You’re never going to learn! Not if you keep letting the camera make decisions for you anyway.
Get off of those auto settings, take control of your camera, and be deliberate about how you want things to happen. You can always go back to the auto settings once you understand how things are working and how to take control back when you need it.
Your camera has a number of methods of evaluating the scene to measure the light and determine what it thinks the best exposure is:
- “evaluative metering” (sometimes called matrix metering) will analyze the level of brights and dark tones in the whole scene;
- “center weighted” metering measures the light in the center of the frame;
- “spot metering” measures the brightness only in one particular spot of the frame that you specify.
If you want to take control, try using spot metering to tell the camera exactly what part of the scene you want to expose for.
For example, say you want to make this image:
This sunset scene has a very bright section and a very dark section. A camera cannot possibly expose for both at the same time. The difference is too great for the camera to handle. In this situation you have to choose what is more important, the bright area or the dark area and expose for that.
If you were to expose for the rocks, you would see the details in the rocks, but the sky would be totally white and contain no detail at all. That’s probably not what you want in a sunset.
In this case it would be better to expose for the sky and let the rock go totally black making a silhouette. You can use your spot metering to meter on the sky and get the correct exposure.
You probably know that when you hold your shutter half way down your camera focuses and sets the exposure. But what if you want to expose for the sky but focus on the rock so your silhouette has a sharp line? This is what exposure lock is for.
Check your camera manual to see where the exposure lock button is on your camera. On my camera it is a button on the back with a star next to it. With your camera set to spot metering, you point your camera at the bright sky and set the exposure lock. Then recompose and hold the shutter half way down to focus on the rock and then take the picture.
For me, making most images requires 3 steps in camera. You can’t just point at a scene and press the shutter – that’s what point-and-shoot cameras are for. When you want to take control of your images try this.
1. Decide what you want to expose for: point at the bright sky and set the exposure lock.
2. Decide what you want to focus on: point at the object and hold the shutter half way down to focus on it.
3. Finally, while continuing to hold the shutter half way down, recompose the image to get the composition you want and then press the shutter.
I sometimes call this the “all the time in the world” method for getting the right exposure. It is my preferred method because I like to be deliberate.
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter and get
your 2 FREE photography eBooks!