What is Metering in Photography: Beginner’s Guide (2024)

Jan 13, 2024 | Photography Tutorials

Ever Wondered How Photographers Capture Perfectly Lit Photos?

The answer is: The illuminating world of metering in photography!

If you’ve ever marveled at how professional photographers consistently nail the perfect lighting in their shots, the secret lies in their mastery of camera metering.

It’s not just about having a good eye; it’s about understanding the science of light.

what is metering in photography

At its core, metering is the process your camera uses to measure the brightness of a scene. It’s like the eyes of your camera, determining how much light is available and how to use it best to create a well-exposed photograph. Think of it as a sophisticated balancing act, where the camera juggles between shadows, midtones, and highlights to present you with a just right picture.

Why Metering Matters for Every Photographer

Whether you’re snapping a sunset, capturing a candid moment, or shooting a portrait, understanding metering is crucial.

It’s the difference between a washed-out sky and one where every color pops, between a well-defined face and one lost in shadow. Every photographer, from hobbyists to professionals, must grasp the essence of metering to bring their vision to life.

Stay tuned as we dive deeper into the various metering modes and how you can leverage them to take your photography to dazzling new heights!

Exploring Camera Metering Modes

Different camera metering modes

Diving into the world of camera metering modes can unlock a new level in your photography game. Each mode offers a unique approach to handling light and knowing which one to use can be the key to capturing stunning images.

Breaking Down Metering: Simplified Definitions

Before we explore the different modes, let’s simplify what they do: Metering modes tell your camera how to look at a scene and decide the exposure. It’s like giving your camera a set of glasses, each providing a different perspective on seeing the light.

Matrix/Evaluative Metering: The Go-To Choice

Matrix (Nikon) or Evaluative (Canon) metering is like your camera’s jack-of-all-trades. It evaluates light across the entire frame with a bias toward the focus point. Ideal for general photography, it’s a reliable choice when you have evenly lit scenes or need help deciding which mode to pick.

Center-Weighted Metering: Focusing on the Center

Imagine a spotlight shining on the Center of your frame – that’s center-weighted metering. It prioritizes the light in the middle of the frame, perfect for portraits or any subject centrally placed. It’s less influenced by bright or dark edges, focusing on what’s important.

Spot Metering: Precision and Control

Spot metering is your precision tool. It measures light from a tiny area (usually around the focus point). It’s excellent for high-contrast scenes or for exposing a precise subject, like in wildlife or sports photography.

Highlight-Weighted Metering: Managing Bright Spots

Newer to the scene, highlight-weighted metering focuses on the brightest parts of the frame, ensuring they don’t get overexposed. It’s great for stage performances or shots with bright lights against darker backgrounds.

Partial Metering: A Closer Look

Similar to spot metering but covers a slightly larger area, partial metering is advantageous when you have a subject that’s not centrally located or when dealing with backlit scenes.

Average Metering: The Balanced Approach

This mode averages the entire scene’s brightness, a throwback to older camera days. It’s less common now but helpful for consistent lighting conditions, like landscapes on an overcast day.

Mastering Metering Modes for Optimal Results

Camera Metering Modes Real World Examples

Unlocking the full potential of your camera’s metering modes is like having a superpower in photography. The proper metering mode in the right situation can dramatically enhance your photos. Let’s explore when and how to use each mode effectively.

When to Use Each Metering Mode: Practical Scenarios

Matrix/Evaluative Metering: This is your go-to for everyday situations. Landscapes, group photos, or any scene with consistent lighting will benefit from this mode. It’s like having an all-seeing eye that balances the light across the frame.

Center-Weighted Metering: Ideal for portraits or when your subject is central, and you don’t mind if the background is not perfectly exposed. It’s like spotlighting your subject while gently fading out the surroundings.

Spot Metering: Use this when your subject is small or surrounded by contrasting light. Bird photography, capturing a face in a crowd, or shooting under a spotlight in a concert are perfect scenarios for spot metering.

Highlight-Weighted Metering: Great for scenes with potentially overexposed highlights, like shooting a white dress under harsh sunlight or capturing illuminated subjects against a dark background.

Partial Metering: A good choice for backlit subjects or when you need more control than center-weighted but less than spot metering, like photographing a person with a bright window behind them.

Average Metering: Although not as commonly used, it’s effective for evenly lit scenes, such as shooting landscapes on a cloudy day.

