Photography 101: Metering

Photo of an exposure meter and the back information panel of a digital camera. Photographers used to have to determine exposure through hand-held meters. Modern digital cameras give you a lot of information, including exposure details.
Photographers used to have to determine exposure through hand-held meters. Modern digital cameras give you a lot of information, including exposure details.

By F. M. Kearney

In the days of film, accurate metering was a big headache for many beginning photographers. It was even worse if you were shooting color slide film. Unlike color print film, which often had color and exposure corrected by the processing lab before the prints were made, slide film was much less forgiving… what you shot was what you got. My film of choice was Fuji Velvia ISO 50. It’s a highly-saturated, fine-grain film and perfect for nature photography. Its only downside is that it has very little exposure latitude – meaning that if your exposure is off by just a stop or two, your highlight and/or shadow details might be completely lost. My normal workflow was to take multiple meter readings of each scene… one of the highlights, one of the mid-tones and one of the shadows. I’d then do a quick mental calculation to determine the best exposure for the subject – usually a totally different setting from any of the readings I just took.

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