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Arthur Morris' Metering System Field Guide


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Bob Atkins , May 03, 2002; 12:32 a.m.

"Evaluative metering is going to overexpose this and blow out the egret's feathers everytime"

Exactly. That's why you spot meter it and place it 1.5 to 2 stops over the camera (18% grey) reading (depending on just how much detail you want in the plumage). You can open up from the evaluative reading of course, but the problem is how do you know how much (if any) compensation the evaluative metering algorithm has already used? You can guess based on previous experience (or Art's previous experience!), but you never really know. It would depend on the relative size of the subject (Egret) compared to the rest of the frame and the compensation any particular evaluative metering system gave to a white object of that size and relative brightness at the position the Egret occupies. That's a lot of variables to try to guestimate!

Still, if it works, it works.

Arthur Morris BIRDS AS ART , May 03, 2002; 05:35 a.m.

Jeez, it is ironic that the original thread, which contained numerous glowing responses, gets deleted (because of the actions of one person)and is now replaced by the mostly lukewarm comments above. My objections to spot-metering for birds and much wildlife photography are outlined concisely in "The Art of Bird Photography" so I shall not repeat them here. Let's look at the "brilliant white bird" problem above. With nearly all evaluative meters (including the vaunted Nikon f-5's RGB Color Matrix Metering), getting the correct exposure for a brilliant white subject, medium to 3/4 of the frame in full sun (and including head and shoulder's portraits), with middle or middle-dark backgrounds, getting the right exposure is simply a matter of dialing in -1/3 or -1/2 stop of exposure compensation. This simple system works perfectly 99% of the time. There is no "guessing" involved. In soft light, or on cloudy days, you use the evaluative meter reading at zero. Fast, simple, and accurate. Greg Downing states above, "but also feel that it is important to have a well rounded knowledge of exposure theory using various methods and tools." Here he is paraphrasing from "The Art of Bird Photography" (so obviously I agree completely...) Greg does not receive a cent from the sales of the pocket guide. If you ask him, he will tell you that he has learned 99% of what he knows about bird photography from me. And he has worked very hard and is extremely talented. In spite of it's title, the pocket guide is recommended more as a study guide than as something to use "in the field." BTW, I have always recommended setting the exposure manually in situations where the background is changing constantly but the light falling on the subject is the same. The best example here would be a gull on a rock with occasional breaking waves in the background...

If all those spot-metering fans wish to keep their heads in the sand and waste time spot metering, adding light, and then setting both the aperture and the shutter speed manually, that is more than fine with me.

Best and great picture making to all, Arthur Morris

Gary Jean , May 03, 2002; 08:20 a.m.

"Thou shalt know thy metering system." If not a commandment, it is surely a key to success. Evaluative metering is pretty durn good, but it isn't perfect. What Artie has done in his pocket guide, and which many of us have done by shooting a lot of film and taking notes, is essentially reverse engineer the evaluative metering algorithm.

You can spot meter and adjust, you can read the palm of your hand, you can pull out the incident meter and then calculate in your head the compensation for the polarizer and the 81A....whatever works for you. The point is that once you understand how the evaluative metering system works, a little turn of the quick control dial will get you a perfectly predictable exposure. If your subject tends to not sit still for long, this ability to get the exposure set quickly is no small thing. You'll also notice that many of the needed compensations are in the 1/3 - 1/2 stop range, which is a testament to how well the evaluative meter does on its own. And many of those fractional stop compensations are to preserve fine detail in subjects that are almost pure white or pure black.

Artie's guide is dirt cheap at $20 for all the testing and research that went into it. Plus, although oriented toward bird photography, the concepts are perfectly adaptable to landscape photography. Evaluate and understand the relative size and tone of the subject and background, and you will know what the evaluative meter will do.

Pål Jensen , May 03, 2002; 08:52 a.m.

I fully agree with Bob on this issue. If it works it works, and contrary to some comments here, there are several ways to skin the cat. Personally, I use the method I find most effective for the situation at hand and I don't believe that qualifies for burying my head into the sand. I have done what Bob suggests; comparing matrix metering with other metering methods and thereby get to know how the matrix system reacts under various condition. You don’t have to waste film on such a project; just compare the results with a metering method you know intimately and can predict. Perhaps Arthur Morris book can help during such a learning process provided your matrix meter behaves similar to his. And yes, Morris is right that matrix systems are usually not that much off. As for wasting time; believe it or not but on some camera bodies setting manual exposure is just as fast as setting compensation. Dial in manual exposure is same job as dialing in compensation on my camera so no method is faster than another. Dialing in compensation is the same operation regardless of what metering method you happen to prefer. Again, there are several ways to do this and the end result is the most important aspect not how you got there. Whats fastest and/or most convenient are defined by personal preferences and the ergonomics of your camera.

Bob Stewart , May 03, 2002; 09:34 a.m.

