The goal is to provide the amount of light that will record the details we desire. Again, we will use a combination of lens opening (amount of light entering the camera) and shutter speed (the length of time the light strikes the film) to produce a perfect photo. These are camera settings that we, or the camera, adjust according to the camera's internal exposure meter. On cheaper automatic cameras, film or digital, this 'exposure meter' may simply be a setting, such as portrait, sports, etc.
An internal exposure meter is usually center weighted: reading reflected light in the center of the lens, or viewfinder if using a TTL (through the lens) camera. The center area of light is measured as 'most important'.
On simpler automatic cameras, you may be asked to center your subject. This allows the internal center weighted meter to measure the amount of light being reflected from what it sees as the most important object in your photo.
Center weighted meters work very well.... on average scenes with even lighting from side to side and with subjects that nearly fill the screen. However, our African violet photos do not often fit this 'average' pigeonhole. We often have a few small light colored blossoms on a mass of dark foliage... and the meter will set an exposure that gives great foliage but washed out blossoms. In this case, the violet blossoms are in the center of the screen, but so small in area that the meter still 'sees' all the larger area of darker foliage and will give an exposure more suited to the foliage. Remember that your camera is measuring light from the center of the screen.
Some cameras offer an option of using a spot meter, which narrows the center spot that measures light. This enables a photographer to set the meter on the subject, adjusting the camera to give a perfect image of that subject, then moving the camera so that the subject is placed in the photo just where wanted... not necessarily in the center. Every camera is different; look for a section in the owner's manual for using this Automatic Exposure Lock. Also, there are separate exposure meters available, and many experienced photographers have called these meters their favorite 'tools to good photos'. Of course, your camera must allow you to manually adjust the camera.
Another metering option that I am seeing more often is multi-metering. This setting will measure the light from up to 8 points from various points within a scene and gives an exposure based on the average amount of reflected light.
If you have few settings or options on your camera, you will have to 'out smart' your camera. There are many ways to manipulate the auto settings of your camera by adjusting the light conditions of the scene itself. Plus you may simply avoiding situations where the results will be less than perfect.
Being aware of how your camera measures light and interprets that light is the first step to good exposure. One advantage digital photography offers is the immediate preview of the image. With film cameras, we would bracket our exposure: taking one photo with the average reading, one photo a little lighter, and one a little darker.... and then waiting until our film was processed to see which photo gave the most pleasing results. So use that preview feature. Don't assume the shot you took was fine; check to make sure!
Here too, is an area where keeping your 'critical eye' open will benefit. When you have a 'perfect' photo, remember just what you did to produce that image. What settings did you use? What were the lighting conditions? Were you near or far from your subject?
Digital photography doesn't involve 'wasting film', so experiment a bit.... all you are out is time and you will be surprised at the improvement in your photos.
**Unless noted, all photos shown here are raw images as taken by the camera. Unless noted, all photos were taken using auto exposure and focus settings.**
If your camera does not have a spot meter, here is a useful tip. Moving in close to the subject will give a good exposure by an automatic camera. The following photos demonstrate there is not much difference between the spot meter and the camera's automatic center metering. Personally, I like the 'snap' of the automatic setting. How about you?
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