Today is a question round up!

Our first question is from Rich who had a question about spot metering. Rich was wondering when using spot metering, if you move the focus point away from the center point, where is the camera actually metering?

With spot metering, the answer depends on your camera. By default, on a DSLR with an optical viewfinder, your center focus point is the spot metering point. For many DSLR cameras, the spot is fixed on the center. That means if you are using a focus point other than the center point for focus, you still have to place the center focus point on the subject to get an accurate metering for exposure.

On some DSLR cameras, you can move the metering point with the focus point when using spot metering. To find out if yours moves, you can check your manual or go to google and search for something like, “**YOUR CAMERA MODEL* move spot meter with focus point”*.

If you have a mirrorless camera, the default behavior is that the spot metering point is locked to the focus point, so wherever your focus point is, that is where you spot meter.

Dave also had a question about metering, and whether or not the metering mode actually matters when using any of the manual modes. (Manual Mode, any Prioity mode, or Program Auto)

The answer here is that it does, and it doesn’t. When you are shooting in any of the manual modes, because you have control over the final exposure (through settings changes and/or exposure compensation), you can just change the exposure until you’re happy with it, regardless of the metering mode being used.

This is where it doesn’t matter, because the ultimate goal is an exposure you’re happy with, and in the end, no one cares what metering mode was used to accomplish that.

Where it does matter is understanding how your camera works and what your camera will do in a given situation. Having that knowledge makes you better and faster at accomplishing your goal because you know how the camera works.

For example, you’ll know that if you’re using evaluative metering, and you point your camera at a backlit subject, and you set your exposure settings to bring the exposure indicator to 0, the subject will be way underexposed, so instead of setting them to 0, you can deliberately overexposed by one or two stops, properly exposing the backlit subject.

Or you see that the subject is backlit and you know that evaluative metering won’t handle that well, so you switch to spot metering, knowing that when you meter off the subject it will be properly exposed, despite the backlight.

Knowing how your camera works empowers you to make it do what you want it to do.

Finally, Todd wanted to know when editing a portrait how I decide enough is enough when it comes to skin cleanup and retouching.

This is tricky for a number of reasons.

First, is the very real issue of how photography (and media at large) influences self perception and the body ideal we may strive for.

Second is the reality that we want our photographs to look good, and when taking portraits, we want the people in our portraits to look good.

Third is how the person being photographed wants that portrait to look.

These things are always in the back of my mind when I’m editing a portrait, and determining when enough is enough is a matter of constant evaluation with these things in mind, and my final determination is based around these criteria:

  1. Are there blemishes, hair, or other elements that distract from the portrait as a whole? If there are, I will edit those out, with the caveat that if it’s a real beauty mark/blemish that is a feature of that person, I either leave it in or check with the person. (When dealing with something like freckles, for the most part I leave them alone, maybe removing a few if they’re larger and more distracting to the portrait as a whole.)
  2. The skin has actual texture, and doesn’t look fake/plastic/unreal
  3. The skin has color. I do some editing to even out color, but I also leave some of that unevenness as it’s a natural human trait. My goal is to make sure it’s not distracting from the portrait as a whole
  4. The final, overarching criteria is that the person looks like who they are. This is something I’m watching for as I work, but also evaluate by comparing the final portrait to the original, un-retouched image. If the changes feel too jarring, then I know I’ve gone too far and I back up the edits until it feels right.

(The exception to this is art/conceptual portraits where you’re deliberately trying to make the subject look fantastical/unreal)

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