Metering for the Darkest Object In A Photo

Coax details out of the shadows without blowing out the rest of the shot

If the shadow areas of the scene are most important, you might be tempted just take a meter reading only from that area. If you do this, you could overexpose the image and cause total lack of detail in some of the highlight areas.

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Back in the film days, one methodology suggested that you expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. You can do the same kind of thing by capturing the image using your camera’s RAW format where you have a chance to recover some of the lost highlight detail that would have been tossed in the bit bucket with the compression techniques use by the JPEG image file format.

One rule of thumb says to use the shadow reading and stop down two stops. So even using the "darkest object" method you have a choice and you can use one, both, or be a switch hitter based on your experience with certain kinds of subject matter.

F-stop and go traffic: One of the first tips that I give aspiring car photographers is that they should underexpose black cars and overexpose white ones. Exposure for this black E-type Jaguar was 1/320 at f/11 and ISO 200, which is one and one-third stops less that the camera’s indicated exposure. When you think about it, it makes sense: By forcing the exposure to the middle gray tones that your in-camera meter says is "correct," you'll end up with a white car that looks gray and a black car that looks gray too. ©2004

Joe Farace is co-author of "Better Digital Available Light Photography" along with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Barry Staver. It was published by Focal Press and is available in all the best bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and


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