Arthur Morris' Metering System Field Guide

Discussion in 'Nature' started by shuncheung, May 1, 2002.

  1. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    A little more than a week ago, there was an earlier thread on Arthur Morris' Pocket Field Guide to Evaluative Metering Systems. Quite a few people recommended it. I went to Artie's web site and saw an images of the guide. I really liked those examples and decided to order one. I sent him a check and it only took a one-week around trip (California to Florida and back) for the guide to arrive. Unfortunately, the earlier thread had drifted into a flame war and was removed. So I am posting my own review here. Obviously you are entitled to your opinions on everything, but please post constructive follow ups only (it can be positive, neutral or negative). Flames will be deleted.
    On one side of the card, there is a short description of tonality, subject tonality vs. background tonality, sun in or out, and size of the subject, etc. On the other side of the card there are 60 samll images on different situations: dark vs. white birds, dark vs. light (sky vs. water vs. tree) backgrounds, etc. etc., and the amount of exposure compensation Artie recommends under those conditions. The focus is clearly on bird photography. He also correctly points out that these values are approximates; it varies a bit depending on one's personal preference, film type, etc.
    Exposure is a very basic yet difficult issue in nature photography. I think this Guide would be very helpful for beginners to intermediate nature photographers as it explains the basics with a lot of good examples. In my case, I understand these issues quite well already. In difficult lighting conditions, I prefer to use a spot-meter reading on the subject and compensate from there, as that method has worked very well for me over the years. However, in some situations that it is hard to use a spot meter, such as birds in flight, Artie's method seems to be easier to apply.
    In the earlier thread, several Canon EOS users and some Nikon F4 users have indicated that Artie's "exposure compensation over evaluative (matrix) metering" system works very well for them. However, my concern is that the more sophisticated RGB matrix meters are supposed to be able to automatically compensate in some (but clearly not all) difficult lighting conditions. If one applies Artie's system, there is the risk of double (or over) compensation. If one uses one of those cameras, I would start with a center-weighted meter reading and then apply Artie's system; I think it is safer that way. In my case, I don't think I'll need to change what has worked for me for a long time, but Artie's guide is useful to verify exposure, and I may incorporate it in some situations.
    Arthur Morris is clearly one of the best bird photographer today, but he also seems to be a very focused person. His Field Guide is heavily geared towards bird photography. For those who are also into landscape photography, there is no discussion on graduated neutral-density filters, for example. There is a short description of Fuji slide films. Fuji slide films happen to be my choice of films too, but my observation is that I simply don't see Artie talk about his experience with other brands of film, other brands of cameras, and other camera formats, other subjects (besides birds) etc. Again, just my observation, this is not a criticism.
  2. Shun,
    It is focused on birds, and I think that's the point. The concepts of the system could be translated for other subjects, but I don't think that's the idea. The proper exposure for a bird (or other wildlife photo) can change quickly. Using evaluative metering, in the same light shooting the same bird you will often get different readings depending on whether the composition gives a light blue sky background, or a dark green foliage background, to give one example. Artie's system, as I understand it,is designed to give some workable principles to allow you to fine tune evaluative metering quickly on the fly (so to speak). I wouldn't use Artie's technique for a landscape where I had plenty of time to spot meter, and ruminate. I find it works well for me using a Canon EOS 3 for birds. I don't follow the field guide as a cookbook, but when I have questions for a particular exposure it's a good check point.
    If you do bird photography, I think the field guide is a pretty cheap source for a lot of knowledge accumulated through years of effort.
    As for application to other cameras and other films, I can't vouch for it, because I use the same system, and the same films. I would think the answer would be use it with your camera, and choice of film, and see how it works, and where the system might need further tuning, for your camera, film, style, and taste.
  3. Shun, et al,
    My impression was almost the same as yours. I actually thought a bit more informtion could have been included if not for the page that was used for an ad and the page used to tell all about Arty--why not some vignettes about the use of spot and center weighted metering instead. I could've suggested any number of useful things to include. A table of middle tone colors/gray card, etc. for example.

    Also, if one has time to consult the chart you've probably, usually, got time to spot meter and manually adjust the exposure. That isn't to say this isn't a technique that won't work for some. I'll probably lend this out and use it as a teaching tool during camera club field trips and such myself. But, practical application to an advance intermediate photographer is likely extremely limited.
  4. This is the same system mentioned in one of his books. I haven't seen the card but I think the chart is the same.

