Why you should spot meter for skin. And how your camera lies to you

Last weekend saw me teaching a natural light workshop at the studio. Great to see so many beautiful images arising from it.

One of the things I teach, and often causes confusion is the difference between metering, focussing and finally shooting.

Firstly set your camera up to shoot skin effectively. Back button focus, Manual Mode and spot metering are essentials in my world. That means I can set the exposure focus and shoot and keep all these actions separate.

Spot metering is essential as it tells me exactly how much light is falling on the skin, in these headshots the brightest part of the face. I select the ISO and aperture and then adjust the shutter speed until the in camera light meter is pointing right to the middle point. That’s the point at which the camera says it’s giving me optimal exposure. Unfortunately the camera sees optimal exposure as grey, and both these models are white. As you can see from the first two images both Georgina and Holly look grey and dark when the camera tells me it’s doing a great job.

So it’s then for me to interpret that I’m shooting a subject that is lighter than grey and slow the shutter speed down by one or two clicks on the adjustment wheel until I’m happy with the exposure.

Once it looks good on the back I can shoot a full series confident that my exposure will be consistent and skin tone perfect.

That’s why I spot meter, and interpret what the camera is telling me. It lies.

Correctly exposed – needle in the middle of in camera meter
Shutter speed one click (1/3rd of a stop) slower
Shutter speed 2 clicks slower
Correct exposure!
Full stop slower on shutter speed to bring back bright skin tone

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