Tips for Switching Between Metering Modes

Know Your Scene: Evaluate the lighting conditions and decide which part of the scene is crucial for your photograph.

Practice Makes Perfect: Experiment with different modes in various settings to understand their impact.

Quick Access: Familiarize yourself with your camera’s menu or custom buttons to switch modes swiftly.

Metering Modes in Action: Real-World Examples

Spot Metering for Drama: Imagine photographing a dancer on stage. Spot metering allows you to expose the dancer’s costume, keeping it well-lit while the background fades into darkness, adding dramatic effect.

Matrix Metering for Landscapes: When capturing a vast landscape, matrix metering ensures that the sky, land, and everything in between are evenly exposed, resulting in a harmonious composition.

Navigating Your Camera’s Metering Settings

How to Change Metering Modes on Nikon, Canon, and Sony Cameras

Learning how to change the metering modes on your camera is like learning the secret handshake to a club – it opens up a world of creative possibilities. Whether you’re using a Nikon, Canon, or Sony, each camera has its unique way of switching metering modes. Let’s simplify this process for these popular camera brands.

How to Change Metering Modes on Nikon, Canon, and Sony Cameras

Nikon Metering Modes: Look for a button labeled with a dot and a rectangle (the metering button). Press it and rotate the main command dial until you see the desired metering mode icon (like a matrix, spot, or center-weighted symbol) on the control panel or viewfinder.

Canon Metering Modes: You’ll find the metering modes on most Canon cameras in the menu. Some models have a dedicated metering mode button—the camera’s primary dial cycles through evaluative, partial, spot, or center-weighted metering options.

Sony Metering Modes: Sony users can usually change metering modes by hitting the function (Fn) button and then navigating to the metering mode option. From there, select your choice: multi, Center, spot, or entire screen average.

Customizing Metering Modes for Advanced Techniques

Assign Custom Buttons: Many cameras allow you to assign metering modes to custom buttons, making switching between them faster and more intuitive during a shoot.

Memory Recall Settings: For frequently switching between different metering modes, consider using memory recall settings (available on some models) to save your preferred configurations.

Embracing Creativity with Metering

Understanding and manipulating metering modes lets you creatively control how your camera perceives light. This control is crucial for achieving the desired mood and atmosphere for your photographs. For instance, using spot metering can help highlight a subject in a challenging lighting situation, while matrix metering can ensure a well-balanced exposure for a scenic landscape.

Metering Mode Limitations and Solutions

While metering modes are potent tools in your photography arsenal, they’re not infallible. Understanding their limitations and overcoming them is crucial for consistently capturing great images.

Understanding the Boundaries of Metering

High Contrast Scenes: Even the most sophisticated metering system can struggle with scenes that have extreme contrasts. For instance, a very bright sky and a dark foreground can confuse the camera, leading to under or overexposed areas.

Backlit Subjects: Standard metering modes may render the subject as a silhouette due to the overpowering background light when your subject is in front of a bright light source.

Spot Metering Precision: While spot metering offers precision, it also requires precise placement. A slight misalignment can lead to an incorrect exposure.

Dynamic or Unpredictable Scenes: In fast-paced environments, like sports or wildlife photography, changing lighting conditions can challenge the camera’s metering system.

Overcoming Common Metering Challenges

Bracketing Exposures: In high-contrast scenes, try exposure bracketing. This technique involves taking several shots at different exposures and selecting the best one or blending them in post-processing.

Using Exposure Compensation: For backlit subjects, use exposure compensation to manually adjust the exposure, brightening or darkening the image as needed.

Manual Mode for Control: In tricky lighting situations, switching to manual mode gives you complete control over the aperture and shutter speed, fine-tuning the exposure based on your metering mode’s feedback.

Spot Metering with Care: When using spot metering, ensure your focus point is where you need the correct exposure. This might involve focusing, metering, and then recomposing the shot.

Practice and Patience: Often, overcoming metering challenges comes down to practice. The more you experiment with different settings in varied lighting conditions, the better you’ll become at quickly adjusting your approach.

Tips and Tricks for Effective Metering

Mastering metering is like fine-tuning an instrument – it enhances the harmony of your photography. Here are some tips and tricks to help you effectively use metering modes, ensuring that your photos are always strikingly exposed.

Quick Tips for Better Exposure Metering

Understand the Scene: Before you start shooting, take a moment to analyze the lighting conditions of your scene. Is it evenly lit, or are there areas of high contrast?