I think part of the disagreement here may be the subject matter people usually shoot. When I first got interested in outdoor photography I shot lots of landscapes, and some deer. Both of these tend to work well with spot metering. (landscapes you have time, and deer are large, and pretty close to nuetral tone.) When I moved to Florida and started shooting birds, it became apparent to me that with all the constraints of doing birds that spot metering was rarely a good option. I took one of Artie's instructional tours, and learned (am still learning) how to apply his system. The percentage of my photos that are well exposed has increased. For me that's what matters.

Shun Cheung , May 03, 2002; 10:42 a.m.

First of all, I think Artie's metering guide is very well done, and I can recommend it to anybody without any reservation. You can't go that wrong for $20 anyway.

I don't mean to sound offensive, but the reaction to any "how to" photography books highly depends on the individuals. In the earlier thread, some of those who responded very favorably are apparently more the intermediate type. They find Artie's guide extremely useful because these photographers had a lot of trouble with exposure before. If the glowing reviews is what Artie's is looking for, you need to talk to those people. The more experienced photographers have pretty much figured out exposure a long time ago. While Artie's guide is good, it is not adding a lot of new skills or solving any new problems to them. Some 15 or so years ago I bought John Shaw's first book on nature photography and I learned a lot from it. A year ago I bought his latest, which is at least as good if not better, but to me it is not exciting reading any more, as most of the information is more like common sense in nature photography to me now. Not to mention that there is a lot of overlap among Shaw's books.

As we pointed out before, there are many ways to come up with the right exposure. If I have time, I frequently use multiple techniques just to see whether I get the same reading. Artie's method is one more tool I can use. I bought my first SLR back in 1972; that was 30 years ago. To me, exposure hasn't been a problem for a long long time. However, for beginners, Artie's guide is certainly a good way to get started.

Peter Larsen , May 03, 2002; 10:51 a.m.

I have Mr. Morris' Guide to Evaluative Metering Systems, and for me it's a great learning tool. I had been focusing on spot metering, but after seeing examples of what evaluative metering does, I can more readily recognize the situations that call for using evaluative metering. If I lost my copy, I'd buy another in an instant.

Bob Atkins , May 03, 2002; 12:33 p.m.

getting the correct exposure for a brilliant white subject, medium to 3/4 of the frame in full sun (and including head and shoulder's portraits), with middle or middle-dark backgrounds, getting the right exposure is simply a matter of dialing in -1/3 or -1/2 stop of exposure compensation. This simple system works perfectly 99% of the time

I'm sure it does, but so does spot metering the subject (or even partial metering if it fills most of the frame) and dialing in 1.5 to 2 stops of exposure compensation depending on your particular exposure preference and the film you are using. I don't see the difference, except for the fact that you KNOW what the spot meter is doing (and it doesn't care what the background is) and you can only guess (even though it may often be a good guess) at what the evaluative metering is doing. With spot metering you don't need to remember any rules about subject size and background brightness or refer to a reference. You get exactly what you want. The only thing is you have to know what you want to be a highlight, midtone and/or shadow and what is most important.

The problem with compensating for brilliant white subjects in full sunlight is that not only is the evaluative metering system basing the exposure on some algorithm which takes into account the brightness of various parts of the scene, but it's also reducing exposure by some degree based on EV values above a mid tones object in bright sun (EV), again using some sort of unknown (or at least unspecified) algorithm.

For example, testing shows that the A2E dials in +0.25 at EV14, +0.7 at EV15 and +1.25 at EV16 in some modes which use evaluative metering, but doesn't dial in anything in others. I'm sure other cameras and other manufacturers use different values.

Please don't take this as a negative comment. Anything that can help photographers find a way that they can use to get accurate exposure is a good thing. Whatever works works. Despite the theoretical pitfalls of applying exposure compensation to evaluative metering systems, in practice most users seem to find it works for them, and that's all that counts in the end.

Rajesh Mohanasundaram , May 03, 2002; 01:35 p.m.

I just got this guide. I do more of macro and this year plan to do flowers and hence I thought I'll try this guide. This is not a guide for someone who wants to learn metering(though just following it may result in good pictures). I have had frustrations in certain situations where I have seen the spot meter reading swing at extremes like 1/30 to 1/1000 typically shooting a swan in a bright blue water background. These are situations that happen in the field and the guide provides baseline values for eval metering. I think 20 dollars is dirt cheap to pay for someone's years of experience documenting various light conditions and exposure values. Going by this approach it doesn't matter if u have a canon or nikon when u have some base numbers to start. U can fine tune u'r best exposure. Well, thats my plan when I go shooting macro with flowers. Just FYI ..the guide also had pictures(and exposures) of landscape, mammals, flowers and even a gorrilla.

David Goldfarb , May 03, 2002; 10:31 p.m.

I've been spot metering for some 20 years and don't see what is so difficult about it. When I'm photographing birds, I usually set the shutter speed to a fixed value and make quick aperture adjustments on the fly. Is the aperture ring harder to turn than the exposure compensation ring? On my camera it's easier to change the aperture. I'm aware of when lighting conditions change, so I normally don't even need to take a new reading for each shot, and my exposures are pretty accurate using slide film.

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