Most modern cameras offer metering capability for you. What that means is that the camera decides what the shutter speed should be or what the aperture should be based on the amount of light it detects. A smarter camera will calculate some sort of an average for the amount of light it detects and determine the best aperture or shutter speed such that no one part of the picture is over or under exposed. In most cases this is a good thing. But there are times when you may not want your camera to be so smart.
I recently went on a trip to Corbett National Park in India. While the park has some grasslands most of it is a thick jungle. This makes photography a bit of a challenge as there isn’t always much light available. But you do have beams of light cutting through the trees and illuminating parts of the jungle. So when you spot an animal you wait for it to move to the right position into the light before you take your pictures. All this is good but if your camera is smart it will detect a mostly dark background and will either open your aperture or will slow your shutter speed. The result of this smart move from your camera is that you will get well exposed flora but the animal that finally walked into the light will be over exposed.
This is exactly what happened to me. I was with my Nikon D80 set to matrix metering (I forgot to reset to spot metering) and we saw a tiger. The tiger was in the bushes and there was a clearing in the bush which had a nice beam of light falling through it. I knew if the tiger walked to that clearing I would have a great shot. The tiger decided to move and in the right direction. As it emerged into the brightly lit clearing I went click click click…..
But alas all I got was overblown highlights. The tiger was a bright white spot and the jungle foliage was nicely exposed. Its then when I realized that my camera was still on matrix metering.
Spot metering is an option that tells your camera to calculate aperture or shutter speed based on the spot your focusing on and not the entire frame. This way your camera will correctly expose for the “spot” and let the rest be. When in a forest this is a much better option for taking pictures of animals. This way your camera will adjust correctly for your primary objective.
This is my over exposed tiger. Sigh!!!!!!