correctly … because my subject, the bride, is exposed correctly. This is a key concept – we have to expose correctly for our subjects. Even if you decide to turn your subject into a silhouette, the decision was still very specific about how you wanted to expose for your subject.

If you are a landscape photographer, then most likely your entire scene is your subject. If you are a portrait photographer, then invariably, your subject is what you need to expose for correctly.

However, if you want to balance your subject which is shaded, in relation to a much brighter background, then you’re going to have to use additional lighting to expose correctly for your subject. But working with just the available light, you will invariably aim to expose correctly for your subject.

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photography exposure metering – expose for your subject

In preparation for my upcoming review of the Fuji X-100 camera, I met up with Anelisa to see how this little camera performed during an actual photo shoot. The image above was one of the photographs we ended up with. Now, there is something specific about it that I wanted to explain in a separate article, instead of it being glossed over deeper inside a camera review.

The composition is simple – I do like my compositions fairly central, it seems. Similarly, the lighting is simplicity itself – all available light. There were two main sources of light – the light inside the shopping mall entrance; and some very strong back-lighting flooding the place.

While the technique here hinged on specific exposure for the available light, there are a few crucial ideas here that I’d like to underline:

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which metering mode to use –
Matrix / Evaluative, or Center-weighted, or Spot-metering?

I noticed that search engine query come up in my web-stats – ‘which metering mode for outdoor photos’. So it might be a good idea to answer it specifically. Which metering mode should you use for outdoor photography?  Or for that matter any kind of photography?

Exposure metering technique is a topic too complex to cover completely in a single blog post. Besides, the definitive introductory book on this is readily available: Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera. If you struggle with exposure metering, then I strongly suggest his book.

That said, let’s have a look anyway at this conundrum – which exposure mode to use …

My approach is quite simple: Since I’m using manual exposure mode nearly exclusively, no matter which route I take to get to a specific shutter speed / aperture / ISO combination … I would be getting the exact same exposure regardless of which metering mode was used.

In this way, the metering technique is the essential factor, not the metering mode …

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