Metering Modes

Few Things To Consider When Taking Animal Shots

When I bought my first DSLR three years ago, I had no clue about the composition, photography technique, lighting and many other things. I just bought a DSLR camera because I had interest in photography and enjoyed taking pictures. I still remember a shot of a deer that I took from the back and was very happy with the result. It had shallow depth of field, well focused and good light. I couldn't find anything wrong with my picture and thought to share with my photography community. Guess what? My composition was completely wrong which I realized after fellow photographers commented about it. And you probably have already guessed what went wrong on my picture. Yes, I took the shot from the back of an animal and viewers couldn't connect to that photograph very well. I started learning from my mistakes and today, I thought I would write something about what I learned so far so that you don't have to go through same mistakes and waste your time. But instead, you can use that time for taking creative shots.

When shooting animals, there are few important camera settings and the composition ideas which you may want to follow to get better results and connect well to the viewers. Let me explain them briefly in points.

1. When shooting birds or animals, you may want to use the spot metering so that the camera meters exposure based on the focus point.

2. Use Continuous-servo (AF-C) Autofocus mode with the single point AF or the Dynamic Area AF Autofocus point. When you in AF-C mode, after you press the shutter release button, camera focuses your subject wherever you select the focus point and continues to monitor the subject to refocus if the subject moves along and the single point focusing method helps you to focus on particular area, an eye for example. Using the Dynamic Area AF helps you to track the moving subject if it goes out of focus in the frame. If you are shooting flying birds or fast moving animals, you may want to use the Dynamic AF points.

3. Use the widest aperture (smallest f number) possible so that you will get the faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of moving subjects.

4. While shooting animals, try to focus on eye as much as possible because it naturally draws the viewer’s attention to the photograph immediately.

Here are few photographs I took recently and hope you will like it.

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This shot was taken at the National Zoo, Washington DC and I liked how this cat is cautiously look at me while drinking water.

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Learning from the mistake is the best way to learn. You will never forget what you learned and sharing those ideas with others help you grow even bigger and faster.

Understanding Nikon's Flash Metering Mode

Metering is the technique, which is used to determine the optimal exposure for the subject and the overall scene based on the information camera gets from available light sources. Nikon uses the flash metering system to determine the flash output when the flash is set to auto (also called TTL or i-TTL) mode, and the camera metering system to determine the overall exposure of the image if the camera is set to A, S or P exposure mode. In manual (M) mode, you would take the reading from the camera metering system as a reference whether it is negative (underexposed) or positive (overexposed) and set the exposure values (Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO) manually to adjust the exposure. Nikon D90 and most of the other Nikon DSLRs support three types of Metering Modes, and they are Matrix Metering, Center-Weighted Metering and Spot Metering, which we discussed in previous blog.

In TTL mode, the built-in flash, as well as the external flash unit attached to the camera, adjusts the flash power to properly expose the scene by using the information from one of these three available metering modes. When the flash is set to TTL mode, choice of the camera metering mode determines whether the flash metering system, which shares the same metering sensor with the camera metering system, should consider the ambient light and balance the overall exposure or ignore the ambient light all together and only count the light from the main subject to determine the flash output power.

What is TTL mode?

Nikon’s latest DSLRs and the flash units use the TTL technique to determine the amount of lights reflecting from the scene and adjust the flash power accordingly. TTL stands for Through The Lens and it refers to the process of gathering information through the lens and passing that information to the metering system in order for the camera to deploy the appropriate flash power. Older camera systems either used manual calculations to determine the flash exposure or used a sensor in the flash itself rather than the metering sensor in the camera. And, i-TTL (intelligent-TTL) refers to the latest TTL flash system from Nikon. In latest Nikon cameras, TTL refers to i-TTL by default and I am using TTL and i-TTL interchangeably in this blog.

There are two types of i-TTL methods used in Nikon’s lighting system and the DSLRs, which are iTTL Balanced Fill-flash and Standard iTTL Fill-flash. Now, let’s talk about these two different TTL methods and discuss how they work differently.

