Cloudy Sky Metering Tip


"Lady and the Palace" by D. Travis North

Earlier in the week, we spoke about metering off of a sunny blue sky.  But what about when it’s a cloudy sky?  You can meter off of a cloudy sky too.  There’s only one catch – spot and center weighted metering is going to make your life miserable.  So you’ll need to meter with matrix or evaluative metering.  Otherwise, you can meter just like you did with a sunny blue sky.

So lets go through the steps again with our little tweak for cloudy skies:

  1. Flip to Manual Mode – don’t be afraid, it’s painless. Manual mode is necessary so that your camera won’t try to alter the meter between shots. You’ll set it and forget it until you want a different aperture or enough time has passed that the light has changed.
  2. Set Metering Mode – you should be using matrix or evaluative metering.  Spot metering and center-weighted metering just will not work for cloudy skies.
  3. Set the Aperture – pick an aperture that is ideal for your subject. Be aware that if you want to change your aperture, you’ll need to adjust your settings: Just return to this step.
  4. Point to the Sky – point your camera to the sky to check your in-viewfinder meter. You’ll need to point away from the sun. Pick a point about half-way between the sun and the farthest horizon. This is especially important near sunrise and sunset.
  5. Adjust for Shutter Speed – With your camera pointed at the sky, adjust the shutter speed until your meter reads neutral. If you’re not used to manual mode, it’s simple enough – just increase or decrease your shutter speed until the indicator points to “0” at the center of the scale.
  6. Set it and Forget It – Now that you’re metering is set up, you need to forget all about metering until enough time has passed that the light has changed, or until you want to change the aperture setting. Do not trust your meter once pointed at the subject. Try as it might, your camera meter is not as trustworthy as the big blue sky.
  7. Reframe and Shoot – you can now shoot in any direction at any subject and the metering should be perfect. I cannot stress this enough: Do not change your settings until the light has changed or you want to change aperture. Don’t trust your meter, trust the sky.

And that’s it…just as simple as days filled with blue skies.  Just pay close attention to your sky.  Cloudy skies tend to change much more rapidly than blue skies.  So you may find yourself metering much more often.


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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