    Yes, the system is geared specifically for bird photography and it was developed using Canon cameras. As they say, other mileages may vary. Somewhere, I believe Art said the Nikon F5's evaluative metering system does offer better compensation but even it sometimes needs a little assistance. It's best to do your own personal tests before relying on anyone else's findings in any case. His system is a good place to begin personal experimenting.
  5. I just love this little pocket guide,but most of you know this
    already.I have been getting extremelly acurate exposures all the time
    now,using this exposure technique with my D-30/D-60 and EOS 3.Worth
    every penny.Best,
  6. The focus of the exposure guide is not just birds. If you have a bird in the viewfinder or a chipmunk, or a fox, or a flower the same theories apply though it is not really for scenics. It is for any photography that has these two elements: a subject and a background. I have memorized Artie’s system of exposure compensation over the years and if I had this guide back in the beginning I would have had a much easier time of it. It’s simply a great study tool for using evaluative metering, one that has not been available in any form until now. Regarding the comments on using the guide in the field, yes it takes time but the main benefit of the card in many people’s view is as a study guide that you can look at and learn before going out in the field. IMO $20 is a small price to pay for the many years of trial and error it took to develop the system of compensation. Also, regarding the comment about using center weighted average metering with the guide; that is not recommended because center weighted average requires more compensation in many cases, so adjustments need to be made. The guide does cover the F5 and simply states that less compensation is needed with RGB metering so some adjustments need to be made to the system for these cameras, especially during overcast conditions. I highly recommend this guide to anyone who wants to better understand the evaluative metering system, but also feel it is important to have a well rounded knowledge of exposure theory using various methods and tools. Understanding exposure as a whole is your best bet to successful imagery.
  7. As I've said before, evaluative metering is very hard to second guess, mailnly because you don't know how it has arrived at it's exposure and every camera is different since they all use different metering patterns and metering algorithms. Judging from comments from the users of Art's guide though, these differences must be small, at least for the cameras that Art has evaluated.

    It would probably be quite instructive - and a valuable learning experience - to meter a number of different scenes using spot metering, evaluative metering and compensated evaluative metering and see how the exposure values compare. It would also be interesting to compare evaluative metering results between an F5 and an EOS-1v to see just how much difference there is. Since I own neither camara, I'm not in a position to do it myself!
  8. I weigh in along the lines of Bob's thinking. It is difficult to "second guess" evaluative metering. In spot metering, you'd know to, say, open up between 1.5-2 stops when exposing snow or sand or to decrease exposure if you're metering off a dark brown bison. With evaluative metering it's a movable feast, especially when there is something with both extremes in the scene, i.e., dark bison on white snow. One nice aspect of the D30 is the ability to get some type of visual corroboration and then adjust accordingly. I find that when I have an "iffy" evaluative situation, I will go to partial/spot or else bracket. BTW, for bird photography, evaluative seems to do the trick most of the time, at least with Canon, unless you are in a real hairy contrast or light situation. Even then, the necessary bracketing is usually not profound.
  9. Yes, most modern evaluative metering systems are very similar in results, Canon, Nikon whatever (excluding RGB) and most work much better in full sun than in any other light. The point is that it’s a “guide” and every camera’s meter is going to be slightly different so minor adjustments may have to be made to the system. Of course we don’t know exactly what the evaluative meter is doing, but it is “predictable” for those who know how to read a scene. The Pocket Guide to Evaluative metering is designed to teach you just that and I think when studied and applied it does a very good job of it. Results may vary, but it will help you to know your cameras evaluative meter and to predict what it will do in a certain situation or lighting condition, and practice is required anyway, we all know that.
  10. Just a simple example: white egret, against dark green foliage in less than full sun. Evaluative metering is going to overexpose this and blow out the egret's feathers everytime. As Greg says the evaluative metering system behaves in certain predictable ways in given situations. This is one where it needs minus compensation. So in this case you can do more than guess what evaluative metering will do. As I side note,I did see that Greg has a photo credit on the product shoot for the field guide on Artie's website. Either Greg truly believes in the product, or his royality depends on sales. (Just kidding Greg, I paid my $20 for the guide and like it.)
  11. "Evaluative metering is going to overexpose this and blow out the egret's feathers everytime"
    Exactly. That's why you spot meter it and place it 1.5 to 2 stops over the camera (18% grey) reading (depending on just how much detail you want in the plumage). You can open up from the evaluative reading of course, but the problem is how do you know how much (if any) compensation the evaluative metering algorithm has already used? You can guess based on previous experience (or Art's previous experience!), but you never really know. It would depend on the relative size of the subject (Egret) compared to the rest of the frame and the compensation any particular evaluative metering system gave to a white object of that size and relative brightness at the position the Egret occupies. That's a lot of variables to try to guestimate!
    Still, if it works, it works.
  12. Jeez, it is ironic that the original thread, which contained numerous glowing responses, gets deleted (because of the actions of one person)and is now replaced by the mostly lukewarm comments above. My objections to spot-metering for birds and much wildlife photography are outlined concisely in "The Art of Bird Photography" so I shall not repeat them here. Let's look at the "brilliant white bird" problem above. With nearly all evaluative meters (including the vaunted Nikon f-5's RGB Color Matrix Metering), getting the correct exposure for a brilliant white subject, medium to 3/4 of the frame in full sun (and including head and shoulder's portraits), with middle or middle-dark backgrounds, getting the right exposure is simply a matter of dialing in -1/3 or -1/2 stop of exposure compensation. This simple system works perfectly 99% of the time. There is no "guessing" involved. In soft light, or on cloudy days, you use the evaluative meter reading at zero. Fast, simple, and accurate.
    Greg Downing states above, "but also feel that it is important to have a well rounded knowledge of exposure theory using various methods and tools." Here he is paraphrasing from "The Art of Bird Photography" (so obviously I agree completely...) Greg does not receive a cent from the sales of the pocket guide. If you ask him, he will tell you that he has learned 99% of what he knows about bird photography from me. And he has worked very hard and is extremely talented. In spite of it's title, the pocket guide is recommended more as a study guide than as something to use "in the field." BTW, I have always recommended setting the exposure manually in situations where the background is changing constantly but the light falling on the subject is the same. The best example here would be a gull on a rock with occasional breaking waves in the background...