1. iTTL Balanced Fill-flash (i-TTL/BL or TTL/BL)

Nikon's i-TTL (intelligent through-the-lens) Balanced Fill-Flash automatically balances the output of the Nikon Speedlight to match with the scene's ambient light. This flash mode is selected by the camera automatically when the flash is in TTL mode and the camera metering is in either Matrix Metering mode or Center-Weighted Metering mode. If the camera is set to A, S or P exposure mode and the flash is in i-TTL/BL mode, Nikon Speedlight fires the series of pre-flashes to determine the exposure value for the subject by taking the ambient light into account and send that information back to the flash metering system in the camera. The flash metering system then combines that information with the metering information from the camera metering system and the focal length information from the D or G lens to analyze and calculate the final flash output in order to balance the overall exposure. All of this complex processing happens in a fraction of a second, before each exposure, to provide unprecedented levels of flash precision and performance. This is a very powerful and easy to use technology from Nikon and probably one of the best in the industry.

iTTL Balanced Fill-in flash

iTTL Balanced Fill-in flash

In short, using this technology, Nikon DSLR measures the available light and then adjusts the flash output to produce a natural balance between the main subject and the background. It will reduce the harsh shadow as well as the highlights in the subject caused by the over powered flash.

2. Standard i-TTL Fill-flash

This mode is activated when the flash is in TTL mode and the camera metering is in Spot Metering Mode or if you are using the external flash and the flash is set to standard mode. In this mode, the flash output is adjusted only for the main subject in the frame, and the brightness of the background is not factored in while calculating the flash power. If the standard i-TTL Fill-flash is chosen by the camera by dialing the camera metering into the spot metering mode in A, S or P exposure mode, the background light is ignored and the camera will fire the flash to give you the correct exposure for the main subject only. If the overall exposure for the scene and the main subject is properly balanced without using the flash (shooing outside in bright daylight for example), using the standard i-TTL Fill-flash may overexpose the subject by adding the extra light to already properly exposed main subject. You should use this mode only when the flash is main source of the light for the subject (shooting in dark room for example) and you want to emphasize the main subject at the expense of the proper exposure for the background.

Standard i-TTL Fill-flash

Standard i-TTL Fill-flash

In this picture above, the exposure on the main subject was metered by the flash metering system by firing the pre-flashes on the main subject and then analyzed the light reflected from the main subject along with other information that camera provided, including the metering mode and the focal length. The flash metering system then adjusted the flash power and fired the flash just to illuminate the main subject. If you notice the background, which is relatively darker, was metered by the camera metering system and exposed by the ambient light only. The flash power was calculated by the flash metering system to expose the main subject only which was weakened by the time it reached to the background, and hence flash didn’t contribute for the background exposure at all.

What Feature Do You Assign To The Function Button?

This post is part of our Q&A section. If you want to submit your question, please use the form in the Contact page.

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Deepak (Mumbai, India) asked : What camera feature do you prefer to be assigned to the function button on a DSLR camera?

Deepak, to be honest with you, your question forced me to go back and see what are the other options available in the menu to assign to the function button. I always assigned only two of my favorite options and never looked back into other options. In the first part let me talk briefly about what is the function button and why should we use it? And in the second part I will explain what feature do I assign to the function button and why?

Nikon D90 Function (Fn) Button

Nikon D90 Function (Fn) Button

Function button allows you to change the particular camera setting without going deep down to the menu options. Once you assign the function button to the specific feature, whenever you press the function button, camera will adjust the setting for that particular shot. This feature comes very handy when you want to quickly alter the camera setting without wasting too much time navigating through the menu tree. Now let’s discuss how to assign one of the camera’s feature to the function button. In this example, I am taking Nikon D90 to refer to the menu items. If you use some other DSLR, your menu navigation might be little different.

Step 1 : Press the MENU button on the back of your camera

Step 2 : Go the Custom Settings Menu (pencil icon) and navigate down to f (controls).

Step 3 : Select f3 (Assign FUNC. button).

You have varieties of options available there such as spot metering, +RAW, matrix metering, center-weighted metering, flash off, framing grid, AF-area mode etc. Personally, my favorites are spot metering and +RAW mode. Why? Because I set the metering mode to the matrix metering by default and sometimes if I want to give the credit to the center of the subject for the metering purpose, I want to use the spot metering. When I am ready to shoot, I would then press the Fn button and the camera will use the spot metering for that particular shot and go back to the regular setting as soon as the picture is taken. And the same is true for choosing the +RAW mode as well. When I was beginning to learn the basics of photography, I always shot in JPEG Fine mode but once in a while I also took the RAW images to edit the picture later on the computer and learn more about the post-processing tools and techniques. So, whenever I wanted to take the RAW image, I pressed the function button and shoot with JPEG Fine+RAW mode for the particular shot so that the camera takes JPEG and RAW versions of the image and stores them into the memory.

