INTRO: We're going to "Shoot to the Right", STTR, which is NOT the same as ETTR, Expose (to the) Right or HAMSTTR (Histogram And Meter Settings To The Right). Those are other animals entirely.
Here's the short version of what you're going to do.
1. In the P, Av, or Tv mode, take a picture of a white piece of paper that fills at least 1/3 of the frame.
2. Put those settings in Manual mode. NOT M + Auto ISO. NOT M + Auto WB!
3. Look at your histogram. Is the peak all the way to the right side? (It shouldn't be, & is probably about in the middle.)
So adjust either your aperture or shutter speed & take another shot to get the peak to the right side. (That means slow down your shutter speed, or open up the lens aperture to a smaller #. About 3-4 clicks should do it.)
4. Then, without changing any settings, hold your hand in the same light that was on the white paper & look at it through the viewfinder. Where is the needle now? That's where you want it when you use your hand to find one possible exposure setting where you don't mind if some highly reflective highlights are blown out..
Note: Now you're done with steps 1-4. From now on you'll use your hand to get a good reading in about 5 seconds.
All you'll have to do is put your hand in the same light as the subject, adjust the camera to get the meter needle in the same spot as the test & use that for your exposure. This should be equivalent to an incident meter reading or a reflective reading from a gray card.
5. Why "one possible exposure" setting? Because you may want a different shutter speed or aperture or ISO for the particular situation that you're in. All you have to do is first set the f-stop OR shutter speed you need for the effect you want. Then the other parameter: f-stop or shutter speed. Then adjust the ISO.
And note that below I say, "In those situations, I use a white card, chimp it to the far right, & let some of the chrome blow out. This usually gives me good highlights in the body & a higher exposure that reduces noise."
There will be times when this "possible exposure" won't be right for the shot that you're taking, which is why we're given a better brain than the meter has?
There's a lot of words here, but don't let that stop you. I've tried to say the same things in slightly different ways in the hope that one of them will make sense to you. Simply put, all you are doing is finding a constant factor for your hand, & then using that same factor every time you meter your hand to get a good exposure.
Why do I recommend this method for beginners too? Because you do NOT need to consider metering mode, EC (Exposure Compensation), EV (Exposure Value), or the color/brightness of whatever you're shooting.
And the focus point that you've chosen will make a difference, too!
Evaluative does evaluate the entire image, and the meter biases rather strongly to the chosen focus point.
I suggest that you skim this once to get a general idea, & then re-read it & look at the links. And just to avoid confusion, let's call this "Shoot to the Right", as in exposing for a non-blown important white, which is entirely different from shooting RAW with Expose (to the) Right
If you don't understand the relationship between aperture & shutter speed, read this: Photography Made Simple: Aperature and Shutter Speed
You only need to be concerned with two things. Select the shutter speed OR aperture first that you need for the effect you want. Then set the other parameter: f-stop or shutter speed. Then see what ISO works with them.
Before you read all this, you probably wonder how well it works. I had about 15 seconds to set the exposure for these while I was walking toward the water: Sunset Egrets?
Could I have used Tv/Av or any other mode in the time I had & come up with these shots without losing everything in the dark areas? I don't think so. (For why, see post #47 a few lines below.)
Still not sure you're willing to try it?
EDIT: I've already done this for you here in Post #47
Your meter will give you a good average reading most of the time, but try this: In the dreaded "M" mode, point the camera at someone about 8' away & note where the needle is. Adjust the f-stop or shutter speed to center the needle.
Point the cam a bit higher up at the sky & note where the needle is.
Point the cam at your feet & note where the needle is.
Has the actual light changed? No! Some people like to use exposure compensation (EC) to correct for that. They might also calculate a factor for the metering mode that they have set and the color value of the subject.
So, they're compensating for the meters guestimation of what it's pointing at by guestimating an EC factor & maybe further guestimating another factor for the metering mode? Does this seem easy to you? They will tell you that it is easy for them, & it is, but they already know what compensations they need to make & what the results will be. Read these excellent threads & decide if you really want to get involved with that:
Comparisons of metering modes - an eye opener!
Understanding your camera’s built-in metering system
Gavin does great work. His workflow on setting the exposure: Q&A Session with Gmen: Sports Photography
I don't, and I want to give you something that works well in (almost) every situation, & doesn't require a lot of compensations for variables.
For me, it's easier to get the exposure correct at the beginning, shoot on "M", & forget about all those compensations. I do make some compensations in some cases where the subject is backlit & I want to hold the highlights too, but I'm talking about a consistent starting point for you here.