    If all those spot-metering fans wish to keep their heads in the sand and waste time spot metering, adding light, and then setting both the aperture and the shutter speed manually, that is more than fine with me.

    Best and great picture making to all, Arthur Morris
  13. "Thou shalt know thy metering system." If not a commandment, it is surely a key to success. Evaluative metering is pretty durn good, but it isn't perfect. What Artie has done in his pocket guide, and which many of us have done by shooting a lot of film and taking notes, is essentially reverse engineer the evaluative metering algorithm.

    You can spot meter and adjust, you can read the palm of your hand, you can pull out the incident meter and then calculate in your head the compensation for the polarizer and the 81A....whatever works for you. The point is that once you understand how the evaluative metering system works, a little turn of the quick control dial will get you a perfectly predictable exposure. If your subject tends to not sit still for long, this ability to get the exposure set quickly is no small thing. You'll also notice that many of the needed compensations are in the 1/3 - 1/2 stop range, which is a testament to how well the evaluative meter does on its own. And many of those fractional stop compensations are to preserve fine detail in subjects that are almost pure white or pure black.

    Artie's guide is dirt cheap at $20 for all the testing and research that went into it. Plus, although oriented toward bird photography, the concepts are perfectly adaptable to landscape photography. Evaluate and understand the relative size and tone of the subject and background, and you will know what the evaluative meter will do.
  14. I fully agree with Bob on this issue. If it works it works, and contrary to some comments here, there are several ways to skin the cat. Personally, I use the method I find most effective for the situation at hand and I don't believe that qualifies for burying my head into the sand. I have done what Bob suggests; comparing matrix metering with other metering methods and thereby get to know how the matrix system reacts under various condition. You don’t have to waste film on such a project; just compare the results with a metering method you know intimately and can predict. Perhaps Arthur Morris book can help during such a learning process provided your matrix meter behaves similar to his. And yes, Morris is right that matrix systems are usually not that much off.
    As for wasting time; believe it or not but on some camera bodies setting manual exposure is just as fast as setting compensation. Dial in manual exposure is same job as dialing in compensation on my camera so no method is faster than another. Dialing in compensation is the same operation regardless of what metering method you happen to prefer.
    Again, there are several ways to do this and the end result is the most important aspect not how you got there. Whats fastest and/or most convenient are defined by personal preferences and the ergonomics of your camera.
  15. I think part of the disagreement here may be the subject matter people usually shoot. When I first got interested in outdoor photography I shot lots of landscapes, and some deer. Both of these tend to work well with spot metering. (landscapes you have time, and deer are large, and pretty close to nuetral tone.) When I moved to Florida and started shooting birds, it became apparent to me that with all the constraints of doing birds that spot metering was rarely a good option. I took one of Artie's instructional tours, and learned (am still learning) how to apply his system. The percentage of my photos that are well exposed has increased. For me that's what matters.
  16. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    First of all, I think Artie's metering guide is very well done, and I can recommend it to anybody without any reservation. You can't go that wrong for $20 anyway.