You can play around with the options your camera has and decide which one you want to stick with for regular use. Thank you again for your question from which I also got chance to learn about other options my camera has. Happy shooting!

Introduction To Different Exposure Modes - Which Exposure Mode Should You Use?

Today's most of the consumer level DSLRs have dedicated scene modes like close-up, portrait, sports etc which sets exposure automatically when you dial into the mode. Besides these pre-programmed modes, it also comes with few other exposure modes (A, S, P and M) to allow you control over camera’s default settings. When you dial into those pre-configured mode, portrait mode for example, you really do not have a control over exposure. If you want to manually set the exposure, you have to use one of the four modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program Mode and Manual Exposure) available in your camera.

Image Source : Wikipedia

Image Source : Wikipedia

Out of these four modes, three of them are semi-automated modes and one is fully manual mode. When you want to change from one mode into another, you would have to rotate the Mode Dial and select the mode you want to change into. These settings are not specific to any particular camera model but different companies may use different alphabets to denote these modes. For example, Nikon’s shutter priority mode is denoted by letter S whereas Canon’s is T but the idea behind it’s functionality is the same. But in this blog, I will be taking Nikon DSLR as a reference camera when I explain these different modes. Now, let’s get into our first exposure mode which is an Aperture Priority (A) exposure mode.

1. Aperture Priority

In an Aperture Priority (A) mode, you set the lens’ aperture value or give priority to the aperture value and your camera sets the shutter speed to control the overall exposure of the image. This mode is probably best when you want to control the opening or the closing of your lens to gain shallow or deep depth of field. You would have to use the smaller F-stop (f/stop) value to get the shallower depth of field (famous for portrait or close up shots) and you might want to use the larger f/stop value to get everything in focus (widely used in landscape photography).

This mode is best if you want to lock the aperture at fixed value and want your camera to set the shutter speed according to the aperture value you set. If your current aperture value and the shutter speed doesn't match to give you optimal exposure for the subject, you will get Lo or HI indicator in the camera viewfinder telling you that subject is too dark or too bright resulting into underexposed or overexposed photograph. If you get the indicator on, you might want to consider adjusting your settings.

2. Shutter Priority

Our second exposure mode is the Shutter Priority (S) mode which is just an opposite of the Aperture Priority mode. In this mode, you set the shutter speed and your camera will adjust the aperture value for the corresponding shutter speed to give you the balanced exposure. You might want to use this mode when you want to shoot fast moving subjects to freeze the motion (shooting sports events for example). This mode is also famous for landscape photography specially if your frame contains moving subjects like water falls or vehicles where you can control the speed of shutter to produce long exposure effects.

3. Program Mode

Third exposure mode is the Program Mode (P) which is almost like an Auto mode but it will let you override some of the settings on the camera. Nikon uses sophisticated algorithm to determine the best exposure by using the combination of aperture and shutter speed. The algorithm takes the present lighting conditions and other variables into account and program the camera setting to the best of it’s ability. When you frame your photograph and the correct exposure can't be achieved using pre-set value, Lo or Hi indicator in the camera viewfinder warns you about the underexposed or overexposed image. If you get the warning, you can adjust ISO setting to change the light sensitivity and see if that makes any difference.

Unlike Auto mode, Program mode allows you to change the camera parameters such as Exposure Compensation, Metering, ISO, White Balance etc. If you want to change the shutter speed and the aperture value, use the main command dial (also called rear command dial) and it will give you the different combinations of aperture value and shutter speed with the same exposure. When you do that, the letter P (for the Program Mode) changes into (P*) into LCD screen which Nikon calls the "Flexible Program". If you want to go back to the default settings of P mode, you just have to rotate the command dial to the left or the right until P* changes into P.

4. Manual Exposure

Our fourth and final exposure type is Manual Exposure (M) mode. If you want the complete control of your camera, Manual Exposure mode is what you need to dial into. Most of the experience photographers and the professionals use this mode very often because they know how their camera metering system is going to react under certain shooting environment. In the Manual Exposure mode, you can set the shutter speed and the aperture value in whichever combination you like. When you are in Manual mode, rotate the main command dial to change the shutter speed and the sub-command dial (also called front command dial) to change the aperture value. In this mode, you can set everything manually including ISO, White Balance, File Type etc.

Personally, my favorite for the landscape or the cityscape photography is an Aperture Priority (A) mode where I can set the lens aperture to certain value and let the camera decide the shutter speed. If the lighting situation is tricky, I use the Manual mode and control both the Aperture value and the Shutter speed individually.