How your composition can trick your light meter

How your composition can trick your light meter

This week I’ll show you how your composition can trick your light meter

The light meter in your camera is a sophisticated bit of kit. It has a few different settings and each one has it’s own uses but most people will keep it in the multi meter mode. In this setting, sometimes your composition can trick this into producing a bad image.

Basically, the light meter will look at the whole image and try to give you a good exposure.

When there is a lot of dark parts in the image, the light meter will brighten it up and when there is a lot of bright areas in the image, the light meter will drop the exposure down. This is all well and good, but when the subject is darker than the surrounding parts of the image, it will tend to be under exposed. On the other hand, if the subject is surrounded by a lot of dark parts, it will tend to be over exposed.

There are a few ways to counteract this, depending on what setting you are in.

Generally, if you are shooting in Auto mode, everything is automatic, so you won’t be able to compensate to get the subject to the correct exposure. You might have a backlit option which might pop up the flash; for small subjects and people, this might be ok but it generally won’t cope that well….and this is another reason why you might want to come out of auto.


Click here to take your first steps out of auto.


If you are in P, A or S, you can change this in several ways.


  1. You can use your exposure compensation to shift the exposure either up or down, this is a way of you correcting the camera in these semi automatic modes.
  2. You can set your exposure meter to spot metering and make sure this spot is on the subject when you half press your shutter button.
  3. You can bracket your shots, so the camera will take 3 shots. One under exposed, one exposed at what the camera thinks is good and one over exposed. This is more for a fixed camera on a tripod or a still subject with very little movement. It also takes more work in post processing with either HDR or luminosity masks, but with the right amount of blending, you can produce some stunning images.


If you shoot in M mode, you can use spot exposure metering, bracket your shots or just shift either your Aperture, shutter speed or ISO to compensate.


There are a few other ways.


  1. You can use your flash, but if your are shooting a huge landscape, this might not be an option.
  2. You can keep the camera on a tripod and shoot through the golden hour and into the night to get exposures at different times, then blend these together.
  3. You can reposition yourself or the subject (if it is movable) to get a more balanced image.
  4. You can use graduated filters if you have a fairly straight horizon to bring down the intensity of the brightest parts of the image


Basically, you want to look for a well balanced image to start with so the camera copes well. Then as you get more used to the camera and push your skills further, the skills listed above will give you the ability to cope with images with a bigger dynamic range (which is the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of the image).

And that’s about it; just remember, if your in semi automatic, use exposure compensation or bracketing to get the right exposure and if you’re in manual, just adjust one of your three main settings to get a good exposure and may bracket your images to make sure you get the shot.


I hope this helps, if you would like to see more, subscribe to my youtube channel, or check out my facebook page.

Thanks for stopping by,


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