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Metering Modes

Metering modes are ways that the camera reads the light in the scene and determines that settings to use. 

They are really only important if you’re shooting in any auto mode, or priority modes.

This includes if you’re shooting in Auto-ISO.

The mode you use will determine how much/what part of the scene to read the light from. This is important to note because if you choose a setting where the camera will only read the exposure of your subject or a very small area of the photo for example, and your dog is black… it will likely determine that the subject is VERY underexposed and set the settings based on that analysis.

Again, this is only important when you’re not shooting in manual exposure. Our goal should still be full manual exposure, so you have the maximum control over the settings.

In any metering mode, there is no difference to the image with ANY metering mode. The only difference I found while conducting some experiments, was the exposure reading, which would tell me if it’s ±0.0 (correctly exposed), +1.0 (one stop over exposed), -1.3 (1.3 stops underexposed) and so on. 

Given that I personally use the histogram as a much more accurate readout of the WHOLE image, the exposure reading isn’t really important for me. If you enjoy using the exposure reading, you may want to take a bit more time to find out what each of the metering modes in your specific camera do.

Each camera will have different modes.

Most of them have some combination of:

  • Matrix/Evaluative: generally the default mode, it breaks up the scene into “zones” and evaluates the exposure. Particular importance is based on where the focus point is, and this zone will be given priority. This is a good mode to use if you don’t need something specific or fancy for some reason.
  • Centre-weighted. Exposes only based on what’s in the centre of the frame. Could be useful with a not black or white dog, if they’re in the centre of the frame… I guess.
  • Spot metering: evaluates the light only based on where your focus point is. This could theoretically be useful if, for example, you’re shooting an agility competition on a day where the clouds are coming and going and the event is faced- paced, so you don’t want to have to constantly keep an eye on your ISO but need it to be auto. Having the metering on spot will mean the subject will be correctly exposed (assuming you focus on them), but could blow out the background elements if they’re especially bright… which is maybe not such a big deal in this particular example.

 

Other cameras may have other modes, eg., Sony has a “highlights” mode, which reads the entire scene and meters based on the highlights. If I shot in some kind of auto mode, this would mean the settings could be chosen based on not overexposing the highlights.

Check your camera’s manual for any special modes, IF you need them.

But again, if you’re shooting in manual, which I hope you will be, you really don’t need to worry, and leaving it on the default matrix/evaluative is totally fine.

Indoor

I will admit, up front, that indoor photos do not form a large part of my photography. They’re not my style, and I would rather be out in the woods.

That being said, for those of you with cats, or who might want to get into commercial work (which is when I do my indoor photos) this lesson might be interesting for you. Just keep in mind I am definitely no studio lighting expert. 

Lighting types

Indoors, you have a few options

  • window light
  • constant light
  • flash/strobes

Since I don’t even own a flash, we’re going to leave that for another day.

The photo to the left was taken with Journey facing a really large floor set of windows.

Window light

Inside, most of your light is going to either come from lights on the ceiling, or windows. Windows could also be sliding doors or skylights.

Because of the nature of a window (being a square or rectangular space to allow light in), the light can be very directional. 

Consider if you had a window on one side of your pet’s face, and a wall on the other side. There would be a HUGE contrast between the light side and dark side, unless the wall was bright and reflecting a lot of that light.

The sun can also shine in through the window, leading us to experience many of the issues faced in the “full sun” lesson, or even the “patchy shade” lesson, since it could be shining in a sharp beam somewhere on, or near the subject. If you really have no option but to shoot while the sun is coming in through the window, try using a diffuser or even a sheer curtain or white sheet hung in the window, to soften the light. 

Because larger light sources make the light softer (the reason why an overcast sky will provide softer light than the sun, for example), having the pet quite close to the window itself should make the light softer.

Then, you want to consider light direction. Facing them into the light/window will mean they get that light evenly on their face, as well as nice bright catchlights in their eyes. 

If you are in any typical European or UK house, you may not have an abundance of window light!

Unfortunately, without an external light source, there’s really no way around this. 

In terms of camera settings, you need to figure out what the slowest shutter speed you’re happy with is. For me, this tends to be no slower than 1/320 second, or I just notice too much blur. 

You probably want your aperture wide open, unless you’re doing a product shoot where you need to show the full product or label.

Your ISO is likely to be very high if you’re relying solely on window light.  There’s no secrets to get around this.

Continuous Light

A photo taken recently for a dog bed company using my two continuous lights

Another option is continuous light.

Without a specialised light set up (which could just be a set of two studio lights with soft boxes from Amazon), this is probably going to mean turning on all the lights in your house.

Unfortunately, this might not have the best result.

With all these lights can come crazy and unexpected areas of contrasts, shadows and highlights, that make editing annoying and complicated.

Different globes can throw different colour casts, and colour casts can also be thrown from walls, soft furnishings, and other coloured objects in your house. 

Of course, this might be the only option if you’re taking a quick snap of your sleeping pet, but if you’re wanting to consistently take photos of your indoor cat, I would recommend investing in a simple 2-light set up.

These usually come with soft boxes, and you honestly don’t need to spend a fortune to get decently bright light with different colour and intensity settings.

By being able to select the light temperature, and turning off other lights in the vicinity, you can reduce or eliminate colour casts, which will make editing a lot faster and easier. 

