Metering modes explained and how to know which one to use

November 17, 2015

by Amy Kolodziej

Clickin Moms


Choosing a metering mode can be as important as choosing an ISO or aperture when you need to nail your exposure. Metering affects how your camera processes the scene, thus giving you a reading on your exposure in camera. I know that with the ability to “chimp”, or stop and look at the back of your dSLR after each image, we can take our meters for granted. As a wedding photographer (and as a mother to two young children that don’t allow “do-overs”), however, I simply do not have the time to second guess myself after each frame.

Most of today’s modern cameras have at least three different metering modes to choose from; matrix (evaluative), center-weighted, and spot. Some cameras are also equipped with a fourth metering type called highlight-weighted metering mode. Both of my Nikon bodies have this newer mode and so I’ve included it here.

Example of in-camera meter

By default, your camera WANTS you to be at a center or zero on the meter. Zero on the meter equates to 18% gray (some may argue 12% gray depending upon camera), which is a happy mid-tone. This makes sense if you are measuring only mid-tones. My problem with this is that often what is most important to me in a scene is not that simple. Skin, for instance, gives completely different “correct exposure” readings on the meter depending on ethnicity. Your meter may also be fooled by the lighting you are using depending on which mode you have set.  This is why it is important to learn the different modes and what results you can expect in each situation.

Click here to see the various explanations on Metering Modes

examples of different metering modes in a backlight situation by Amy Kolodziej


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