As much as I would love to tell you that I’ve read my camera manual cover to cover and that every secret of this amazing piece of equipment that I am blessed to own has been revealed to me, that would be a lie; somehow the FTC would become involved; and you would never read another word I wrote.

To paraphrase Shrek: my camera has many layers, like an onion. Day by day, week by week, month by month they are being peeled away and revealed to me. If I awoke one morning with the wisdom of a Joe McNally, Scott Kelby, Scott Bourne, David duChemin, or Alan Hess, that would take all the fun out of it. The process of discovery is half of the adventure of photography.

Yesterday my daughters and I attended a cookie swap. Currently I’m snapping random shots of all things Christmas, including this candle arrangement. This is what I saw in my viewfinder (I was shooting RAW + JPG; this was the JPG preview).


Lovely shot, huh?

Since this was taken in a sunlit kitchen in the middle of the afternoon—not in the middle of the night—I knew that metering was my problem.

There are three choices for setting the metering on my Nikon DSLR: 3D color matrix II, center weighted, and spot metering. (Oddly enough, the symbols on the back of my camera do not look like the ones in my manual, pictured below.)


Usually spot metering works for me, exposing for the part of the scene where I’ve chosen to set the focus. This helps with tricky lighting situations, like when your subject is in the shade but there are areas of daylight behind him. We’ve all seen those photos where the background is exposed properly but the subject is very dark. [If you want to read what a serious pro has to say about spot metering, check out this post from my buddy Alan Hess at the new Digital Photo Experience blog.]

In the case of this photo, however, spot metering was a big fail. The candle was the point of focus, and everything else was dark.

I switched to the 3D color matrix II option, which is just a fancy way of saying that the camera exposed for the overall scene, not the focal point. Here was the result:


The only change between the first and second photo was the metering adjustment; they were taken seconds apart.

If you haven’t figured out how to adjust the metering mode on your camera, now’s a great time to pull out that manual and read up on it.

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