Apr 19, 2009

Spot Metering and Manual Mode

OK, I'm back from a mini vacation of sorts, and it is way past time for a new post about exposure.

My wife and I visited the in-laws close to Branson, Missouri. If you don't know anything about Branson, it would be hard to describe adequately in a short post here. On one hand, it is a hub of Country/Christian/Family type entertainment with a lot of shows, attractions and a beautiful place in the Ozark Mountains. On the other, it can be very crowded and overbearingly caucasian, and like most tourism towns, expensive.

We saw a few shows at the Silver Dollar City theme park, the Showboat Branson Belle, and a comedian named Paul Harris.

Sooo... what does this have to do with photography?

As with most stage performances, the performers are in bright lights, and everything else is dark. This is a perfect example of where to use Spot Metering mode on your camera.

This is what you get with the camera on Automatic...

The camera does not know that you want to be able to see his face.... it only wants to make a nice overall average scene.

Using the Spot Meter mode on your camera (most SLRs and some Point and Shoot's have this), center the camera on the performer's face, and it will give you a correct exposure.... something like this..

The trick is that you have to keep the proper exposure setting for the face when you re-compose the shot so that the face isn't in the middle. Yes, this is where you grab your camera manual.

On many SLRs, there is a button for "exposure lock." Once you have the proper exposure for the face, you push a button and it keeps the right settings while you perfect the composition. On Canon xxD and xD cameras, it is a thumb button for your right hand....

If you are in a situation like this where the lighting is changing a lot, it is good to switch to Manual mode. Once you dial in a basic setting, you can aim the camera, watch the exposure meter and adjust your shutter speed on the fly to keep the exposure where it needs to be as the lighting changes.

This is really a powerful tool to learn in order to get the most from your camera. With practice, it becomes a simple procedure that you can do whenever you have challenging lighting conditions.

With that, you can get shots that everyone else is missing because they stuck with "auto" mode....

Practice shooting sports helps as whell when the Chinese Acrobats are doing this...

The heads in the shot ruin it, but I did not want to block everyone's view.... oh well.

I will leave you with another bit of Paul Harris...

Happy Shooting,

don j

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