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Metering for Landscape Photography

Metering for Landscape Photography

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Metering for optimal exposure is crucial in all forms of photography, but especially so for landscape and cityscape applications. When you’re shooting outside during the day, you’ve got to deal with the sun and the sky, which of course can be extremely bright, and you may also have very dark shadows relative to the sky within the same frame. This can create an extremely wide dynamic range that can be tricky to expose for, especially when shooting backlit scenes facing the sun.

Photographs © Jason Tables 2021

Before I go on, I’d just like to say that I’m a subscriber to the belief that there is no such thing as “correct” exposure in landscape or any other form of creative photography. Each photographer has their own vision of how a scene should look, and depending on what you’re going for, you may feel that you need to break the “rules” of proper exposure.

However, you should know the rules before you break them, because opening up an image that you’re excited about in Adobe Lightroom or Camera RAW and realizing that you’ve unintentionally clipped the highlights or shadows is not a good feeling.

Clipping is essentially data loss due to an image either being too underexposed or too overexposed, meaning there is no detail or recoverable information in the shadows or highlights, respectively. Luckily, clipping can be avoided if you know which metering mode to use, and when, and how to read your camera’s histogram.

Reading the Histogram

The histogram is a graphical representation of all the tones in your image, and the brightness levels of those tones. In general, most cameras show an RGB histogram similar to the one shown above, which shows tone and brightness values for each color channel—red, green, and blue. The gray color represents the brightness levels of the image overall.

The horizontal axis represents all the tonal values in your image, from the darkest blacks on the left, to the brightest whites on the right. The vertical axis represents the number of pixels concentrated in each tonal range.

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