    I don't mean to sound offensive, but the reaction to any "how to" photography books highly depends on the individuals. In the earlier thread, some of those who responded very favorably are apparently more the intermediate type. They find Artie's guide extremely useful because these photographers had a lot of trouble with exposure before. If the glowing reviews is what Artie's is looking for, you need to talk to those people. The more experienced photographers have pretty much figured out exposure a long time ago. While Artie's guide is good, it is not adding a lot of new skills or solving any new problems to them. Some 15 or so years ago I bought John Shaw's first book on nature photography and I learned a lot from it. A year ago I bought his latest, which is at least as good if not better, but to me it is not exciting reading any more, as most of the information is more like common sense in nature photography to me now. Not to mention that there is a lot of overlap among Shaw's books.

    As we pointed out before, there are many ways to come up with the right exposure. If I have time, I frequently use multiple techniques just to see whether I get the same reading. Artie's method is one more tool I can use. I bought my first SLR back in 1972; that was 30 years ago. To me, exposure hasn't been a problem for a long long time. However, for beginners, Artie's guide is certainly a good way to get started.
  17. I have Mr. Morris' Guide to Evaluative Metering Systems, and for me it's a great learning tool. I had been focusing on spot metering, but after seeing examples of what evaluative metering does, I can more readily recognize the situations that call for using evaluative metering. If I lost my copy, I'd buy another in an instant.
  18. getting the correct exposure for a brilliant white subject, medium to 3/4 of the frame in full sun (and including head and shoulder's portraits), with middle or middle-dark backgrounds, getting the right exposure is simply a matter of dialing in -1/3 or -1/2 stop of exposure compensation. This simple system works perfectly 99% of the time
    I'm sure it does, but so does spot metering the subject (or even partial metering if it fills most of the frame) and dialing in 1.5 to 2 stops of exposure compensation depending on your particular exposure preference and the film you are using. I don't see the difference, except for the fact that you KNOW what the spot meter is doing (and it doesn't care what the background is) and you can only guess (even though it may often be a good guess) at what the evaluative metering is doing. With spot metering you don't need to remember any rules about subject size and background brightness or refer to a reference. You get exactly what you want. The only thing is you have to know what you want to be a highlight, midtone and/or shadow and what is most important.
    The problem with compensating for brilliant white subjects in full sunlight is that not only is the evaluative metering system basing the exposure on some algorithm which takes into account the brightness of various parts of the scene, but it's also reducing exposure by some degree based on EV values above a mid tones object in bright sun (EV), again using some sort of unknown (or at least unspecified) algorithm.
    For example, testing shows that the A2E dials in +0.25 at EV14, +0.7 at EV15 and +1.25 at EV16 in some modes which use evaluative metering, but doesn't dial in anything in others. I'm sure other cameras and other manufacturers use different values.
    Please don't take this as a negative comment. Anything that can help photographers find a way that they can use to get accurate exposure is a good thing. Whatever works works. Despite the theoretical pitfalls of applying exposure compensation to evaluative metering systems, in practice most users seem to find it works for them, and that's all that counts in the end.
  19. I just got this guide. I do more of macro and this year plan to do flowers and hence I thought I'll try this guide. This is not a guide for someone who wants to learn metering(though just following it may result in good pictures). I have had frustrations in certain situations where I have seen the spot meter reading swing at extremes like 1/30 to 1/1000 typically shooting a swan in a bright blue water background. These are situations that happen in the field and the guide provides baseline values for eval metering. I think 20 dollars is dirt cheap to pay for someone's years of experience documenting various light conditions and exposure values. Going by this approach it doesn't matter if u have a canon or nikon when u have some base numbers to start. U can fine tune u'r best exposure. Well, thats my plan when I go shooting macro with flowers. Just FYI ..the guide also had pictures(and exposures) of landscape, mammals, flowers and even a gorrilla.
  20. I've been spot metering for some 20 years and don't see what is so difficult about it. When I'm photographing birds, I usually set the shutter speed to a fixed value and make quick aperture adjustments on the fly. Is the aperture ring harder to turn than the exposure compensation ring? On my camera it's easier to change the aperture. I'm aware of when lighting conditions change, so I normally don't even need to take a new reading for each shot, and my exposures are pretty accurate using slide film.
  21. Shun Cheung states "In the earlier thread, some of those who responded very favorably are apparently more the intermediate type. They find Artie's guide extremely useful because these photographers had a lot of trouble with exposure before. If the glowing reviews is what Artie's is looking for, you need to talk to those people. The more experienced photographers have pretty much figured out exposure a long time ago." As one of those who provided "glowing comments" in the earlier thread, I disagree with the statement. I think anyone who read the earlier thread realized that there were many photographers with varying levels of experience who had tried the system and were pleased with the results. A number of the responders, such as myself, tried the system after using spot metering for years. And the key point is not that the technique is necessarily more accurate, but that it is faster. I think those that are criticizing the technique have not actually tried it. That fact probably has as much to do with the differing opinions as anything.

