Spot Meter vs Pattern for Better Control of Highlights

My default metering setting on all of my cameras is "pattern." Depending on the brand, this setting can be called evaluative, matrix, multi-segment, or some other label. What it means is that the camera is evaluating various parts of a scene, then analyzing the information to create an exposure. And most of the time, this works great.

But there are those scenes that require human intervention. For me, it's usually when there's an illuminated area, such as a band on light reflecting off this bed of nasturtium.

Nasturtium with Spot Meter Spot metering on the bright area allowed me to get the exposure I wanted.

I love it when I find these situations. Unfortunately, most of the time that bright area will be overexposed with pattern metering, as shown below.

Nasturtium with Evaluative Meter Pattern metering overexposed the brightest flowers.

Fortunately, the adjustment is simple. I switched to spot metering on my Canon 5D Mark II, then exposed for the brightest area. These two shots, with no exposure editing, show the differences in this metering approach.

If you like "getting it right" in the camera, keep this technique in your back pocket. It feels good to see the image on the LCD the way you pictured it in your mind.

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One very important follow up tip: If you do switch to spot meter for a particular shot, be sure to switch back to multi-segment before you turn off the camera. Otherwise, you might start shooting the next day in spot metering mode thinking that you're in your usual default. You can get some whacky exposures when in spot meter without realizing it.

Great tip.

Also, some cameras (such as my beloved Olympus E-PL1) allow you to have some sort of preset of settings that you can easily switch to and back.

On the E-PL1, you can set two different 'My Mode' presets, assign either the Fn button or the red video quick record button to temporarily use that mode while holding that button down.

You could set this up to switch to that metering mode (and presumably single point focus, and anything else that goes with it), take the shot you need, then let it go and have your previous settings kick straight back in.

I'm using the My Mode so I don't have to keep using the menus to switch settings back and forth between taking HDR and other shots.

Derrick, would be great to see some posts about customising your camera settings. I know the Olympus cameras have a ton of settings hidden in the background waiting to be tweaked!