If you aren't comfortable using "M" for that example above, try using one of the other modes (Av, Tv, P, Green Box). You will see the exposure reading for f-stop or shutter speed in the viewfinder will change as the needle remains centered when you point the cam at various subjects. It will even change when you point it at the same subject.
Again, the camera thinks it needs to change the exposure that it's recommending, but the actual light on the subject 8' away has not changed?
STOP! If this isn't clear, goto post #47 ,on page 2.
Generally, your meter will give you a good average reading most of the time unless you have bright, reflective highlights in the frame like lights, or chrome, or water. A bright sky or white shirt does much the same thing. Then many people suggest that you use a gray or white card, or hand held meter to get a better reading.
In those situations, I use a white card, chimp it to the far right, & let some of the chrome blow out. This usually gives me good highlights in the body & a higher exposure that reduces noise.
Don’t have a gray or white card, or hand held meter with you? These “Film tricks” can help you out.
Just a side note that you don't have to read, but you might find something interesting in there regarding the difference when shooting a front lit subject & a backlit one:
You may be familiar with the “Sunny 16” rule for exposure. Simply, in bright sunlight, it’s exposure = a shutter speed of 1/ISO seconds @ f/16. There are compensations that you can make for overcast, cloudy, etc. conditions & generally it’s pretty close , but we can do better than that.
For more info, take a look at this:
Beyond Sunny-16 - Exposure by Guess and by Golly
If that link doesn't work, try this one.
There’s an easy way to get closer to the correct exposure by using the palm of your hand based on the fact that the palm doesn’t tan! So if you figure a compensation factor for your own hand, you’ll always have a substitute for a gray card/white card exposure, and it won't matter what metering mode you're in either. So we've eliminated another variable.
#1 is a white paper exposure exposed near the right at ISO 100, 1/100 sec @ f/4. I took shots of the white paper until the right side peak of the histogram almost touched the right side of frame.
( There are tiny little info bits at the bottom that you can't see in that histogram shot. Increasing one click pushed the LCD histogram beyond the right edge, so this is a compromise exposure. Note that my hand looks properly exposed.)
I repeated similar images in post #50 on page 2.
Maybe it will help.
#2 is an exposure taken after changing the settings in #1 so that the meter needle was centered. The meter reading that the camera wants, 1/100 sec. @ f/6.3, underexposed the shot, didn't it?
If I set the #1 exposure in the camera & look at where the needle is while the camera is pointing at my hand, mine shows overexposure (the needle is more than 1-stop to the right.) Remember where your needle is!
The difference between #1 (proper exposure) & #2 (what the meter thinks is correct.) is 1-1/3 stops, or 4 clicks, & is my personal “palm” compensation factor.
How I get the settings I want: First I set the f-stop & shutter speed I need. Then I adjust the ISO to get close to my 4 clicks higher meter reading. I might have to tweak the f-stop &/or shutter speed a click or so to fine tune the exposure.
So if I don’t have a gray or white card, I just take a reading of my palm in the light that’s hitting the subject, open up 4 clicks on the shutter or f-stop dial so the needle shows 4 clicks overexposed, and I’m done. Now I have the same exposure as if I repeated step #1 where I chimped the white subject to the right.
RE: open up 4 clicks on the shutter or f-stop dial
I wrote it that way so you could see the relationship between the paper reading & your new hand reading. What I really do since I've already set the f-stop & shutter speed that I want is bump the ISO up one level. That's the same as 3 clicks on the shutter speed or aperture dial. To get the extra click to make my 4 click total compensation, (the correct hand reading), then I adjust either the shutter speed or aperture, whichever I feel is less important.
Let me repeat the key part of the statement: "...in the light that’s hitting the subject" In other words, if you're in sunlight, & the subject is in the shade, I suggest that you turn so your hand is in the shade, too. Then take a shot & "chimp*" the histogram.
chimp* = Look at it to see where the right side falls.
And look at the "The Johnny Headband Band" link below.
Note on #1, just to save you some time: On "M" with long lenses, sometime my hand is too close to focus on it & the cam won't fire. Just focus on something else, hold the half-press of the shutter button to hold the focus setting, & move your hand into the frame being sure that it's still in the light hitting your target. Easy! (This won't work if you're in AI Servo, so turn the AF switch on the lens to manual.)
Usually, with cars & shooting white paper because I have it to take notes, I just drop it on the ground & shoot it.
