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Thread: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

  1. #1

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    How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    I am fairly new to digital photography and eager to learn new skills and techniques to bring the best out of my images, my favourite subject is landscape scenes. What I would like to know is how do I correctly expose an image to bring out the best detail in the foreground and background. I have read about spot metering certain parts of the scene and calculating the different exposure readings and using ND graduated filters or even polarising filters. Most of my scenes are of countryside and ocassionally coastal scenes e.g rocks/sea.

    What I am not sure about is in particular is how do I spot read a scene, do I set my camera's metering system to spot metering and then lock the exposure for instance on the foreground and then do the same for example the sky but not sure what to do next?
    Just for the record I am using a entry level Nikon D3000 dslr and a Tamron 10mm-24mm f4-f5.6 for my landscape shots.
    Any help on this topic is greatly appreciated!
    Gary

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi Gary,

    It is very difficult to discuss the subject in 'free space'; i.e. without an example shot or two, there are just too many variables that may lead to confusion between us.

    Do you have any shots (obviously they don't need to be correct)?
    Your own would be better to talk about, since you'll relate to them better, but if we have to, I, or someone else, can no doubt supply an image.

    Welcome to the CiC forums from ....

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    To give a very simple example, Gary, and something which often catches me out.

    Consider a landscape but with a few white houses scattered around. Or for that matter a seascape with white boats.

    Using Evaluative/matrix metering should work OK but it can easily miss these 'hot spots' which will then appear over exposed.

    Spot metering around the potential problem areas will give you a guide as to what exposure corrections need to be made.

    But getting the balance correct and deciding whether to use Exposure Compensation or manual settings is chiefly a matter of experience. However, at least you will get a warning of potential problems so you can take a number of shots at different settings.

    Often, it is impossible to get one perfect exposure which matches everything in the scene; so it will be necessary to either select an average setting or take two or more shots at different settings then merge them with suitable software.

  4. #4

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hello Geoff,
    Thank you for your advice, until now I have been using matrix metering to be on the safe side and I have been getting into the habit of checking my histograms after each shot and have been told this is good practice, but it doesn't always work as sometimes I have dialed in negative exposure after the first shot and still highlights have been lost especially on white objects with the sun reflecting off them. In these situations I suppose spot metering may well be the answer?

  5. #5

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hello Dave,
    Thanks for your reply I will upload some shots after the weekend as I am planning on a photo shoot this Sunday so I will see how I get on then send them to you for analysis. I will weather permitting be using a polarising filter and some ND grads around the Lancashire coast in Lytham.
    Regards
    Gary

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi Gary,

    The correct answer to your questions really depend the dynamic range of the scene you're trying to capture (the range of brightnesses). If the scene is purely reflective (ie sun behind you) then that's pretty straight forward, and matrix metering will usually do a good job, but if you're shooting into the light (to a greater or lesser degree) ("back lighting") then the dynamic range of the scene will increase dramatically, and exposure will be more critical.

    In situations like that, GND filters are often required, but the two other things that also help a lot are (1) Shooting RAW, and (2) ensuring you don't blow important highlights - the latter is where highlight alert ("blinkies") and the histogram come in.

    Digital photography has only a small tolerance towards over-exposure, but a far greater tolerance towards under-exposure, so the trick is to push the highlights as close as you can to the right hand edge of the histogram, and then raise the shadow details using the full light slider in post processing.

    Spot metering may or may not help - it's not used in the way many people think because a compensation has to be applied depending on how far the metered tone varies from a medium gray - but that can be the topic of another post
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 19th June 2011 at 06:00 AM.

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi Gary

    I answer your type of question by pointing people at a phenomenal book by Bryan Peterson...here's a link

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Understandin...8492085&sr=8-1

    Promise you this, it'll be one of the best 10 you'll ever spend on photography.

