{Photography} It’s All About The Meter ~ How To Use Your DSLR’s Meter

Ready to really use your DSLR in full manual mode?  I am going to show you how to use your camera’s meter. Does just reading those words make you anxious? Well, relax already!! This is about having fun and no one will be getting graded! Like I’ve been telling you, I am not a professional but I did have to learn how to use my camera so that I could take pictures for my blog posts. The part of my camera that finally made it easy is the meter!

(Sorry I’m sure you are sick of this picture but it helps to see what parts of the camera I’m talking about)
So, how does the meter work? The meter has lines on it that span from + (plus) to – (minus) with a 0 (zero) in the middle.  When the lines are to the + (plus) side, the picture has more light and when the lines are to the – (minus) side the picture has less light.  By changing the aperture or shutter speed, these lines will move more toward the + or -.

The meter is also visible through the viewfinder (at the bottom) so I can make adjustments while the camera is up to my eye.

1} I start out by setting the aperture to what I want (remember:  small number ~ small focus area or big number ~ big focus area).  I love a small focus area and since I am going to be taking pictures of some tulips I want the background fuzzy…so I set the aperture to 4.5/f by turning the Front Dial.
2} Next, I look through the viewfinder and press the shutter-release button halfway to focus on the subject (I need to do a whole different post on this focusing business) until I hear a beep.  The little rectangle labeled “Focal Point” in the picture above is where the camera will focus.
3} Now, looking at the lines on the meter, I move the Rear Dial to the right —-> to make the lines move away from the + (plus) and toward the – (minus) making the picture darker.  In the picture above, you can see 1 line to the left of the 0 (zero) toward the + (plus).  Quite often you want the lines to be at 0 (zero) meaning no lines to the left or right and that is what aperture priority does for you.  You choose the aperture and the camera will set the meter to that 0 (zero) for you BUT this isn’t always the best choice!Clear as a Minnesota lake in August?  I can hear you going SAY WHAT??  So, I will give you some examples because a picture is worth about a million of my words.

In the picture above, I am still at an aperture setting of 4.5/f but there are lots of lines going toward the + (plus) on the meter and the picture is overexposed (too much light).  To get back toward the zero, I would turn the Rear Dial to the right.  My thumb can turn that dial when I am looking through the viewfinder.

This picture has too many lines toward the – (minus) and the picture is underexposed (too dark).  To get back toward the zero, I would turn the Rear Dial to the left.

This picture is has no lines or the meter is at the 0 (zero).  This is where aperture priority would put you but to me the picture is still too dark.

So, I turned the Rear Dial a bit to the left making the lines go toward the + (plus) making the picture a bit brighter.  That is exactly why I don’t use the aperture priority setting but control it myself.  The reason this happens is that, depending on where I set the focal point, the camera will do the settings there.  Look at how bright the yellow tulip is and how dark the purple tulip is.  The inside of the purple tulip is black and if I wanted it to show, I would have to move way toward the + (plus).  The inside would show up and the rest of the tulips (especially the yellow one) would become overexposed but it would probably look neat.  It was starting to rain when I took these so I didn’t mess around anymore. :)

To sum it up:

Set aperture & adjust meter to zero!

Then, check the picture preview on your camera and adjust a little more if necessary!  I REALLY hope you try it because it is so easy!  You don’t even have to understand the why!  Just know:

Plus means brighter & minus means darker!

I almost forgot to add that you can do this same technique when setting the shutter speed first.  Just set the shutter speed to where you want it (Rear Dial) and then adjust the meter using the Front Dial to get it to 0 (zero).

Please let me know if you have any questions! You can check out my other photography posts here.

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  1. GabbysMama says:

    This was very helpful. Thank you!

  2. I just started doing this because my new camera overexposes. Thanks for the examples.

  3. I will play around with this today, been out taking pictures, totally adjusting the aperature but getting nothing blurred. I need to take it slower and work with the meter too!

  4. need to try this! i always feel like my photos are too dark even when i change the aperature and shutter speed…didn’t think about trying the meter too!

  5. I need one of these cameras…but every time I start saving up, I end up spending the money on a trip somewhere instead! :(

  6. Great tutorial.. I already use my meter, but you explained it so well.. I must pin it for future reference!

  7. So helpful … thanks, Tonia!

  8. I couldn’t do it without the meter! Although I like my pics best when the meter is +1!

  9. Wow, Tonia. You actually made that sound easy. I think I might be ready to give it a go. I’ve been so frightened by the words “manual” and “camera” in the same sentence! LOL

    Anne xx

  10. I’m going to have to get my camera out & play around with it while reading this post. Great tips here! I love the photography posts that you do!

  11. Ok, I think I followed this… :) I need to play around a bit in manual for sure. I just bought a 50mm lens and am really loving it!

  12. I have a wimpy little camera but once I buy me a better one I am coming back to check out all of your tips. As always your pictures are just stunning!

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