Just another way of saying it, using a gray card (if you must)
1. Camera in "M" (manual mode): Set the f-stop & shutter speed you need. Meter a gray card & center the needle by adjusting the ISO.
2. Point the camera at your hand in the same light & see where the needle is.
3. If it shows +1 stop, then that's where you want it to be for your "hand" reading in other situations where you would use a gray card.
Then you can adjust that reading for shadows, etc.
Now someone is going to say that the subject is 100' away in different lighting, so how does this work then?
My solution is to zoom in on something white in the frame, without hot reflections from something else like a mic stand. Then I chimp that white to the right and, as always, shoot RAW & adjust the slight mis-exposures afterward.
Two examples of that method are here: JeffreyG, post #18 here
So I'll walk in, set the shutter speed I want (say 1/320) for wrestling, f/2, ISO1600 and take a shot. I like to shoot a kid in a white outfit like the example I posted so I can see if his uniform blows out.
Be sure to read the following posts, too.
I used a band member's white t-shirt here:
The Johnny Headband Band
And I used a ref's white shirt here for indoor v-ball when I planned to shoot action at the net.
Now I'm sure that someone will still want to use Tv & Av because they see it as easier because the light is/might be changing.
FIRST: Set your ISO one stop higher. Remembering how you did that, put the camera up to your eye & change it back again.
Do this 5 or 6 times. When you get used to it, it's pretty fast, isn't it?
SECOND: Holding your camera at your waist as if you're looking at a possible shot & the sun goes behind a cloud, start raising the cam to your eye & still without taking your eye off the subject, change to a 2X higher ISO. That's pretty fast too, isn't it?
I also have used Moppie's methodwhen the situation allows for it. I still take a reading from my hand & adjust the meter, then see where the needle falls when I point the cam at an area that will stand in for the hand reference (like green grass, a building - something in the frame that will be constant) & note where the needle falls. It is a bit faster.
Try it & tuck those in your bag for when you need them. They may come in handy sometime, and be sure to read the rest of this thread, too. There are a lot of useful additions posted later.
Like Post #76: How would I use this "White to the Right" method with flash?
If you've read everything this far, then you have almost eliminated all the complicated factors involved in getting a good exposure. It would work well shooting jpgs, but I still think you will get better results if you learn to shoot RAW.
When to begin shooting in RAW?
If you would like to learn more, read TMR Design's excellent thread, Understanding your camera’s built-in metering system
And then there's this, Joel Grimes on: "Can a perfect exposure be measured?"
More: Exposure metering for the bride & the bride’s dress using the histogram.
EDIT: Questions & answers
Right. Do it once & then you can forget the paper part, unless you want to use the paper for a Custom WB.
I carry it to make notes, & rarely use for WB. I shoot RAW, remember?
Paper will. The hand won't work for WB.
As long as the background is darker than the paper, it doesn't matter much. Filling the frame as much as possible will eliminate having tiny dots that are hard to see at the bottom-right of the histogram. Remember the white shirt on the v-ball Ref that I used in the gym?
And no, it's doesn't matter if either the hand or paper is in focus if you have a long telephoto lens on.
Remember, I'm working for important highlights here? The actual exposure for important highlights isn't going to change from a front lit shot to a backlit one, are they? 99% of the time I'm on "M" & if a cloud covers the sun, I'll adjust the ISO as explained above, but...
There have been times that I accidentally bumped the dial to Av or even Tv, so I cover myself by using the appropriate settings for those modes with EC. And as long as I'm doing that, I slant those settings toward a wide aperture in Av for fast jets (= a fast shutter speed) & a slow "prop job" shutter speed in Tv. If something unexpected happens & I don't have the time to adjust the M settings, I can just move the dial. The exposure may not be exactly correct, but it won't be off by much & I'm shooting RAW so I'm covered there, too.
I never know when the dial might get bumped, so I also do the same thing when I'm shooting other things, too. For instance, during the Dream Cruise I'm going to be shooting cars at various speeds & sometimes I've just shot a car at 2mph & a hole opens in traffic & the next one is going 40mph just two seconds later. It's not a case of a fast enough shutter speed as I'm usually trying to get a good blur shot, so the shutter speeds are critical to get the effect I want.
Sometimes things work out just the way I want them. Other times, mom & her minivan get in the way just as the shutter fires. Links to all the cruise threads are in: Dream Cruise at the Athens Coney Island
Finally, remember that we're calling this call this "Shoot to the Right", which is NOT the same as Expose (to the) Right.