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Spot metering

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#1 cairnstone



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Posted 28 February 2011 - 09:15 AM

 Do any of you use spot metering for photographing birds? I really have just started to play around with it when shooting against snow or straight up into an overcast sky.

I shot the Northern Shrike below against a heavily overcast and misty sky. I metered off the tree trunk, locked the exposure and then shot. Admittedly, I had little time to experiment much since it was the first shrike I had ever seen and was continually taking photos in my excitement.

I kept going back and metering off the tree trunk, but most of the photos were way over-exposed. I have played around in the backyard with feeder birds with some pretty decent results against snow.

Any opinions or tips on the subject are most welcomed.



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#2 RLFarhy



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Posted 28 February 2011 - 11:47 AM

Spot metering is a good way to overcome conditions where a wide contrast exists, or when there is an overpowering element of light or dark. Most of the time. Spot metering is still based on an 18% gray card reflectance. If your subject is dark-like a Turkey vulture, crow etc etc, or white as in a seagull or Egret, the reading will still be erroneous. Also, in conditions of varying light such as dappled shade or reflective water where the subject may be lit differently than it's surroundings (or contain large elements of extreme contrast as in a ring neck duck or common merganser)-a balance has to be struck that a meter often has trouble with.

I prefer to meter and shoot in manual mode as a rule (a habit adopted when I shot slide film). Thankfully, today's digital cameras allow us to capture an image to preview for reference and adjustments. I generally use a reading off of a monotone surface, tree trunk, road, woodsy background etc, look at the preview and fine tune before shooting. I'll do this as needed for conditions where light or lighting changes. Another alternative is a handheld meter, capable of both incident (ambient light) and spot reflective readings, but good ones are not cheap. Hope this helps.

#3 baldy



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Posted 28 February 2011 - 02:48 PM



I shot the Northern Shrike below against a heavily overcast and misty sky. I metered off the tree trunk, locked the exposure and then shot. .........

I kept going back and metering off the tree trunk, but most of the photos were way over-exposed. .........



Since I am not exposed to the field conditions as you were (while taking those pics), it is difficult to say what went wrong! However, based on what you said, here are some thoughts!

1. By metering off of tree trunk, your idea is that it is giving you Zone 5 (Average weathered wood - 18% reflectance) reading. I am not sure that this is always the case (for example, I always had better results by under exposing Redwoods a tad!)

2. Even if your reference is correct, to get the correct exposure on bird based on your reference, the bird should be in the same light as the tree trunk.

3. The fact that the bird is over exposed, I am guessing that the tree trunk is in a shadow effectively making it a Zone 4/3 object. Your camera (erroneously) compensated for the dark object by giving you a reading 1-2 stops over! Bracketing would have helped! However, as RLFarhy pointed out, with Digital, a reference shot would have greatly helped (no need to bracket!).

4. Personally, I would try this - assuming your white balance is set to Daylight. Put the camera in manual metering mode as said by the previous poster, start with Sunny 16 rule, open 2.5 stops for the kind of overcast sky you described, note down that exposure and then play with Shutter speed and Aperture for that reading! Take a shot and adjust exposure as (if) required.

Hope this helps!



#4 JTee



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Posted 28 February 2011 - 04:27 PM

Spot Metering is tricky ,if you miss your target your shot is no good from my experiences . It takes getting used to and I also find it slows my shutter down in AV Mode which I usually shoot in , I use Center Weighted  Metering .But every one is different .

#5 noahcomet



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Posted 01 March 2011 - 02:30 PM

That picture's not at all bad, considering the conditions!


I'm another for Manual mode---in fact, that's pretty much all I shoot in these days.  I've posted my tips for getting the ideal settings elsewhere on this site.  Manual gives you the maximum control, and while I'm still an amateur, I've already found that I'm getting better at adjusting aperture, shutter and ISO in the moment.  Forcing yourself not to rely on the camera's meter (especially in situations like this---big background, small bird) will definitely improve your own built-in meter, which will at first be inferior to your camera's, but will quickly develop into one that is far more sophisticated!  :)


When in doubt, expose a little to the right---meaning overexpose.  You can tone it down in post.  Spot metering is very much hit-and-miss in my experience.

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