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Photography for Beginners - Metering

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When I was trying to teach myself how to shoot in manual, I read tutorial after tutorial online. Shooting in manual was a bit intimidating, so I started off shooting in aperture priority as a way to build up to manual mode. Aperture priority should look something like this on your camera:

In AV (or A on a Nikon) Mode, the photographer adjusts the aperture and the camera adjusts the shutter speed to properly expose the photo. But the camera can't read your mind, so the camera may expose the photo in a way that you don't want. This article is a great example of what the same photo looks like in aperture priority vs manual.

After shooting in aperture priority mode for several months, I had a really good grasp on how to set the ISO and aperture, but setting the shutter speed was very confusing to me. I would guess just about every time. Then I took a photography class in February and finally everything clicked! The instructor, Jan (from the newborn dog photo shoot that went viral) explained metering to the class and setting the shutter speed finally made sense to me.
If you look through your viewfinder or camera display, you should see what looks like this. ^^
Try this experiment: turn on your camera, put it M (manual) mode and look through the viewfinder. You should see a red bar with a tick that moves around. Point your camera at something light colored (the wall) and then point your camera at something dark colored (like furniture). You should still be looking through the viewfinder, and you may have noticed that the tick on the red bar moves around depending on what your looking at. This is how the camera reads the light.

The tick mark should be in the center of the bar for a properly exposed photo. If the tick moves to the left, your photo will turn out too dark. If the tick moves to the right, you photo will be too bright and washed out.
How does this apply to shutter speed?
If you're anything like me and have a good grasp on how to set ISO and aperture, but are confused about shutter speed, you can use the camera's meter to tell you how to set the shutter speed.
I'm going to walk through how I took this photo to explain this in more detail. This may be a good time to re-review exposure from last week's photography tutorial.
1. Set ISO.
Whenever I'm taking a photo indoors, I usually start the ISO around 400. I took this photo indoors and at night, so I knew I would need a higher ISO to get enough light into the camera. I set the ISO at 1600. (Last week's photography tutorial has a great chart that can help you set the ISO.)
2. Set aperture.
I knew I wanted the paws to be in focus and wanted to have a blurry background, so I set my aperture on the lowest number that the lens goes, which is f/1.8 on my nifty fifty lens. If you're using a kit lens, your aperture will not go this low.
3. Shutter Speed?
I set the shutter speed by looking though my viewfinder at the meter. (The meter will occasionally disappear. If this happens, halfway press the shutter button and it will come back.) The meter is telling me that the photo will be very dark, so I know that I need to move the tick mark to the right. I can adjust the tick mark by rotating the main dial. On my Canon camera, the main dial is on the top of the camera.

I keep rotating the main dial until the camera's meter shows the image is properly exposed (the tick mark should be in the center). For this particular photo, the shutter speed ended up being 1/15

I snapped the photo after it was properly exposed and ended up with this image of Finn's paws:

Once you understand how to use your in-camera meter, you no longer need to guess about whether or not your photo is exposed properly because your camera meter will tell you. When your photo is exposed properly in-camera and not in Photoshop, you will spend less time editing your photos.
In June I got Lightroom and have been teaching it to myself. I'm certainly not an expert at it after only a few months! However, the combination of correctly exposed photos and using Lightroom has led me to drastically cut my editing time. I'm currently spending about 10-30 minutes culling and editing 200 photos.

Do you currently shoot photos in Manual? If not, did this post help explain how to adjust your settings? Let me know in the comments section if there are any other photography techniques you need help with.

If you're new here, please check out my other photography posts:
Improve composition
Basic of exposure
How to change focus points and focus modes
Taking sharper photos
Get out of Auto Mode & When to use aperture priority

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6 Responses to “Photography for Beginners - Metering”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these tips! They makes me want to get out there and improve my amateur photography skills :P For the longest time I had no idea what all of the crazy settings meant and how to figure out when to use them!

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  2. And this is why you need to do more photography tutorials. I had no idea how to fix the meter (mine is rarely in the center), but this is so helpful! And puppy paws don't hurt either!

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  3. I'm running out of ideas for photography tutorials! Anything you need help with in particular?

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  4. Hmm...I know how to do this, but maybe changing where the focal point is? I didn't learn that for a while, so a tutorial might be nice.

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  5. Another great post on photography! Definitely saving this.

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  6. Holy crap! It's THAT easy???!!!!! You just made my day!

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Comments make my day! You can also email me: RenovatingRebecca (at) gmail (dot) com