  8. #8

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for that I may just splash out on this book.
    Regards
    Gary

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi Gary, I got to this site because of questions that came up in an online course I am taking and a discussion of metering. Spot metering works best when the subject has the light behind it. Spot metering helps to focus on the darker subject, and compensates down from the bright glare of light that would dominate or wash out the scene. For example, take a photo of someone stting in front of a light filled window. With center-weighted metering the subject would be in the shadow. With spot metering the face would appear much lighter.

    With landscapes, exposure compensation is an easier way to control light effects. Larger areas darker than the sky will be nicely exposed, but the sky washed out. Minus compensation brings color back to the sky, but the darker areas get darker. Sometimes that is the desired effect. Check out HDR to help with this dark/light conflict. ( High Dynamic Range)

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Just a quick response to the question "How do I meter for Landscapes?"
    Decide the brightest feature that you want color to remain and spot meter that area and double the length of exposure time or if suitable open up one f-stop. Either will give you the equivalent exposure equal to twice the reading of a middle neutral gray card. View the resulting image either on the camera screen, keeping in mind that the preview is in jpeg and will not have the full range of RAW mode images. Practice, Practice, Practice!!!!!!

    Your friend in Photography,

    Johnny aka Grandpa

  11. #11

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi Colin,
    Thank you so much for your advice I will bear all this in mind next time I get out there in the field. I have read up on histograms recently and now I have a pretty good understanding of how to read the graph and so each time I take a shot I have now got into the habit of reading this and using my exposure compensation to fine tune the exposure.
    Regards
    Gary

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you so much for your reply, I may be tempted to buy this book at some point in the near future.

    Regards
    Gary

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi rambler4466,

    Thank you for your reply to my question on metering. I am aware of the theory behind spot metering and 18% grey etc but putting it into practice is easier said than done for me anyway as the results can be very hit and miss (all down to lack of experience on my part) so for now I will use evaluative (matrix) metering and keep a close watch on my histogram. As for HDR I have Photomatix Pro and I did get some fantastic pics of Salisbury Cathedral in southern England last year so I will get in to the habit of using multiple exposures and let Photomatix do the hard work for me as I don't have Photoshop it's probably easier this way.

    Many thanks
    Gary

  14. #14

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Hi jeades,
    Thank you for your reply and the tips on metering your advice is most useful and I shall try this technique next time I am out on a shoot.
    Many thanks
    Gary

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Hi Gary,

    The correct answer to your questions really depend the dynamic range of the scene you're trying to capture (the range of brightnesses). If the scene is purely reflective (ie sun behind you) then that's pretty straight forward, and matrix metering will usually do a good job, but if you're shooting into the light (to a greater or lesser degree) ("back lighting") then the dynamic range of the scene will increase dramatically, and exposure will be more critical.

    In situations like that, GND filters are often required, but the two other things that also help a lot are (1) Shooting RAW, and (2) ensuring you don't blow important highlights - the latter is where highlight alert ("blinkies") and the histogram come in.

    Digital photography has only a small tolerance towards over-exposure, but a far greater tolerance towards under-exposure, so the trick is to push the highlights as close as you can to the right hand edge of the histogram, and then raise the shadow details using the full light slider in post processing.

    Spot metering may or may not help - it's not used in the way many people think because a compensation has to be applied depending on how far the metered tone varies from a medium gray - but that can be the topic of another post
    What would you say about this photo:

    http://www.paulturang.com/#a=0&at=0&...10000&s=26&p=7

    Has it been properly exposed? What was the correct metering mode to use?

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Just to re-emphasise: whatever else, shoot in RAW. It's satisfying to get it right in camera, but provided that you have reasonable pp software you can correct any small errors (or even quite big ones )

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    If your camera has easy auto exposure bracketing (my Canon DSLR cameras will, when AEB is selected and the camera is in burst mode - shoot three bracketed shots and stop shooting until the shutter release button is depressed again) shooting with bracketed exposures is an easy way to: 1. learn the impact of exposure on any given scene and 2. ensure that you will get a "properly exposed" image.

