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Spot focusing and metering

Much of my photography until recently has been Street – I’d usually set up at hyper-focal length (straight-forward on a Ricoh GR, which shows this in-camera) and centre-weighted light metering, tweaking the exposure compensation dial if necessary.  My overall objective being to get a good shot in the moment, while events unfolded around me. Even for more general photography, I tended to stick with the camera set to a range of focus points in the centre of the image and centre-weighted metering.

This course has encouraged me to reconsider my approach in response to a wider range of subjects and photographic challenges. From revisiting books (in particular The Photographer’s Exposure Field Guide, Freeman M, published in UK in 2011 by ILEX) and websites, I was reminded of two important points:

  1. The exposure meter makes an assumption that a scene will, on average, be 50% brightness (grey) and uses this to determine a zero under/over exposure. Depending on the scene and the metering mode this can work fine, but for close detailed work or extremes of light conditions, the meter may not deliver the intended result.
  2. Multi-area focus points will tend to use the points covering the subject closest closest to the camera, so the image may not be sharpest where one would like it – control is lost. Single area focus points reduce the extent of this problem by focusing only on the subject in the centre of the frame – so focus and recompose can work well. However, a pin-point focus will focus on exactly the required spot – not always necessary, but very useful sometimes (for example someone’s eyes).

I performed some simple experiments (with a Panasonic Lumix LX100) to discover how much a difference selecting alternative metering and focusing options can make. In the example below, the focus is the unburnt wood (as good as mid-tone, grey). My preference is the third image (spot metered) that balances the mid-tones and shows the deep tonality of the burnt ashes. So, spot metering delivers an improved result in this situation.

metering modes


For a second experiment, I focused on the burned (black) ashes, which are far from neutral toned grey. In this example, the first spot metered example is a little washed out (trying to make the black grey). However, the 4th image which is also spot metered, but the with the exposure adjusted down 2 stops, best captures the rich dark tones of the embers. Also, the centre-weighted mode does a reasonable job in this case.

metering mode 2


Finally, an example of spot focusing. It’s all in the eyes!


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