Check the Histogram: Learn to read the histogram on your camera. It’s a fantastic tool that shows whether your image is exposed correctly or if there are areas of under or overexposure.

Recompose After Metering: In spot or center-weighted metering, meter off the essential part of the scene (like your subject’s face), then recompose to frame your shot as desired.

Use Exposure Lock: If your camera has an exposure lock feature, hold the metering setting while you recompose your shot.

Adjust ISO Sensitivity: In changing light conditions, adjusting your ISO sensitivity can help maintain the exposure you want without altering the aperture or shutter speed.

Advanced Strategies for Seasoned Photographers

Manual Metering for Full Control: Advanced photographers often prefer manual mode. It allows you to independently set both aperture and shutter speed based on the camera’s meter reading.

Reflective vs. Incident Light Metering: Consider using an external light meter for more precise readings, especially in studio settings. External meters can measure incident light (the light falling on the subject) instead of the reflective light measured by the camera.

Calibrating for Specific Situations: Learn to calibrate your camera’s metering for specific scenarios, like snowy landscapes or beach scenes, where bright conditions can often trick the sensor.

Post-Processing Skills: Sometimes, the best metering decision is to shoot slightly under or overexposed to preserve details, planning to adjust the exposure in post-processing.

FAQ Section: Metering in Photography

What is metering in photography?

Metering in photography refers to the process by which a camera measures the brightness of a scene to determine the optimal exposure settings. It helps in achieving a well-balanced photograph with the right amount of light.

What is the best metering mode for general photography?

The best metering mode for general photography is often matrix or evaluative metering. These modes analyze the entire scene and are effective in various lighting conditions, making them versatile for everyday shooting.

How does matrix metering work?

Matrix metering, used in Nikon cameras (similar to evaluative metering in Canon), works by dividing the frame into multiple zones and analyzing each for brightness and contrast. The camera then calculates the optimal exposure based on this comprehensive analysis.

When should I use center-weighted metering?

Center-weighted metering should be used when the photo’s main subject is in the Center of the frame and you want it to have priority in exposure, such as in portrait photography.

What is the advantage of spot metering?

The advantage of spot metering lies in its precision. It measures light from a tiny area (usually around the focus point), allowing for accurate exposure of a specific part of the scene, ideal in high-contrast settings or for highlighting a particular subject.

How can I tell which metering mode is best for my scene?

To determine the best metering mode for a scene, consider the lighting conditions and the main subject’s location. Use matrix/evaluative for evenly lit scenes, spot metering for precise exposure control, and center-weighted for subjects in the Center.

What is evaluative metering, and when is it useful?

In Canon cameras, evaluative metering evaluates light across the entire frame with a bias toward the focus point. It’s helpful in varied lighting conditions and general photography, ensuring a balanced exposure throughout the scene.

What does a metering system do in my camera?

A metering system in a camera measures the intensity of light in a scene. It helps the camera determine a well-exposed photograph’s ideal exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO).

What’s the best metering mode for flash photography?

For flash photography, evaluative or matrix metering modes are generally best. They provide a balanced exposure in diverse lighting conditions, which is crucial when using flash.

Can I change metering modes while shooting?

Yes, you can change metering modes while shooting. Most cameras allow easy switching between modes through menu settings or dedicated buttons, allowing photographers to quickly adapt to changing lighting conditions.

Conclusion: Mastering the Art of Metering

In our journey through the world of metering in photography, we’ve uncovered the pivotal role metering modes play in capturing stunning images.


Each mode—matrix, center-weighted, spot, or others—offers a unique lens through which to interpret light in your scenes.

Key takeaways include understanding the appropriate metering mode for various scenarios, the value of manual adjustments, and the importance of practice and experimentation. Embrace these insights, experiment with different settings, and watch your photography transform.

As you continue to explore and learn, remember that each shot is a step forward in your photographic journey. Keep shooting, keep experimenting, and let your creativity shine through your mastery of metering.

Embark on your next photographic adventure with confidence and curiosity!

Disclaimer: "As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases."

Stacy WItten

Stacy WItten

Owner, Writer & Photographer

Stacy Witten, owner and creative force behind LensesPro, delivers expertly crafted content with precision and professional insight. Her extensive background in writing and photography guarantees quality and trust in every review and tutorial.






Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *