Metering matters. I prefer to use Center Weighed Metering, a mode in which the meter concentrates between 60 to 80 percent of the sensitivity toward the central part of the viewfinder. The balance is then “feathered” out toward the edges. One advantage of this method is that it is less influenced by small areas that vary greatly in brightness at the edges of the viewfinder. In this mode, you can achieve more consistent results, as opposed to more blanket coverage metering that often results in flat exposures.
I also like to use the Spot Metering mode. With this mode, the camera will only measure a small area of the scene (between 1 and 5 percent of the viewfinder area). This will typically be the very center of the scene, but some cameras allow the user to select an off-center spot or to recompose by moving the camera after metering.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to expose for the highlights and print for the shadows. Once the details in the whites are gone, you can’t put that information back. If you attempt to burn down your highlights in post-processing, the results often turn out gray and muddy. However, if there is detail in the blacks, you can recover information using image-editing software such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. It is important to remember that your camera’s meter is only capable of recommending an aperture and shutter speed it thinks is appropriate. It is usually pretty accurate, but it is sometimes very wrong. Any scene that has a predominance of very bright or white subjects fools the meter into underexposure. You can correct this by increasing the exposure from the meter’s recommendation—that is, open the aperture, or slow down the shutter, or some combination of the two.
Figure 4.14 was taken during a sandstorm in the desert, which can be a tricky metering situation. There’s no apparent white highlight to speak of and no true black. In cases like this, meter for the brightest part and expose for it. You still want to maintain detail, even in the lightest parts. Without the detail, you lose the color and texture of the sand overall. In situations like these, you have to know what look you’re going for and what mood you want to convey to the viewer, strategize, and then expose.
Figure 4.14. A Humvee drives through a sandstorm in Iraq. (Photo by Andy Dunaway)
Lens (mm): 70, ISO: 100, Aperture: 2.8, Shutter: 1/3200, Program: Aperture Priority
Had I let the camera have its way with the exposure of Figure 4.15, it would have resulted in a flat mess with the highlights blown out—not to mention you wouldn’t see the smoke. Instead, I exposed for the narrow sliver of light coming through a nearby door and falling on the subject. This guaranteed the room would remain black, as I saw it, and he’d be rimmed with light. Considering the fact that the soldier just survived an intense gun battle with the enemy, I thought the mood of the light fitting.
Figure 4.15. A U.S. Army soldier smokes a cigarette after engaging the enemy in a street battle during a foot patrol in Buhriz, Iraq.
Lens (mm): 20, ISO: 800, Aperture: 2.8, Shutter: 1/20, Program: Aperture Priority