  22. Phillip Greenspun (a very nice person,by the way, and far from beeing arrogant
    Hey, I'm a big fan of Philip's, but I think even he would call himself arrogant ;-).
    In any event, I am writing to this thread to reiterate my deleted comment from the old thread. I was quite experienced with spot/centerweight metering before trying Artie's system, but he converted me. I realize it seems a little wacky to compensate from an evaluative meter, and I was hesitant to try it out at first. But there's no question that it works for me and it doesn't take long to become second-nature. I generally find it to be a quicker method for wildlife. If spot metering is faster for others, so be it. As Bob and Gary said, use what works!
    FWIW, as much as I like Artie, I think his system might confuse photographers first learning about exposure. I'd recommend total newbies learn centerweight metering and the basics of exposure before trying Artie's system. But for photographers who understand how to get the right exposure, IMO Artie's system is well worth trying to see if you find it an even faster way to go. I have no doubt the Field Guide is worth the twenty bucks.
  23. Well I wondered where the original thread went to. I supspected that it became flame ridden, but I hoped it hadn't. Personally I don't like it when threads are deleted. I would prefer that sections that are clearly offensive are removed and the rest left. Any way I will take my time again to say what I said before. I have used spot metering for many years for landscapes and will continue to do so. It gives extensive control, allows me to previsualise what the results will look like on film, and I find it the easy way to work with ND grads. When I started photographing birds I used spot metering with good results, but I was intrigued by Art's sytem (eventhough I don't agree with all of his observations of the problems with spot metering). I ordered Art's guide and would recommend it. It is a great starting point for undertsanding your own camera's matrix metering system. For me I feel that compensating from the matrix reading is the ideal for photographing birds, especially because compensation is so easy with my F100. Overall I think that it is good to have an understanding of a range of methods to obtain the desired exposure and Art covers them all in his book. Exposure is just one part of obtaining good bird images and I am prepared to remain open minded about which is the "best" and when. If something better/different comes along then I will look into that I am always prepared to learn.
  24. I was the poster of the original thread. Yes, it turned quite ugly, but I want to thank all of you who posted helpful responses; There were many. Second, I consider myself an intermediate photographer, and while I feel that I have a pretty good handle on center-weighted metering, (I've been unsing an old ae-1,) matrix/evaluative metering is new to me; I'm sure there will be a learning curve, and Art's guide has helped me get a jump start on that curve, and helped me salvage some photos that I would have otherwise missed. Finally, I just wanted to mention that I ordered it through his website using pay-pal, and it showed up just 2 days later! Amazing!
  25. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Exposure compensation is an important fundamental technique. Before the late 1980's, even high-end SLRs didn't have built-in spot meters. Therefore, compensation based on usually a center-weighted meter reading was pretty much the only way to go for a lot of wildlife shots. I still recall reading about a hand-held Minolta 1-degree spot meter and I thought it would so nice to have one of those. Finally, in 1990, I was delighted when my then brand new Nikon F4 had a built-in spot meter. Therefore, abandoning the spot meter and going back to compensating an overall reading is essentially recovering some older techniques.

    About 10 years ago I bought a video tape by John Shaw on metering. Shaw gives a very thorough discussion about how the meter attempts to turn everything into medium tone, but I think the best part of the video is that he provided a lot of examples and discussions. IMO, that is an excellent way (if not the best way) to learn about exposure and compensation. Artie's guide also provides a lot of (namely 60) examples and that is why I think it is very useful as well. After a while, compensation should become second nature.
  26. What Shun says is mostly true, though the nostalgia buff in me must point out that the Canon New F-1 had a spot metering option in 1980 (the metering pattern was selectable via changing the screens), and the original Canon F-1 had a "fat spot" meter going back to 1970. There were probably others too.

    Oddly enough, I don't think the Pentax "Spotmatic" series ever had a spot meter...
  27. the best approach is to not rely on any system dependencies, but to understand the fundamentals of exposure and compensate accordingly. I suppose if you only use Canon 35mm and plan to do so for the rest of your days, then the investment in Canon arcanum might be worthwhile. migrate to large-format, medium-format, the new Contax, or handheld Sekonic and you suddenly feel uncomfortably unsure. learn the basics, apply it, and enjoy the consistent results.

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