Getting Great Exposures
Here is why a Spot meter is still the way to go even with digital cameras.
Understanding subject value range is a very important key to creating great images. Subject value range (the brightness range within an area of a picture) determines the proper exposure. All meters in a camera give you an “average” exposure of a lot of different points combined. This is reflected light off an area you are photographing. All digital camera manufacturers keep trying to improve their reflected meters. Some have 50 points, some have 350 points they use they claim to give you a better exposure. But here is the real deal on what is going on here. No camera meter is better than your eyes. In fact, camera meters are pretty stupid regardless how much the camera costs. Can a camera meter tell the difference when you point it at “Copano Bay” or point it on a brick on the side of your house?” No. A spot meter however, measures only a one-degree area of a specific part of an image you are taking a picture of. Not an “average” reading. All camera meters measure an “average” number of points that – then gives you another “average” that it thinks the exposure should be. Using a spot meter lets you use your eyes. Your eyes get to pick what part of the scene is the most important. Is it the sky, the foreground, a person’s skin tone, a soft foggy tone, a dark shadow area that you want to make sure you have detail in? What is the difference in brightness between certain points within the picture? You are metering what you see and determining where you want to place that particular reflected light EV (exposure value). And you can also see the different EV values within your picture (the subject value range) and make adjustments. The “wannabe photographers” have zero clue about what I am referring to here. I explain using a spot meter and the huge difference it can make in your photography. Most photographers that simply “let the camera do the thinking” are producing underexposed images and most likely been underexposing for years. I demonstrate this in my workshops. Ambient light is light falling on a subject. Professionals use flash incident meters to measure the amount falling on a subject. How to use an incident flash meter and get proper exposure are covered in our Portrait Classes. For the folks that say HDR exposures eliminates the need for a meter. Wrong. HDR images look as fake as a 3 dollar bill. Unnatural and contrived.
Precise reflected exposure meter readings are necessary: To make sure the sun doesn’t “over expose” the clouds in your pictures and you blow out the highlights and loose the subtle detail in the clouds. A proper exposure reading of a dark area will make sure you have detail there. Are the pictures you take of Copano Bay does the water look “black” or “too dark”? Learn how to use a spot meter to make sure your water looks like water and not mud. My Landscape Cloudscapes Beginning Workshops will show you how. A spot meter can also tell you that you need to “narrow your subject value range” you need to move (or take a part out of your picture) and recompose your shot. Or when you want to shoot a “high key” or a “low key” image. My classes explain what kind of images these are. If you want to take your photography to the next level here’s how.
In my opinion, the best spot meter going right now and will be for a good while because of it’s ability to update with firmware, is a Sekonic 858 U. Expensive yes, but my last meter lasted me 30 years. It was a Zone 6 modified Soligar one degree spot meter. This one will out live me.