What’s That Little Line Thingy?



If you listen to The Digi Show you heard Steph describe learning to shoot in manual mode. Did you hear her mention that little line thingy at the bottom of her viewfinder?

Yes. It has a name. And a lot of information.

Let me introduce you to your Internal Light Meter!

Yep. That’s it’s name. Reading light is its game.

It is always on. It reads the light reflected off of your subject, whatever subject you point it toward.

Pick up your camera and give it a try.

  1. Start by placing your camera in Manual Mode! (Leave your lens on Auto Focus. It’s M is something different).
  2. Point your lens toward different colors with different intensities of light, you’ll notice it bounce toward the + side and then -.
  3. Point it at a bright light. It goes to the + side. It’s reading a lot of light reflecting off your subject, telling you, “I’ve got too much light for this exposure!”
  4. Point it at a dark subject. It goes to the – side. It’s reading low light from your subject, shouting, “I don’t have enough light for this exposure!”

Understanding how those numbers are moving is the first step to shooting in manual mode.

Simply put, you want the indicator to be right in the middle for a “correct” exposure.

But what do you do if you point it at your subject and it’s not? Say it looks like this.


It’s giving you a lot of information. The indicator on the 1 tells you that you have “one stop” too much light. The 100 on the left is your shutter speed. The 1.4 is your aperture. The 100 on the right is your ISO. Your viewfinder, of course, may look just a bit different.

So how do you get rid of light?

You have three choices:

Three choices all to get you to a correct exposure. Well, kind of.

If you are pointing your camera at neutral gray, the indicator in the middle shows you a correct exposure.

If you are pointing your lens toward skin, then go to the plus side 2/3 stops. What the heck is that? And how do you remember? Think of it as two clicks from the middle or two of those little hash lines? How do you get there? Those same three choices I mentioned. Adjust your aperture, shutter speed, or ISO. Those three are always working together.

But what happens after you’ve adjusted your light meter to “the spot” you want it and it continues to bounce around? Once you’ve dialed it in you ignore your light meter until your subject or the light changes!

Give it a try and see what you find! For even more fun figuring out how all of your settings work together, try the SLR Camera Simulator. Or heck, just grab your camera and see what happens!

Now you know what Steph does! Have fun.

Now your creative photography begins.

Do you always want your meter right there in the middle? Let’s take it a step further this month by looking at a situation when you DON’T want the line to be in the middle. Let’s give it a name. When shooting in Aperture Priority Mode (AV/A) or Shutter Priority (TV/S) we call it EXPOSURE COMPENSATION. When shooting in Manual Mode we call it over exposing or underexposing. The same thing is happening with each, just two different ways of making it happen.


Let’s try it first in Aperture Priority Mode. (Yep, 8 steps, but they are quick and small.)


  1. Start by placing your camera in Aperture Priority Mode.
  2. Place something in front of a bright window or doorway. (A face is great if you can find a cooperative one.)
  3. Notice that your little line thingy is right in the middle. Your camera has selected the correct exposure.
  4. Go ahead and press the shutter and see what happens.
  5. Did you shoot a hot mess? Face dark, background bright? I thought you might.
  6. So, let’s change it up with Exposure Compensation to get a photo you like.
  7. Point your camera at your subject. Line thingy in the middle.
  8. Move the back dial on your camera toward the right. (The button may be different on your camera.) You are now adjusting the exposure compensation. You’ll notice the little line thingy is going to the right or the + side. It will look something like this.


Aren’t you amazing? You’ve just outsmarted the camera and taken a useable photo in a backlit situation! Congratulations. Just a note of caution. When you use exposure compensation, remember to take it back to the midpoint when you are done. It can cause a lot of confusion when you pick up your camera next time!


Shooting in Manual Mode? The steps are similar, kind of.


  1. Start by placing your camera in Manual Mode.
  2. Place something in front of a bright window or doorway. (A face is great if you can find a cooperative one.)
  3. Notice that your little line thingy is all over the place.
  4. Meter for your subject.
  5. This may give you an okay result, but you want more.
  6. Overexpose by one stop. In simple terms, move the little line thingy to the +1. You can do that by either changing your shutter speed or your aperture. Look through your viewfinder as you fiddle to see the line go to +1.
  7. Take a photo.

In both situations your subject will be exposed correctly, but the background will be bright. It’s a trade off I can live with!

Got it?

And what about snow or bright sandy beaches in your scene? You’ve got to fool your camera into a correct exposure! Yep,overexpose (up to two stops)to get your white snow white! Trust me on this one. Without overexposing your camera will read all of that bright white and horribly underexpose leaving you with ugly grey.

Congratulations. You now know (at least) one situation when you don’t want that little line thingy right in the middle. Practice, I promise it will become second nature. There are even more situations when you want to outsmart your light meter: Mr. Green Jeans, Metering In Low Light, High Key Photography. Are you loving the little line thingy?


  1. This is the best thing I’ve read to help step by step understand learning manual mode. Thank you so much. Off to try these steps.

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