Thursday, November 26, 2009

Q: When/Why Do You Use Spot Metering Mode?

Q:  I was reading your processing info you included on your blog. You said you used the Spot Metering Mode when you took THIS PICTURE. I have never used that feature. Do you use it often? Why did you use it on that particular picture?

A:  Great question!  I use the Spot Metering Mode almost exclusively which, admittedly, is a bit unusual. I find it gives me the most accurate exposure value based on the exact area of the scene I am metering.

If I know the scene has a wider range of light than my camera can capture in one image (typically more than five or six stops of light) then I know I'll probably end up blending two exposures in Photoshop. So, I take one exposure metered off the sky and one metered off the shadow areas - that way I have an adequate tonal range to work with when I get to the digital darkroom. If the tonal range of the scene is wide but a little bit less than five or six stops of light (or if I'm feeling lazy) I'll take one shot and meter off the part I think is most important to properly expose (make middle gray) and run it through Topaz Adjust in the digital darkroom. Topaz Adjust does a very nice job of tone mapping a single exposure. (The image you asked about was a single exposure.)

[Note:  One other thing I should probably mention is that I almost always slightly underexpose my landscape images and tone map them in the digital darkroom. (I try to use a subtle approach as opposed to giving them the classic HDR look.) On the other hand, I almost always slightly overexpose and meter on the skin when I'm doing portraits. Some people called it ETTR for "expose to the right".]

For anyone who wants more information on metering, read on…

Have you ever wondered how your camera knows what aperture and shutter speed to select to give a 'proper' exposure? The answer is: the camera's light meter. The light meter inside your camera is what calculates the 'proper' exposure (balance of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture).


First, it is necessary to back up a little bit and talk about the two different types of light meters.

A hand-held INCIDENT LIGHT METER measures the amount of light falling on the subject. I have one LIKE THIS which I use mainly when I'm working with studio lights. It works by placing the meter exactly where the subject will be standing (in the case of a portrait) and pointing the dome toward the camera so that the meter is measuring the actual amount of light falling onto the subject.

Your camera contains a completely different type of light meter, a REFLECTIVE LIGHT METER.

A reflective light meter does exactly what its name implies: It measures the light reflected off a scene/subject. A reflective light meter (like the one in your camera) does a pretty good job of measuring light in most circumstances.  However, there are situations where your camera's reflective light meter is fooled which results in an under- or over-exposed image.


Here's the tricky part: Your camera's light meter wants to measure the reflected light of an object that appears to be middle gray (12-18% gray). If you point your camera at something darker or lighter than middle gray the camera's light meter will incorrectly calculate the exposure! If there is an even spread between dark and light objects in a scene your camera's meter will do fine. Zoom in on a zebra and your camera's meter will have no problem metering the scene and giving you a proper exposure.

On the other hand, your camera's light meter will be fooled when there is (overall) more dark or light in a scene. Try taking a picture of a black dog on a dark background and your camera's meter will (most likely) overexpose the scene.  Take a picture of a white bird in the snow and your camera will (most likely) underexpose the scene.

If you really want to understand how your camera's meter works - how it tries to "see" everything as middle gray - try the following exercise.  (This works best if you actually DO the experiment instead of just reading about it. So, get your camera out and do it!)


  • Set your camera on Manual Mode
  • Turn the Auto Focus (AF) OFF.  (There's a switch on the lens which you'll need to move from AF to MF… just don't forget to put it back on AF when you're finished with this experiment!)
  • Tape a WHITE piece of paper on the wall and take a 'properly exposed' picture of it.  (Make sure the paper is well lit. Fill the frame so that you are only seeing the white paper & not the edges of the paper or the wall or the tape… all you want to see in the frame is the white paper. Adjust the shutter speed, aperture & ISO until the Exposure Scale in the viewfinder reads zero, meaning not overexposed & not underexposed.)
  • Observe the results.  Notice that the WHITE piece of paper doesn't look white at all… it looks GRAY!  That's because your camera's meter wants to make it middle gray. (Now you can understand why the photos of snow scenes look dingy gray instead of bright white.  Because your camera's reflective meter is being fooled by all that light.)
  • Now repeat the process with a BLACK piece of paper.
  • Observe the results.  The BLACK piece of paper you just photographed looks GRAY on your LCD screen or computer. (It should look almost identical to the results of the white piece of paper.)  Again, it's because your camera's light meter is trying to make the black paper middle gray. (Now you know why your camera overexposes the black dog on the black background. Your camera's reflective meter is being fooled by the overall dark scene.)
It's an enlightening experiment!


