Adventures in Spot Metering

by Bethany Plonski April. 09, 2019 541 views

After seeing Sherry's post about the invisible black background today, I thought of these photos. I’ve been experimenting with spot metering ever since I learned what it was when shooting the eclipse. Then I read Laurie’s post about how you can darken daylight photos by manipulating camera settings. So now I like to try shooting the same subject with different metering modes to see how it changes the image.

I took all of these outside during the day but used spot metering and a slightly faster shutter speed than what the meter recommended. I didn't use a flash ... because I have a completely unfounded and irrational fear of using it, but that is a story for another time. :)

One note on this approach: it didn’t fully blacken the background. Before processing, I could still see faint shapes and details in a few bright spots behind the flowers. But straight out of camera, the background was dark enough that I could even out the rest in Lightroom. And for #1, I liked the few green shoots that caught the light to the left, so I left them in.

My neighbor's irises are blooming, and they light up really beautifully in the late afternoons.

My neighbor's irises are blooming, and they light up really beautifully in the late afternoons.

Some of the tulips at the botanical garden last month had fringed edges - first time I'd seen that

Some of the tulips at the botanical garden last month had fringed edges - first time I'd seen that

I’m still intimidated by anything flash-related, so I want to try the invisible background method, but I’m still trying to convince myself that I am in fact capable of syncing a flash. :) Soon. It will happen!

It will be interesting to see how that approach compares to spot metering, and I love knowing that there are multiple ways to get to the same end goal of a dark background.

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Jolien Dekens 1 year, 1 month ago

Wow this is awesome, beautiful results! I've just figured out how to get a black background indoors in controlled circumstances, it never occurred to me you could use the same technique outside sweat smile Shows how much I still have to learn smile Definitely gonna try this!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Jolien Dekens 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you so much! It didn’t occur to me either at first. smile But it seems to work really well in any situation where the subject contrasts with the background. Lots of fun to experiment with!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Camellia Staab 1 year, 1 month ago

Very very nice. I too have been using the "magic backdrop" setting for a while and love it. I did learn from Laurie how to do the spot metering and have tried it a few times this week. It takes some practice on my part, especially since I am back button focus person and coordinating it with the half press shutter button seems to be a challenge for me. But no doubt with practice I will ge there.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Camellia Staab 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you! That’s funny, I’m the reverse. I rarely use back button focus, but I do use single point focus/manual selection to direct the little box to the focus point I want. I love that and it works great for this. So instead of back button focus, I use the selector to choose where I want to focus, and it appears to be metering off that point too. Not sure if that’s how it's supposed to work, but for me it’s easier than trying to get the half-press thing coordinated, and so far it seems to be working fine.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Camellia Staab Replied to Bethany Plonski 1 year, 1 month ago

So many different ways to skin the cat if it works..It works 😁

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Camellia Staab 1 year, 1 month ago

Yep, one of the rules I live by! It explains why I sometimes have very strange ways of doing things.grinning

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Antonio Gil 1 year, 1 month ago

Have to try this sometimes. grinning

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Antonio Gil 1 year, 1 month ago

It’s fun, and now that I know it, I use it a lot. Would love to see what you do with it too!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Heidi Egerman 1 year, 1 month ago

Very nice. I especially love the iris.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Heidi Egerman 1 year, 1 month ago

Thanks, Heidi! Irises have always been one of my favorites. My mom gave me a few to plant in my yard last year, but they haven't bloomed yet and I'm hoping they'll surprise me soon.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Marsha 1 year, 1 month ago

Nicely done!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Marsha 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you! smile

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Laurie Madsen 1 year, 1 month ago

Beautiful!
Fun, isn't it?

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Laurie Madsen 1 year, 1 month ago

So much fun! It feels like a huge accomplishment to get to the point where I know what I'm telling the camera to do and why. smile Thank you for sharing so many helpful tips and beautiful photos that motivate me to go experiment with new settings!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Russell Smith 1 year, 1 month ago

Quite beautiful and textural. On the flash note. Do not start with the one on the camera pick up an inexpensive speedlight and a trigger for it (if the flash does not have a transmitter built in one of those too). Get it off the camera and play with it. Strobist dot com is a great spot to learn. Honestly flash terrified me and mystified me. Then I hated the results that I got with it but I pushed through it and now I love it . One thing that has helped me more than anything is looking for still life break down videos. Where they discuss the light and how they got the shot. I find myself applying this info in my natural light shots too.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Russell Smith 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you so much! I will definitely check out that site and look for still life tutorials, really appreciate the suggestions! I do have a speedlight that came with my first camera (which was fifteen years old when I got it), but I need to go dig it up and find out what model it is and if it's compatible with my new camera. I'm also going to a lighting workshop later this month where they cover flash usage, so I'm really looking forward to being able to ask questions in a hands-on setting too. I admire you for teaching yourself. Usually when I start reading about it, my head spins and I give up. smile

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Lakshmi Bhat 1 year, 1 month ago

The flowers look so beautiful.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Lakshmi Bhat 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you so much! That is one reason I like a dark background, it calls more attention to the flowers. smile

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
David Swatton 1 year, 1 month ago

Lovely results. By default whatever I shoot I expose for the highlights as my pet hate is blown-out highlights so usually tend to have to recover shadow detail in post processing. But I'd rather do that than end up with glaring white space in highlights which you see so commonly.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to David Swatton 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you! I try my best to expose for the highlights too. As you said, at least that way the image can be corrected (unlike blown-out white areas). I found an option on my camera that will light up any overexposed highlight areas during image playback, which is a lifesaver in bright sunlight when I can't really trust my eyesight.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
David Swatton Replied to Bethany Plonski 1 year, 1 month ago

Agreed - I use that feature all the time and have it set as the default playback option.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Sherry Hill 1 year, 1 month ago

first, these are beautiful.. this is exactly what i want to do..  so i'm going over your exif and now to understand spot metering a little more.. i want to try this.. outside, sunlight as your light source.. i love learning something new..

