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Getting a handle on spot metering

All digital cameras contain reflected-light, TTL-type meters that use at least one of three different types of metering ‘modes’ in order to calculate exposure, either from the entire scene, or from some specific part of it.

spot metering Spot metering is excellent for dramatically capturing spotlit subjects, ensuring only the brightest area is properly exposed and letting the rest of the frame fall off into shadow.
Compact cameras typically offer only one metering mode, while more advanced cameras (advanced zooms or DSLR cameras) may offer all three. The difference in how each mode operates is based largely on how much of the scene the meter is viewing. Switching from one metering mode to another is very simple—normally just the press of a button or the turn of a dial. It’s worth trying out each mode so that when the need arises, you’re comfortable with how to access it and how to use it.
For now, we will be concentrating on spot metering, and what it offers your photography.
Spot metering is an extreme form of metering that takes a reading from an area of the frame that is between one and five percent of the viewfinder area. On most cameras this area is indicated at the centre of the frame, but on some DSLR cameras it is a floating area and you can change its placement.
It’s important to remember that when you are spot-metering, the meter reads exclusively from the indicated spot area; it will not take into consideration light from any other part of the frame. Spot metering is particularly useful when the important subject takes up a very small part of the frame—but when you meter off such a small area, it’s important that you’ve carefully chosen the optimal area to read. Remember that the reading is telling you what settings will reproduce that small area as a mid-tone.
spot metering silhouette Silhouettes are a situation in which you don’t want to meter off your subject at all. Here, the coloured background was spot-metered, leaving the two figures completely underexposed.
One other benefit of spot metering is that you can use this mode to compare several (or many) very specific tonalities within a scene. This enables you to measure the true dynamic range of a scene by measuring both its brightest areas and its darkest. You can also use a spot reading to place a very small and specific subject at middle grey.
With the spot metering mode, it’s critical that you use your camera’s exposure-lock function to hold that reading if you recompose the scene after metering.
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