Decoding the viewfinder: metering and exposure indicators

metering nikon photography

[photography]. I’ve been shooting in manual mode for quite a while because I understood how shutter, aperture, and ISO values all combined to give the image’s exposure. But I did not understand how to generate combinations of values through anything other than magical photographic intuition or experience.

Metering, exposure, and the viewfinder

The classic Ansel Adams book, The Camera (The Ansel Adams Photography Series 1) ISBN-13: 9780821221846, has a lot of discussion about metering but since that book was written in the 1970s and not for digital cameras, I did not understand how one could access the output of the meter in a digital camera. I had this dialogue with my husband about it, interrogating him about how to access this output with a camera in one hand, the manual in the other, until finally by flipping through the pages and piecing together what might be the case figured it out.

screenshot describing the exposure indicator in the viewfinder

Just to make the explanation easier, assume that I am in manual mode. The viewfinder gives you the output of the metering (above) in the form of exposure indicators! So then I can adjust shutter, aperture, ISO, depending on which one is not as important to the image so that I can get the exposure I want.

Previously, I had been taking test shots every so often and looking at the histogram. So many shots.

Given that, an ‘optimal exposure’ from the exposure indicator may not be the exposure I want. As I work with using the exposure indicators in the viewfinder, I am getting a better intuition about which values are going to work best with which subjects in which scenes (shadowed subject in surrounding bright scene, for instance).

And, another caveat, there are different metering modes (matrix, center-weighted, spot in my camera) to select from, which will alter what the exposure indicator will display.

The viewfinder in general

screenshot describing the exposure indicator in the viewfinder

Given that discovery about the exposure indicators – I’ve been sort of intense about photography for 9 months now? – I went looking for what other information is down there in the viewfinder. Turns out quite a bit. Now, if I see something weird on any panel, I look it up.

Relatedly, I have started practicing changing settings (shutter, aperture, ISO type settings) while looking through the viewfinder so that I don’t miss action shots of wildlife.

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