So that your photos don’t look flat and one dimensional, you probably don’t want to have the light shining directly onto the subject, but having them staggered, or even having one at a slightly less intensity can create gentle, soft shadows and therefore provide a bit more depth to the photos. 

Using my two continuous lights, even at night in my lounge with all other lights off, means I can be shooting at 1/320, f/2.5, ISO 640. Without the lights, the ISO would likely be ~ 2000.

It’s possible that if you have only a single window or lack of natural light from outside, that even a simple ring light would be better than nothing!

 

Taken in my lounge with my two lights. You can see there’s quite harsh shadows, but the soft boxes aren’t that big, and I need them at full strength to output enough light, so it ends up more harsh than I would like.

This photo was taken before my two-light set up, by turning on all the lights of the house, and trying to make use of the window camera right. I turned on the salt lamp in the background as an “ambient light” (you’ll notice they do this in movies all the time). But you can see how yellow everything is, there were colour casts everywhere and if you look at the quality of the photo it’s obvious the ISO was much higher (1250 vs 640)

Light fall-off

Keep in mind that depending on the room (size, number of windows, etc), the rest of the room could appear quite dark, as the light won’t reach all the way. 

In this case, in order to balance your exposure, you may want to move the subject a bit further into the room….

Or, embrace the dark, and try making a classic “black background” portrait, often seen with horses in stables, where the horse is standing on the threshold of stable and out in the soft ambient light, so the background appears very dark compared to the lighter foreground area.  

Golden Hour

Table of Contents

You may have heard the term “golden hour” thrown around by photographers as being the ideal time for photography.

While it’s not without its challenges, and generally requires you to have an understanding of how to utilise backlight, it can create some really beautiful portraits, with creamy, warm, soft light.

Quick Profile

Golden hour is the hour or two after dawn, or before the sun sets. There has to be some amount of sunlight for golden hour to occur. If there is nothing but thick clouds that the sun can’t break though, there won’t be a golden hour.

If the sun can break through the clouds though, you could have golden hour with dramatic cloud formations.

The light temperature is noticeably warmer, sometimes insanely orange or yellow, or sometimes a more gentle cream, depending on other atmospheric conditions.

The light of the sun is much softer than midday sun, and because it is low, there are likely to be long shadows.

Benefits

  • Softer light than midday/afternoon sun, but not as soft as overcast
  • Warm glowing light
  • Sun can be blocked by things like tree trunks, people, the dog, etc. 
  • Perfect for backlight
This evening had the most INCREDIBLY orange light, it really was like fire. It worked absolutely perfectly as backlight behind Amie.

Challenges

  • Dogs can still be shiny and highly contrasty if being directly lit by golden hour sun
  • The golden tones can make the fur colour of the dog go crazy, and setting the white balance will be a big challenge as the light was naturally warmer, and the dog might look “wrong” when edited to its correct temperature
  • Backlight is challenging to master (but worth it!)
  • It can be difficult to balance the light or expose for highlights when shooting into the sun for backlight, sunset photos, etc.
  • Planning for golden hour doesn’t always work out when you’re booking in client shoots, leaving you with really low-light situations if the sun just doesn’t show up but you’re shooting in the last 2 hours of the day!
  • Lens flare can be an issue

Now look, I know there’s a lot of challenges listed, but mastering golden hour and how to use it can really create some beautiful photos!

This photo has golden hour light shining directly on Journey's face. See how he's still shiny and kind of a weird colour?

How to Use It

Because the light is still coming from the sun, you need to treat it as directional.

That means:

  • pointing your dog’s face into the light, whether they are side-lit and therefore looking to the side, or the light is shining directly onto their face (from behind you)
  • or using backlight, so having the sun behind the dog. There is a lot more on backlight in the Backlight lesson.
Personally, I tend to almost exclusively use golden hour for backlight, or MAYBE sidelight for a dramatic effect. I’m not a fan of how shiny the fur gets when directly lit, or just how the face looks when being hit by the sun. 
 
That being said, if you’re at the beginning of your photography journey, you may wish to start with direct lighting, and move into backlight and side light as you progress.
 

It’s important to be aware of your shadow when shooting at golden hour, if you’re using it as direct/front lighting. Shadows are much longer at this time of day so you may need to try and get yourself extra low to the ground, zoom your lens in more, or adjust your angle to hide the shadow.

Photoshop CAN remove some shadows, depending what else is on the ground/in the scene.

 

Otherwise, you will want to follow either the principals of backlight, OR, of getting that light nice and even on the face.

Shooting at golden hour is the MAIN WAY that I achieve the beautiful warm orange tones in my images, because this is the natural temperature of the light.

Backlit Golden Hour

Side Light & Direct Light Golden Hour

It was really difficult finding photos that showed golden hour from this direction. It’s not something I do, ever!

Action Task! White Balance

If you are in the Creating Stage, this exercise is perfect for you!

Practise, practise, practise until you start becoming more sensitive to the White Balance and subtle changes. The only way this will get easier is to practise!

If you are in the Exploring Stage, try with some more challenging photos: forests, dawn/dusk, golden hour, even photos of other dogs. I’m sure people on Inspawration Connect would be happy to volunteer some photos!

If you are in the Beyond stage, try an extreme edit: turn day into night or dusk/dawn, or an overcast day into a golden hour photo. What colour with the light be and how would it affect the fur colour?