In order to accurately expose a wide variety of lighting scenarios our digital cameras offer several metering options. Here are some of the metering modes available on today's digital cameras:

Matrix/Evaluative Mode-

Matrix Mode (also called Evaluative on some camera brands) is usually the default setting on most cameras. It uses a grid overlay to meter and all areas of the grid are averaged.  This mode uses complex algorithms based on literally thousands of different scenes programed into the camera. The camera's meter "knows" what you are taking a picture of and can make a good guess about how to accurately measure the scene. Matrix/Evaluative Mode works best when the light is fairly even. It does NOT work well for strong backlighting or sunsets.

Spot Mode-

Spot Mode is the opposite of Matrix/Evaluative Mode. Instead of averaging the entire scene it only meters a very small area (2-5%) of the entire scene and is based on the center focus point. (This makes it necessary to treat focus & metering as two separate issues which can be done in a variety of ways depending on your camera. For instance, you can set your camera up to use back button focus.) 

Spot Metering Mode works well in very contrasty light where you need to properly expose one important area. For instance, when doing a portrait I ALWAYS want the face to be properly exposed (no matter what is going on in the rest of the scene) so, I spot meter on the subject's cheek. Spot Meter is the most difficult metering mode to master but it is also the most accurate. (Your mileage may vary.) It does NOT work well for sports or moving objects.

Partial Mode-

Partial Metering Mode is similar to Spot Mode but a larger area (about 10%) is being metered. It is still based on the center focus point but a lesser degree of accuracy is required because a larger area is being metered. This mode is useful for a backlit portrait. As with Spot Mode it does not work well for sports or moving objects.

Center-weighted Mode-

Center-weighted Metering Mode measures the entire scene but weighs the center of the scene more heavily by about 80%. This mode is good to use when there is a strong contrast between the foreground and background light. It also works well for portraits. Again, it may not work well with moving objects such as sports or wildlife.


Which metering mode should you use? That depends. It depends on the lighting. It depends on your camera. It depends on how comfortable/familiar you are with the different metering modes. Experiment and figure out which one(s) work best for you.  Generally speaking, Matrix/Evaluative will probably be your 'go-to' metering mode (unless you are weird like me).  I always choose Matrix/Evaluative when shooting moving objects. If you are shooting a sunset or something backlit try one of the other metering modes (spot, partial, or center-weighted) to see which one gives you the best result.

So, when do I use Spot Metering Mode?

1)  When I want to shoot in Manual Mode & need to do a 'test' shot with a gray card to set my exposure.
2)  For portraits, so the skin on the face is properly expose no matter how the rest of the scene is lit.
3) For tone mapping (particularly landscapes) in the digital darkroom

I hope that answered your question!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Digital Watercolor

Motorcycle Race
Texas World Speedway
College Station, Texas

Here's just one of the many photos (out of tens of thousands) I took during the years when Coyne was racing. I turned this one into a digital 'watercolor' by significantly lightening the image and then and using the 'watercolor' filter in Photoshop.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blue Motorcycle

I used this photo in an ad for high school senior portraits. I wanted the ad to showcase a creative possibility for senior portraiture - something "cool" that would appeal to the target audience.

This photo was actually taken on the street in front of my house. (Look closely and you can see the reflection of puffy white clouds on the motorcycle.)

Post-production work included the usual exposure correction, sharpening, etc. in Photoshop. Following that, I carefully selected the subject (motorcycle & rider), removed the background, and put the subject on its own transparent layer. Underneath the motorcycle and rider layer I added another layer with a radial gradient (using the eyedropper tool to select colors from the motorcycle).

To make the reflection I duplicated motorcycle & rider layer. Using 'Transform' I flipped it vertically and skewed it slightly to make it 'fit' and then darkened it a bit. I fooled around with it until it looked to me like a realistic reflection. (If I were reworking this image now I would probably add a shadow on the 'floor' to enhance the realistic effect. There's always room for improvement!)

Friday, November 20, 2009


Grand Central Terminal 
New York City

If you've ever been there you know it is fairly dark inside the terminal. Despite the bright light streaming in through the large windows, the ceiling and lower levels are very dark. Photographically, it was quite challenging. (For me, at least!) A tripod would have made things a bit easier but I didn't have one with me at the time so, this was a handheld shot. I was paying no attention to the people but instead watching the histogram and trying to get the exposure right. I crossed my fingers, took several shots (before security shooed me away), and hoped for the best.

