5. The Metering Modes
Your camera has a built-in feature that automatically controls exposure, but sometimes there are situations where you need more control over the exposure — for instance, if you are shooting in the bright light of day and your camera automatically darkens the overall photo, leaving your subject matter underexposed. In situations like these it is time to visit your camera’s Metering modes and select one to help you control exposure (and I’d like to add that this is way easier than you may think). My Canon has Evaluative Metering mode (called Evaluative/Matrix Metering on some cameras), Partial Metering mode, Spot Metering mode, and Center-Weighted Average Metering mode. DSLRs are set to Evaluative Metering mode by default, which does a fine job most of the time. What to do when it doesn’t? Here is a little scenario to help me explain… it’s evening — rich, golden light — the perfect backdrop for a portrait session with my daughter. In Evaluative Metering mode, the camera evaluates the overall exposure of the photo, taking into account the backlight. If I use this mode, my daughter will come out too dark. To ensure correct exposure of my subject, I simply choose the Partial Metering mode or Spot Metering mode — these modes will brighten the subject despite the backlight (Spot Metering mode gives a bit more control than Partial Metering mode). Center-Weighted Average Metering mode is a combination of Evaluative and Partial/Spot Metering modes and is probably least used out of all the modes. It evaluates the entire scene, but gives priority to the center portion of the frame (so your subject always has to be in the center of the frame when using this mode).
6. Exposure Compensation
Think of your camera as a robot. It gets the job done with artificial intelligence, yielding successful and pleasing results most of the time. But, there are times when you, the human being photographer, will need to override the machine to achieve the perfect exposure for your photograph, especially in instances where there are either mostly white tones in your scene, or mostly black tones. For example, snowscapes are naturally bright to the naked eye, especially in full sun. If left up to the camera alone, the machine will automatically darken the scene because it is programmed to average the tones out to 18% gray whenever it takes a photo. You can easily correct this kind of improper exposure by going to the “+/- sliding scale” feature (found on most digital cameras) and manually increasing or decreasing exposure accordingly (in this case of the snowscape scene, you will increase it). For scenes with black tones, the camera will average them out to 18% gray as well, so decrease exposure compensation to achieve true black tones. Whether you’re increasing or decreasing exposure, moving one to two full stops is recommended. Exposure compensation is a lot of fun to experiment with. I especially love to play with it during late day/early evening photoshoots that have rich, golden backlighting — I increase it to brighten subject faces (an alternative to using the Spot Metering mode mentioned in #5).
7. Use White Balance settings to achieve more natural-looking photos.
Different light sources create a variety of color casts in our photos, not all of which look very natural. DSLR cameras have white balance settings to choose from to help counteract these problems. Some of the most common white balance settings are Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent and Flash. Try experimenting with these settings, at all different times of day, in different situations. You might even discover some interesting effects.