Camera metering modes and when to use them

Modern mirrorless and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have a feature called “camera metering”. Other camera models use a different name, but it is exactly the same. 

But was exactly are the different camera metering modes and when should you use it? This is what you are about to find out.

What is Camera Metering?

Cameras today can detect the right combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get the right evaluative. This process of your camera doing the calculation of the right variables is called metering.

The term metering came from the old days of photography wherein photographers need to use a light meter to determine the proper combination of their aperture, film ISO, and shutter speed.

The light meter works by detecting the amount of light in the environment then the photographer would use the settings provided to capture an image.

However, modern cameras have a built-in light meter and you do not have to use a separate light meter anymore.

Exposure metering through the camera is based on 18% gray or neutral gray. It means that the camera determines a gray element in an image and tries to bring it up or down to 18% gray.

However, there are instances where using the exposure meter will not give you the right results.

For example, if you are shooting a predominantly white subject, the rest of your image will be underexposed.

Why?

Because the camera will see the white in your image as too bright and in an attempt to bring it down to the 18% grey evaluative, the rest of the image will get darker.

The opposite happens if you are shooting a dark object. 

Try shooting a black object outdoors and the rest of the frame will most likely be overexposed. The camera will base the evaluative on the dark subject, hence, it will bring up the evaluative of the rest of the image.

There are tools that will aid you in getting the right exposure regardless if it is a bright subject or a dark subject. But we will dive into that later in this article.

What are the different camera metering modes?

There are different camera metering modes and we will discuss each one of them one by one. Let’s get started.

Evaluative Metering | Matrix Metering | Multi-pattern Metering

Exposure metering, Matrix Metering, or Multi-pattern metering is the most common metering mode. It is also the default mode that your camera uses since it generally works well in most situations.

This metering mode calculates the amount of light in a scene and your camera will select the right aperture, ISO, and shutter speed to achieve a proper exposure.

But how does your camera determine the right exposure for the whole image?

This metering mode divides your image into nine different grids. Each grid is calculated to reach the proper exposure for the overall image.

However, there are more factors that the camera considers before deciding which settings it would use. One of these is the focus point.

For instance, if your focus point is on the upper right grid on the rule of thirds, then the camera will prioritize that area over the others.

General photography uses evaluative metering since, as mentioned earlier, it works well in most situations. Whether you are outdoors or indoors, it will give you a decent image.


Center-Weighted Metering

Center-Weighted metering, as the name implies, prioritizes the center of the image when deciding the proper exposure.

This metering mode will ignore the other grey areas on the edge and corners of the image. Instead, it will make sure that the center of your image will achieve neutral gray if possible.

When should you use center-weighted metering?

This metering mode should be used if your framing is focused on the center alone. It is also useful if the background or the area is busy and you do not want the surroundings to be included in the exposure calculation.

The best example of this is concert photography. Take a look at the example above.

The band or vocalists is in the center of the image and the surroundings are dark. If you are going to use evaluative metering here, then the camera will overexpose the whole image to compensate for the dark areas on the side of the stage.

Spot Metering

Spot metering is similar to center-weighted metering except that the area is made smaller. It is used to calculate the precise exposure of a small area instead of the overall image.

Try taking a photo of the moon. The resulting image will be a blown-out moon most of the time.

However, if you change your camera settings to spot metering and focus on the moon, then you will have better exposure to your image. The moon will have a balanced exposure while the surroundings get darker.

You may also use spot metering if you are in a busy area and you want to take a photo of a small object. The camera will take into account that single object and will make sure that it is at the right exposure regardless if the background or foreground is under or overexposed.

Partial Metering

Canon has an extra metering mode called Partial metering. This metering mode is similar to Spot Metering. However, it covers a larger area.

Going back to the concert example earlier. If you want to take a portrait of the vocalist, you may use partial metering so the whole face is exposed properly and the rest of the image is disregarded.

Partial metering is also great when shooting for portraits since it will always make sure that the face of your subject is properly exposed.

Highlight Weighted Metering

Nikon has its own metering mode called Highlight Weighted Metering. This mode ensures that no area on your image has blown out highlights.

When should you use this mode?

Use this mode if the scene is too bright and your subject has blown-out highlights. You may also use this mode if the lighting condition changes from time to time. This ensures that even if the light changes, your camera will still preserve the details of your subject.

Entire Screen Average Metering

Sony also has a feature called Entire Screen Average Metering mode. This mode is quite similar to evaluative metering but it has a slight difference.

In evaluative metering, the camera still considered your focus point and makes sure that its exposure is prioritized over the other areas of your image.

However, in the Entire Screen Average metering mode, the camera disregards the focus point. Its only goal is to make sure that the image that you are taking has proper exposure.

You may use this mode if you want a consistent look on your image regardless if the subject changes. For example, a group portrait with a single photo session. Once your camera is set up, the exposure remains the same all throughout.


When in doubt, use a gray card

Professional photographers use an accessory called a gray card to ensure that the exposure is always on point.

A gray card has 18% grey printed on it. But how do you use it?

If you have a gray card, place it beside your subject and take a shot. You may then use that as a basis for exposure when editing the photos in Lightroom or Photoshop.

There is a shortcut on these apps wherein you select the gray card and the image will automatically have the right exposure.

Besides exposure, a gray card will also help you achieve the right white balance of an image while editing. The same method of selecting the gray card as the basis of the white balance correction can be done through Lightroom or Photoshop.

Final Thoughts

Camera metering modes are there to help you achieve the best image possible. There is no surefire way to determine the best metering mode since the output is subjective.

All you need to do is to experiment with the different camera metering modes before going for the final shot. 

Continue to practice and train your eye and soon enough, you will know which mode to go for right on the get-go.

November 27, 2022
Tags: Guides

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