When we looked at how to meter using the usual suspects, we saw that out in open sunlight, spot metering on clear blue sky gives us well exposed mid-tones. For me, this works out really well when I shoot outdoors, especially when capturing landscapes in those non-golden hour times of the day.
Now that I’m doing more portrait work, however, with a key goal of keeping skin tones well exposed, things get a little tricky. As it turns out, for skin tones that lay somewhere along the midtones (middle gray in black and white), the solution is right in the palm of your hand. The next few sample shots demonstrate this approach.
The first sample used matrix metering in Aperture priority mode, to let the camera choose its own exposure.
At first glance, it looks like Matrix metering did a fairly good job. Upon closer examination, however, we can see that the reds are clipping (check out the histogram for yourself), seen here in the bright skin areas.
What if we use the spot-on-clear-blue-sky trick? The results aren’t great, now heavily clipping the reds.
Spot-metering on the palm of your hand, however, solves the problem. Though if you examine the histogram it will look like the highlights and the shadows are missing, the midtones are where they should be: in the middle.
Will this work if we step back into the shade?
The background may be blown now, but the skin tones are where we said we wanted them to be: in the middle. If you were to take a portrait under the same light of someone whose skin tones are approximately the same as the palm of your hand, their facial features would be well-exposed – not necessarily well-lit, but at least not blown or in deep shadows. Try this next time Matrix metering lets you down.