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Photo question: where to get reading for light meter

Renault78law

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I've read Understanding Exposure and browse photography forums and have a good understanding of the functions for the manual controls of my SLR. One topic that is merely glossed over in the book is where to point your internal light meter to adjust your exposure. This seems extraordinarily important. Anyway, he often suggests pointing the camera at the sky (low in the horizon), adjusting exposure, then composing the shot. Is this how you do it? More importantly, why?

Using a gray card obviously makes the most sense, but is often not practical. I've also read the "zone" method that A. Adams described, i.e. you set your exposure to compensate for whatever shade of gray you point your camera at. I often end up with blown highlights.

Another general question. Should any of this change if you're using matrix metering? Seems like the purpose of matrix metering is that the camera is going to "guess" the proper exposure based on thousands of "scenes" that the camera is programed to recognize. It would seem that trying to adjust exposure in matrix mode is somewhat counter-productive. Thoughts?
 

matadorpoeta

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to give you a quick answer, i don't aim at anything special. i just compose my shot the way i want, and from experience i know when to compensate for what the camera says. seem people take a reading off the sidewalk, since it's close to a neutral shade. indoors, you can take a reading off anything fairly neutral if the place is evenly lit.

your camera's meter measures reflected light, not incident light. the camera assumes that the objects in the frame are a neutral shade. you can just aim at anything that is in the same light as your subject. depending on the shade of that object, you can trust your meter or adjust the exposure + or - depending on the shade of that thing. if your subject is a woman wearing a black dress, and you choose to aim at her for an exposure reading, the camera will always over-expose. if she wears a white dress, the camera will under-expose. don't believe the hype that some chip in the camera is going to know what you are photographing and compensate for that. it doesn't work that way.

if you shoot digital, it is better to under-expose than to over-expose. you can recover detail from underexposed areas of the shot but blown highlights are lost forever. this also holds true for slide film and video. print film is the opposite: you can over-expose with good, sometimes better, results, but don't ever under-expose.
 

MCsommerreid

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I just go for anything in the same light as the subject and reasonably neutral in density. Sidewalks, concrete pylons, grey suits, etc etc.
 

iridium7777

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he probably tells you that because the sky usually being the brightest spot would eliminate having blown out highlights. metering somewhere closer to the ground yet still on the sky would create a happy medium where you'd get to have your bright spots and some detail in the shadows.

matrix metering is exactly as what you describe adams was doing, and is usually fully automated, so i really have no idea how you'd adjust exposures unless you set your defaults for +/- #.#EV and then your camera would have that bias for all the shots that you take.

as someone already said, are you shooting film or digital?
for slide film, you always meter off highlights, b&w you meter off the shadows and for negative film you try to find a happy medium somewhere.

if you're shooting digital, and especially raw, you can pretty much use the "recover" function in cs3, or whatever other program you use, to fix your blown out highlights -- to an extent.

i'd stick to spot metering and practice and practice until you learn how to read the light.




Originally Posted by Renault78law
Anyway, he often suggests pointing the camera at the sky (low in the horizon), adjusting exposure, then composing the shot. Is this how you do it? More importantly, why?

Using a gray card obviously makes the most sense, but is often not practical. I've also read the "zone" method that A. Adams described, i.e. you set your exposure to compensate for whatever shade of gray you point your camera at. I often end up with blown highlights.

Another general question. Should any of this change if you're using matrix metering? Seems like the purpose of matrix metering is that the camera is going to "guess" the proper exposure based on thousands of "scenes" that the camera is programed to recognize. It would seem that trying to adjust exposure in matrix mode is somewhat counter-productive. Thoughts?
 

A Y

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It definitely depends on your camera, and the style of shooting you do. A lot of it is initially trial-and-error until you get a feel for what your camera's going to do in a given situation. A digital camera has some useful features that can help with this: not only the instant feedback from its screen, but many cameras display a brightness histogram that you can use to judge exposure as well. Beware that the LCD screens on many cameras aren't too accurate, though. With digital you can also easily auto-bracket the exposure, and just sort out the pictures later.

Personally, I always use the tightest metering pattern (spot metering for my camera) and exposure lock to make sure I'm measuring what I want correctly exposed, and then recompose. I don't really trust matrix metering, but that's more from using old-school film cameras rather than mostly any empirical observation (though matrix metering has burned me one too many times).

--Andre
 

Renault78law

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Thank you for all your responses. FYI, I'm shooting digital.
 

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