I just started experimenting with spot metering + exposure compensation. I'm wondering if it's possible to make adjustments during post processing to correct the metering. I'm pretty sure (correct me if I'm wrong) this is not the same as adjusting the exposure during post processing.

For example, I try to meter off of someone's face and find that it is a little washed out (overexposed). I then increase the shutter speed a bit and take the shot again, repeating the process until it looks like I got the metering right. Can I just adjust the exposure compensation after the fact? If so, what should I be looking for (in programs like Aperture and Lightroom)?

3 Answers 3


There's only one exposure level (ie: amount of light) per picture; spot metering just means that the "target" level is based off of a particular area rather than the average of the whole frame (or some fancier means such as matrix).

Another means of setting the exposure level is through your manual controls (shutter, aperture, ISO). If you're changing your shutter and getting a new (non-washed-out) exposure level, then it sounds like this is what you're actually doing -- not spot metering. (If you were changing your shutter and still getting a similar exposure, then you'd probably be in aperture priority mode, and the camera would be compensating; this could still be using spot metering.) Note that you can base your exposure off the results of a spot meter, but the minute you change your dials you're effectively in manual mode.

You can change your effective exposure in post-processing, and get similar results as changing it in-camera. Of course, the results may not be exactly the same: shutter speed will change your blur; aperture will change your depth of field, ISO will change your noise, post-processing could introduce all sorts of artifacts.

The nice thing about post-processing programs is that they will let you selectively adjust exposure. You could change just part of your image area, or you could change the contrast, or change the brightness of one particular color. And, of course, you could undo and redo your changes without taking a new picture.

Lastly: note that if you overexpose your shot in-camera too much, you'll "blow out" the brighter part of your exposure and lose detail. This is difficult-to-impossible to fix in post production. It's also particularly a problem with digital imaging; film works differently in this respect. Most higher-end digicams will have a "blinking highlight" function that will show you when & where you've done this.

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    I think we agree except for one point: I think the whole reason spot metering is useful is because you can "base your exposure off the results of a spot meter". Do you ever find spot metering useful in a priority mode?
    – Tom
    Jan 20, 2011 at 14:09
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    It's definitely useful, because a priority mode and spot metering solve two different problems. Priority metering is most useful when there's large differences in brightness between the subject and the background. Priority modes are useful when you want to control motion blur (shutter) or depth of field (aperture). There's no reason you can't mix and match these scenarios. Jan 20, 2011 at 15:29
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    Lastly, you can certainly intentionally under or overexpose in any situation: manual, priority, spot metering, or otherwise. Exposure compensation is the tool to use in most modes; in manual it's left entirely under your control. Jan 20, 2011 at 15:30
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    As I understand it, an exposure-mode like "manual mode" is not about making a meter reading it's about how you or the camera prioritise aperture, speed and ISO to control the exposure as a result of that meter reading. Metering-modes like spot-metering, centre-weighted metering, matrix-metering, etc only† control which areas in the viewfinder are used in the algorithm that arrives at a meter reading. Metering-modes and exposure-modes are somewhat orthogonal. †mainly Jan 20, 2011 at 18:25
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    RedGrittyBrick, that's pretty much correct. The only addition I'd make to that is that you can take a metering (of any variety) in manual mode (or, for that matter, with a standalone light meter). Connecting the meter reading to the exposure control is then handled by you, rather than by the camera. The meter reading is a "suggestion" for what exposure settings you should pick, but it's really up to you. Jan 20, 2011 at 18:54

If you're shooting RAW, you may have a little (or alot on some newer sensors) of wiggle room with your exposure. But, how your camera metered to measure the light to expose the scene in camera doesn't mean ANYTHING after you take the picture. Spot metering is just how the light meter in your camera thinks it needs to expose the current scene (and for spot in particular, just the specific, very small place you indicate). You can check the exposure of your scene after the shot by reading the histogram and your camera may have an option for blinking blown highlights (way over exposure and unlikely to be recovered).

Fixing this is just the "normal" exposure adjustment during post processing. While you may have some wiggle room when shooting RAW, its always better to get it right in camera. You can darken and lighten the exposure in post with Lightroom using the "Exposure" slider for the whole picture, or selectively in areas by using the "adjustment brush". Adjusting too much this way is likely to lead to ill results though, such as artifacts or loss of contrast.

  • Wow, I feel silly. I definitely misunderstood what metering was for. For some reason (probably because of the way it was explained to me) I was under the impression that it affected other characteristics of the color in the photo. I was getting confused because it seems like the color of the "spot" changes the way the picture looks. For example, with gray I need to use a "proper exposure" whereas with black I need to stop down the exposure. I realize this just has to do with the amount of the light the camera is throwing at that spot. Is that right? I need to read more about histograms too.
    – Tom
    Jan 20, 2011 at 13:59
  • Do you have any suggestions for how I can make this a better question for the community? It's a bit misleading right now since I didn't understand metering.
    – Tom
    Jan 20, 2011 at 14:00
  • You're not wrong. Metering does indeed affect the "color" (both luminosity, and, to a lesser extent, saturation) of your picture, though perhaps less directly than you're thinking. Metering attempts to set the luminosity (brightness) to a "correct" (balanced) value: typically what's known as "18% gray. With spot metering, the camera only considers a tiny area, as opposed to averaging the entire picture. If you spot meter a black surface, the camera will increase the exposure so that it becomes middle-gray... possibly overexposing everything else. Jan 20, 2011 at 15:36
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    I wouldn't change the question, I think its useful as it sits, just maybe not as you intended.
    – rfusca
    Jan 20, 2011 at 15:39
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    Craig is right, your camera is still doing the "right" thing, exposing for where you point it. It just considers only a very small area and exposes that to grey. As the amount of light entering affects your colors to a certain extent, it changes EVERYTHING. It sounds like you just need to learn how to spot meter in general. That may be a question worth asking on here separately.
    – rfusca
    Jan 20, 2011 at 15:41

No, that's not possible. The exposure compensation affects how the exposure is measured, so it's applied before the image is taken, not afterwards.

You can adjust the image to a certain degree to make it appear correctly exposed, but that means that you are losing something else. If the image is too burnt out, you lose details in bright areas. If it's too dark, you will get a lot of noise when making it lighter.

I'm pretty sure (correct me if I'm wrong) this is not the same as adjusting the exposure during post processing.

Sorry, you are wrong. Although the information about the exposure compensation is recorded in the meta data, it's not used in post processing. There is no separate setting for exposure compensation in the post processing, you use the regular setting for exposure (which of course doesn't actually change the exposure, but adjusts the image to get the same lightness as an exposure change would have given).

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