    This was a common way that some professionals shot reversal (slide) film. National Geographic photographers used this technique regularly but, it was usually too expensive for a non-professional to shoot that way because of film and processing costs. However, shooting is free in the digital age and memory is inexpensive.

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Aleph View Post
    What would you say about this photo:

    http://www.paulturang.com/#a=0&at=0&...10000&s=26&p=7

    Has it been properly exposed? What was the correct metering mode to use?
    Your image is a perfect example of the difficulty of understanding and implementing metering.

    As for the image, I don't know what the RAW data looks like, but the image as presented has lost detail in the white house. As that is the area that the eye will zoom in on, it's a problem for this image. If the detail is also missing from the RAW data, then the image was overexposed.

    I'm 100% certain that if the exposure was adjusted so that the white house comes out as bright as can be, but with no clipped highlights, then the rest of the image will appear too dark. And this is why the definition of "correct" metering is so difficult to define. In fact, such an image (of a bright house with detail, but too-dark foliage) would be considered "correctly" exposed. What most people don't realize is that the human-eye view of the scene is NOT how things are. You are actually "seeing" a heavily post-processed image...post-processed by your brain.

    What you need to do is to post-process the image to balance the luminance so that the image appears the same as the live view of the scene. You may ask, "what did photographers do in the film days?" The answer is that they would post-process the image to balance the luminance so that the image appears the same as the live view of the scene. The tools have changed...but not what needs to be done (though truth be told...film's "shoulder" gave a little bit of leeway that you don't have with digital.) In your case, the solution is called a Contrast Mask, and it pretty much works the same way using software as it does with film.

    Far more useful (me thinks) than trying to achieve "correct" exposure (whatever that is) is to understand what Standard Exposure is. However, the so-called "intelligent" metering modes such as Evaluative for Canon and Matrix for Nikon, have suppressed the concept of Standard Exposure by heavily promoting the fantasy of "correct" exposure. Those systems work fairly well when the dynamic range of a scene is within a certain range (as the vast majority of typical scenes are.) But they fail when the dynamic range is wider. In such cases, these metering modes may underexpose or overexpose...there's just no telling how they will react to any given scene. And even if the exposure is good, the scene still has to have its luminance corrected to give you the same balance of lighting that was created by your brain while viewing the scene. That's where all the latest HDR functions come in...they're an attempt to do what your brain does.

  19. #19

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    Re: How do I meter correctly for landscapes?

    <Aleph asked:
    What would you say about this photo:
    http://www.paulturang.com/#a=0&at=0&...10000&s=26&p=7
    Has it been properly exposed? What was the correct metering mode to use?>

    I agree wholeheartedly with Graystar that 'correct' is a chimera. Both 'correct' and 'properly' will change with the person doing the defining. In the instance of the linked photo, the white building is nearly or fully blown out in portions. If the concern was to convey the beauty of the lines of the building then I rather think the ideal of 'properly' was not achieved. If, on the other hand, the concern was to show the beauty of the land use design (note the multi-car garage under a formal garden), then the exposure was much better judged for correctness and the loss of detail in the building can safely be overlooked.

    We all will judge correctness of exposure on a sliding scale, according to our concerns. Which, then is the correct metering mode? The mode that achieves the desired results. And, guess what? Any metering mode used with understanding can achieve your desired results but none of them (other than the metering mode in your head) can guess at those results with any degree of reliability. Sure, most cameras are pretty good at stuffing the available light into a capture with generally reasonable results.

    Still, it's easy to imagine a beautifully composed scene the exposure of which may score high in technical but low in artistic merit. I imagine we have all taken a lot of those, I certainly have. On any camera yet made there is no magic button to press that will answer all situations. That's the bad news. The good news is that there's still plenty of work left to the photographer to keep the endeavor fun and interesting. Just think, every exposure a fresh puzzle!
    Last edited by HenkB; 18th March 2013 at 02:41 PM. Reason: clean up quote

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