Posted August 25, 2015 by Gavin Hoey in Articles

5 times your camera meter will be wrong

Camera metering systems are pretty amazing and I’m usually very happy for the evaluative metering systems in my cameras to figure out the exposure and leave me to get on with sorting the composition.
But no matter how smart modern metering systems become, there are still times when they can get fooled, so here’s 5 times you might want to ignore what the camera tells you and go your own way.

1: Light coloured subjects
Meter-1White in a photo looks amazing especially when it’s clean and pristine. The trouble starts when there are lots of white or light colours in your shot. Why? Because cameras assume that most photos average out to a middle grey tone. Whilst that’s more or less true most of the time, large amounts of bright colours can fool the meter into under exposing and making your photos darker than expected
Solution: Dial in positive exposure compensation

2: Dark subjects
Meter-2The other side of the coin is also true. Dark, low key subjects will become artificially bright (over exposure) if the meter is left to its own devices. Just like with light tones, the more dark tones you have in the shot, the more incorrect your meter will become.
Solution: Dial in negative exposure compensation

3: Off camera Flash
Meter-3Camera meters work great with ambient light but flash is a very different animal. If you have a dedicated speedlight attached to the cameras hotshoe, then things generally go well but take the flash off the camera and you’ll find yourself on your own for metering. Put simply, the flash of light is way too short a time for the cameras meter to measure the light.
Solution: Switch to manual mode and use a flash meter

4: Long Exposure with ND Filters
Meter-4Super dark 9 and 10 stop Neutral Density filters can push shutters speeds to extreme lengths and create amazing eye catching shots, they can also cause exposure issues. This problem is confined to DSLR shooters and happens because light can leak back through the viewfinder bounce off the mirror and cause an exposure error.
Solution: Cover the viewfinder… or go mirrorless!

5: Back light
Meter-5This is where random things can happen. Picture the scene. You have a background that’s brighter than your subject, perhaps it’s a building against the sky. One of two things can happen if you let the meter do its own thing. Either you get detail in the sky and the buildings go black or you get detail in the buildings and the sky goes white. Murphy’s Law dictates whichever happens you wanted the opposite.
Solution 1: Dial in positive exposure compensation if you want more detail from the shadows
Solution 2: Dial in negative exposure compensation if you want more detail from the highlights

Gavin Hoey