I knew the image would take quite a bit of post-processing. (At the time I really couldn't tell much from the tiny review screen on the back of my camera.) Imagine my surprise when I opened it up on the computer and saw the little girl holding her dad's hand and pointing up at the American flag. Serendipity!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

White Roses

(click on photo to see a larger version)

White Roses 
Zilker Botanical Gardens
Austin, Texas

To purchase a print of this photo please visit my etsy shop

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tutorial: Add A Mat To Your Images

Add a digital mat to your image to give it a finished look.  This tutorial was done in CS5 but should work in previous versions of Photoshop.  Here's a look at the finished image:

Let's get started!

1)  Open your image in Photoshop.  Here's mine:
 (Note:  This image does not have a border.  The border you see here is added by the blog template.)

2) Duplicate the Background Layer
       From the top of the screen choose:
          Layer > Duplicate Layer...
             -when the dialog box pops up click OK
     Tip:  Shortcut for duplicating a layer is Command J (MAC) or Control J (PC)

(click on the image to see a larger version)

 3)  Activate the original Background Layer (by clicking on it)

4)  From the top of the screen choose
          Edit > Fill...
             -the Fill dialog box will pop up
             -in the "Contents" section choose Use:  "White"
             -click OK
(click on the image to see a larger version)

Now, we are going to increase the Canvas Size and choose the border color by doing the following:

5)  From the top of the screen choose
          Image > Canvas Size...
 (click on the image to see a larger version)

The Canvas Size dialog box will pops up.  It looks like this:
(click on the image to see a larger version)

The TOP of the dialog box shows the current size/dimensions of the image.

The MIDDLE section of the dialog is where you will be adding to the size of your canvas.

Notice you can change the size by percentage, inches, pixels & more by clicking on the arrows next to the numbers.  You may need to experiment to see which one works best for your image.  In this case I'm going to use inches.

My original image is 8x10.  I'm going to add 1-inch to each side so I'll need to add TWO inches to the width and TWO inches to the height (because that will add one inch to each of the four sides... math, I know... ugh.) Now, my new dimensions are 10 x 12.

(Leave the "Relative" box unchecked and don't make any changes to the "Anchor")

The BOTTOM section of the dialog box is the Canvas extension color.  This is where you will choose the border/mat color.  Click the arrows and choose either foreground color, background color, white, black, gray, or other.

If you click on 'Other' the Color Picker dialog box will pop up.  From there you can select a color from inside the dialog box OR you can choose a color from inside your image.  (Tip:  Anytime the Color Picker dialog box is open the Eyedropper Tool is automatically active.  Just click around inside your image until you find a color you like.)

(click on the image to see a larger version)

I clicked on one of the purple grapes to get the border/mat color.  Click OK and you're done!  (You may need to resize or crop your image after adding the border.)  Here's the result:

Honestly, I'm not crazy about the color of the border/mat so I'm going to show you how to change it.

To change the border color:

Make sure the Background Layer is active and go to Edit > Fill... and select a new color.  (Same procedure as above.)  Click OK to close the dialog box.  I decided I wanted a white border.  Here's the result:
Better but it stills looks a little flat.  So, we're going to add one more finishing touch.

Add an inner mat:

Activate the layer with the image on it.  (The one above the Background Layer.)

From the top of the screen choose
     -Layers > Layer Style > Stroke...
        -the Layer Style dialog box will pop up

(click on the image to see a larger version)

Here's the Layer Style dialog box:
(click on the image to see a larger version)

First, select the color for your inside border.  (Tip: If your main border is black try choosing white and vice versa.)

Play around with the size and position of the stroke.  (Tip:  If you can't see the inner border the size of the stroke may be too small or the color may be set to the same color as the main/larger border.)

Click OK.  Done! 
This may seem intimidating, particularly if you're new to Photoshop but I promise it is really easy to do.  Just open up an image and follow along.  The tutorial is only looooong because I tried to write out each individual step.  Once you do it a couple of times you should be able to add a mat to your image in less than five minutes.

Happy matting!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Happy Birthday

Happy 22nd Birthday to my favorite model!

PhotoQuest 2009

Come see my photos at--

PhotoQuest 2009

presented by the Hill Country Camera Club

December 10th  -  January 3rd

Photographs from Amateur & Professional Photographers
in Kerrville and the surrounding area

Showing at the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center
228 Earl Garrett Street, Kerrville Texas (830) 895-2911
10 am - 4 pm  Tuesday - Saturday, and 1 - 4 pm Sunday
*Free Admission*

Meet the photographers and enjoy wine & refreshments
at our PhotoQuest 2009 recognition
on Saturday, December 12th from 1-3pm

including Special Guest:
Gerry Griffin
Apollo 11 & 12 Lunar Mission Flight Director
Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of "Man on the Moon"

Lost Maples

These photos are from November 15, 2009 taken at Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, Texas.

(click any photo to enlarge)