Camera Metering Modes

It's funny sometimes how life works. I asked Brandi the other night for a topic to write about. We talked for a few minutes and still nothing seemed to strike a chord. Fast forward to Friday and I received an email from someone asking if I could help them with understanding metering modes. Immediately my mind knew that was a great topic. This topic is dependent on the photographer understanding exposure though. So let's dive into this.

Metering goes hand-in-hand with shooting in modes outside of automatic. To put it in layman terms, metering is nothing more than your camera sampling the light in your scene and telling you whether or not your current settings would be under or over exposed. Lesson over! Not quite. Just about every DSLR that can shoot in modes other than auto come with a meter. Most meters will look similar to the image below. Canon and Nikon do differ in appearance, but they work the same.

There will always be a mark that moves along this line as you adjust your shutter speed, ISO, or aperture. Each large line represents a full stop. As your mark moves closer to the plus sign, your camera is telling you that based on the current light your photo will be over exposed. Vice versa for the minus sign. If the mark is more on the plus side, you might try a faster shutter speed. If it is closer to the minus then you should try a slower shutter speed to allow more light in. If you have the shutter speed you want, then adjust your aperture, or ISO. I typically adjust ISO last to avoid adding noise into my photos. Every camera handles noise differently so you will need to know how high you can push your ISO before it ruins your image. As you learn more about your photography, you will learn how to over and under expose correctly.

metering modes

Now that we have the basic understanding of the meter out of the way, the next thing is to discuss the different metering modes that cameras have. Most Nikon and Canon models have three basic types with Canon adding a fourth additional mode. They both have spot metering, partial/center-weighted metering, and matrix/evaluative metering. The below image is an example assuming your focus point is in the middle of the frame.

Icons for metering modes

Icons for metering modes

SPOT METERING - Spot metering is only going to judge the light exactly where your focus point is set at. A good example of how to use this would be with waterfalls. Typically it is easy to blow the highlights out with the water. If spot metering is used your camera will let you know if it is over exposed or not for the shutter speed you are using. Spot metering for taking photos of the moon is another good use.

CENTER/PARTIAL METERING - This mode takes the area slightly around your focus point without using the entire scene. 

MATRIX METERING - This mode evaluates the entire scene around your focus point.

The most important thing is to remember this is metering at a very basic level. You can find more detailed information online about metering, but the purpose of this "blog" is to help those new walk into it gently. You can practice this in your living room to see how the different modes effect your photo. I preach practicing at home when you are new to photography so that when you have a beautiful scene you do not miss it due to not knowing your gear. Nothing beats practice and failure.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me.