5 Ways to Meter Midtones

Frame a face, meter the midtones, and other cures for photo flu.

5-Ways-to-Meter-Midtones

5-Ways-to-Meter-Midtones

Fundamentals: Frame-filling glamour portrait with great tonal range.

Framing: When a model strikes this pose (reclining, propped on one elbow), most photographers would yield to the tempation to show her stretched out horizontally. But she's in a vertical, portrait-style frame.

Lighting: Soft, even light keeps her skin smooth and feathers textured. Highlights are where they should be -- lips, eyes, and glossy headband.

Tones: Span the full range. Details in the white feathers and black bodice stand out, but there's plenty of midtone in the skin.

Angle: Because the model is reclining, her head is tilted, coming in diagonally from the corner. (The feather boa hides how strained her neck probably looks in this position.)

X Factor: The model's tilted head and body, bisected by the serpentine boa, create an X shape that fills most of the frame. And that vertical lock of hair is just the kind of imperfection that makes the composition perfect.

5 Ways to Meter Midtones

Your camera's lightmeter makes what you aim it at appear medium-toned (or medium gray, in black-and-white terms). Usually this makes a good exposure, but not if your scene is full of tonal extremes. The badly exposed shot (upper right) is how a centerweighted meter reads a scene with a lot of detail in darker areas: The sunlit foliage is blown out.

© Timothy Edberg

Here are five ways to get the midtone right, once you've spotted it:

1. Move close to a midtone subject, meter it, and return to your original position to shoot. To get the good exposure (lower right), I drove to the end of the road, metered on the sunlit foliage, added half a stop, then drove back to shoot.

2. Use a spotmeter on a midtone detail. No spotmeter? Isolate the detail with a longer focal length by zooming or switching lenses.

3. Meter off an 18 percent gray card. Or meter off the palm of your hand and add exposure, about 1 stop for light skin. (It helps to compare readings from a gray card and your palm in advance, so you know how much to compensate.)

4. When outdoors, apply the Sunny 16 rule: Shoot at f/16 with a shutter speed close to 1/ISO sec (e.g., 1/100 sec for ISO 100) or the equivalent. On overcast days, add 1 stop; for heavy clouds add 2 stops, and, if your subject is in the shade, add 3 stops.

5. Right after the shot, check your digital camera's histogram reading for blown-out highlights and dropped-out shadows. Then adjust your exposure accordingly, and try again.

And in tricky light, bracket your shots -- that is, take several at different exposures. That way you're certain to get one good image.

A serving of Spudz: We all know by now that a microfiber cloth is the best thing for cleaning smudgy camera lenses (or LCD screens, or viewfinder eyepieces, or binoculars, or eyeglasses). The problem is our tendency to keep these cloths precisely in the wrong place -- e.g., in the sunglasses case in the glove compartment when we're in the woods shooting. A clever answer comes from Alpine Innovations: Spudz microfiber cloths, permanently attached to their own tiny pouches. They're so small and light that you can get a bunch and keep them attached to camera straps, belt loops, even keychains. Senior Editor Pete Kolonia says they stay clean longer than other microfiber cloths, and that's a pretty good recommendation coming from Ol' Greasy Thumb himself. The Standard Spudz, 6x6 inches, is available for about $5 at many photo retailers. The XL Spudz, 10x10 inches, comes in a variety of colors ($10, street) and 18 percent neutral gray ($14, street). For info: www.alpineproducts.com.

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