Spot focusing versus spot metering (and how use them)
There is no better motivation for an article than to clear up confusion. This is a topic that baffles my students all the time. It tends to rear its ugly head around about the time that students are starting to gain some sense of confidence and knowledge, and then the 'spots' get in front of their eyes and spoil everything. So let's clear the mud, and make some sense of spot focusing versus spot metering.
Spot focusing is taking your camera off auto-focus mode, and choosing just one of the focus dots that you can see in your viewfinder (the little red squares) and manually select which one will be prioritised as most important when the camera attempts to focus, prior to taking the image.
You will need to refer to your camera's manual to figure out how to activate spot focusing mode because each camera does it slightly differently.
Spot metering is activated by setting your camera on one of (usually) three metering modes. The other two options are evaluative metering (Canon) also called matrix metering (Nikon), and centre-weighted metering. Some Canon cameras also offer a fourth option called 'partial' metering.
Spot metering mode instructs your camera to meter from just one tiny area of your image and ignores any information from the rest of the frame (the 'spot' accounts for about 1.5% of your image). You will normally make the decision to use this mode when you are concerned that an important part of your image is likely to be rendered over or underexposed when default-metering is enabled.
The confusion lies in the fact that both spot metering and spot focusing use the same selection dot in the viewfinder to make their assessment and instigate their task.
This can work fine if the point that you want to focus on and the point that you want to meter from are identical. The confusion creeps in when you want to have different focus and metering points. How can you do that when you can only set one primary selection point in either 'spot' mode?
The answer is all about timing. First select spot metering. Then move your selection dot to the area that you would like to meter from, and set your exposure settings based on the metering results. Take note of the exposure settings and don't change them.
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Next, activate spot focusing. Then move your selection spot to the area that you would like to focus on in the viewfinder. Presuming you are still experiencing the same lighting as a moment ago when you selected your metering, you can ignore the change in suggested exposure settings, and treat the selection point as simply a focus selection dot now.
As long as you don't change your exposure settings during this process, the exposure will be based on the settings that you selected when your selection point was positioned over your preferred metering area and your focus point will be based upon the 2nd position that you have selected.
Has that cleared things up for you? If you have any questions or comments I'd be delighted to receive them below.
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Hi I'm Fran, a professional photographer and designer based on the Gold Coast in Australia. I’m a lifelong creative, passionate about producing drool-worthy images that provoke emotion and make you hungry!
My obsession is teaching others how to achieve the satisfaction of realising their creative vision too. I also love to produce high quality visual books (especially cook books) for my clients.