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Laurie Madsen Replied to Sherry Hill 1 year, 1 month ago

Sherry,
Meter on your bright spot and use auto exposure lock then re-position and focus.
I set my camera to back button focus, auto exposure lock on half press of shutter button.
That way I can meter on the bright area, hold down half way, recompose, use back button to focus then push shutter release button fully to snap picture. 
After taking your sample pic, you can adjust depth of field or shutter speed to make picture lighter or darker.
Experiment away, it cost nothing! (film days it was expensive to experiment!)

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Sherry Hill Replied to Laurie Madsen 1 year, 1 month ago

thanks for sharing your knowledge Laurie.. i've just read that 3 times.. when i'm learning something new, i need to write it out.. it's like "talk to me like i'm 10 years old".. :)
of course there was no sunlight today .. but i am copying & pasting your comment to reference.. maybe tmw it will be sunny, so i can try..

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Laurie Madsen Replied to Sherry Hill 1 year, 1 month ago

Once you start experimenting, the light bulb will go on (that's what it feels like to me)lol
It can be achieved several ways, but once you do it the spot meter/ael (auto exposure lock) method, you will realize you can 'trick' your camera to see anything the way you want it to look!
(it is a powerful, programmable  computer)smile
HAVE FUN!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Heidi Egerman Replied to Laurie Madsen 1 year, 1 month ago

Laurie,
Thank for helping us all understand this better. I know that Camellia has been using this and has gotten some great results.  

Sherry - it has taken me a bit to get my mind (and camera) wrapped around this as well. I'm ready to start shooting. smile

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Sherry Hill 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you, Sherry! smile I was going to say don't worry so much about the exif as much as making sure you have the camera in spot mode and that you meter based on the bright part of the image, but it looks Laurie explained in more detail. Not sure how Canon does it, but for me I have a button on the camera where I can change the metering mode. It might also be in your menu somewhere. And if you don't have good light outside, it works inside too. I use it a lot for flower photos with dark backgrounds - just turn off all the lights in the room, aim a small light at the flower (or any subject), meter the subject, and go! This is probably the one thing I have learned recently that I use the most often now. Really handy!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Sherry Hill Replied to Bethany Plonski 1 year, 1 month ago

i found how to back button focus, how to shift the AE lock button.. so learning my camera was part of it.. 
i spot meter.. i focused on a light, then shifted to a darker subject, but when i went to focus on it, it seemed to change back.. i will practice more today.. 
it really does take me some time to wrap my brain around something new.. [and i take lots of notes, cuz writing it down seems to cement it better in my brain] 
i appreciate your help Bethany [and Laurie]

i'm telling you, you seriously inspire me.. those photos above are incredible..  and i love a challenge.. :)

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Laurie Madsen Replied to Sherry Hill 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm not sure about Canon, but if you can't get exposure to lock by half pressing shutter release button (and holding it half pressed) while recomposing and focusing with back button, then check your manual for further instructions. All of my camera's operate slightly different and Manual mode works best for these settings and this type of photography.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Sherry Hill 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you so much for your kind comment, Sherry! That means a lot to me. smile
I’m wondering if things are different when you tried it because of back button focus? I haven't tried this that way - back button focus still throws me off and combined with metering, that's too many things to manage mentally. smile I’ve been using single point focus and manually selecting the point I want to focus/meter with the directional pad on my camera, so I lock it in on the composition I want from the beginning instead of trying to reframe. I don't know if that's the right or wrong way to do it, but it's worked pretty consistently for me.
Learning the camera has been a huge thing for me too. I have to practice something a bunch of times before I can do it quickly or automatically, and the little details depend on a lot on how your particular camera is set up, like Laurie said. That's why I like to practice this with flowers and plants. They stay put so you can take as many tries as it takes to figure it out. smile

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Berckmans Peter 1 year, 1 month ago

Nice work

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Berckmans Peter 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Olga Helys 1 year, 1 month ago

#3 stunning!
NICE

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Olga Helys 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you! smile Much appreciated!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Pete 1 year, 1 month ago

The last photo is stunning.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Pete 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you, Pete!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Björn Roose 1 year, 1 month ago

#1 is very nice smile I'll just wait with dark backgrounds (except for my "studio photography" in which I just make a dark background) till the PhotoBlog hype is over, I think innocent

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Bethany Plonski Replied to Björn Roose 1 year, 1 month ago

Thanks, Bjorn! I won't hold it against you if you want to march to the beat of your own drum.smile

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
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