The very nature of great street photography tends to throw off the camera’s in built metering system making it difficult to get the correct exposure reading for the perfect street portraits.
While the Sunny 16 rule hold in many situations, you would still need to learn from experience so that you get the correct exposure metering every time. This article describes some of the tips to help you adjust your camera’s settings for the correct exposure metering.
Exposure Metering for Great Street Photography
The images used here are strictly for explanation purposes. They are displayed as they were shot without any digital manipulation. The subject in these street photos is Amanda from New York City.
In the above photo, the background is complex with wide tonal variation. In this example, the photo was done with spot metering on the subject’s skin, throwing off the meter by a half a point under the correct exposure. In the photo below, the spot meter was set to the background painting, leading to an over exposed image.
Given the surrounding tonal range, the over exposure washed off all the details from the background as well as the subject’s skin.
5 Tips for Correct Exposure Metering
- camera’s meter on 18% grey. If you are metering on anything close to that, the final photo would be very close to having the correct exposure
- when you are metering on skin tones, adjust + or – about half or 1 stop depending on the subject’s skin tones to get a fairly accurate final exposure
- meter on a wider sample and use a fill flash to adjust for the darker shades
- if the scene is too complex, use a Grey Card (you could buy them at the local photo stores) or any standard exposure card & lock your exposure when you compose the street portrait
- when the background is unevenly lit, a typical scenario on a bring sunny day, using a 2x gradual ND filter for color shots, or using any 2x gradual color filter for black & white shot, would balance out your subject against the background for the right spot metered exposure on the subject
I usually keep a grey card taped on the inside of my street photography camera bag & use it when I think that the scene is likely to throw off the exposure by over a stop.