Metering modes matter. As you can see in our image of a catnap, changing the metering configuration makes a big difference in the brightness of a picture. Correctly setting the metering mode will ensure your photographs have the best exposure possible. This is especially important for high-contrast scenes, like the example above.
What does metering mean? And what are the different settings? Continue reading and we’ll explain metering and introduce three common modes. Applying these concepts will make an instantaneous improvement in your photography skills!
The Meaning of Metering Modes
Metering is how the camera sets exposure. Specifically, the camera meters the incoming light to set the shutter speed and aperture correctly. Remember exposure is based on the quickness of the shutter, the width of the aperture, and the ISO setting. You can now see how metering directly relates to exposure.
It is important to understand this only applies when the camera itself is in certain modes – such as Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Manual. (The on-camera symbols for these modes vary) Stepping out of Automatic mode lets you have more control over your photographs. We’ll teach you about three metering modes below to help you develop new skills beyond automatic snap shots.
1. Matrix/Evaluative Mode
Multi-zone metering is the camera measuring the levels of light across the scene and combing the readings to set the exposure (Matrix on Nikon, Evaluative on Canon). This mode typically prevents under exposing or over exposing the image. We recommend using this mode when the subject and surroundings are similarly bright. Our catnap picture shows an even level of exposure and detail with this setting.
Here is another example taken with multi-zone metering. Notice how the brightness of the scene is similar throughout.
2. Center-Weighted Metering
Center-weighted metering is giving the highest consideration of brightness to the center area of the image. This mode is consistently named on Nikon and Canon cameras. This is a less common setting as the lighting conditions that require center weighting are rare in nature photography. The difference in our example is that the picture as a whole looks under-exposed. The metering considered the white light right next to the black cat and adjusted for that brightness. It read it so bright that the rest of the image ended up too dark; therefore, center-weighted metering is the wrong mode to use with this scene.
Let’s look at an example that required center-weighted metering. Notice the wide range of contrast between the plant in shadow and the back-lighting from the sun on the rock. Setting the camera to concentrate the metering on the center lets the plant be well-exposed, and it’s irrelevant that the sunny area is over-exposed. We recommend this mode when the subject is centered and its surroundings are considerably different in brightness.
3. Spot Metering
Spot metering determines the exposure by considering a circle at the center of the scene. This mode is also called the same thing on both Nikon and Canon models. How big is the circle? Not very – it ranges between 1 – 5%. Let’s consider our example, as spot metering creates a drastically different image. The camera read the brightness of the black cat, which is much darker than the rest of the scene. The exposure shows the most detail in our sleeping subject, but much of the picture is over-exposed. We introduce spot metering to our students for photographs that are all about exposing the subject correctly.
What better example to consider than a circular moon against a black sky. Obviously exposing for the brightness of the moon brings out the fine details instead of creating a plain white circle. This exposure is best achieved using spot metering.
To achieve the best exposure for your photos, it is very important to correctly set the metering mode. Whether you’re photographing sweeping landscapes, capturing subjects in complex lighting, or shooting the moon, your exposure depends on metering. Wake up from the catnap-like mindset of using the Automatic camera mode that controls metering for you. Use Matrix/Evaluative, Center-weighted, and Spot metering modes to maximize your skills as a photographer!