Camera Metering Modes Tutorial

It’s frustrating when an image turns out bright or darker than you would have liked. To better understand how to get correct exposures, you need to understand the different ways a camera meters light. Photographer Saurav Sinha shares his insight on three basic metering modes:

To form an image, cameras need to focus the light being reflected from the subject. The camera’s light meter evaluates this reflected light to estimate a proper exposure. Basically, there are three metering modes that you can use to expose the subjects properly.

Evaluative/Matrix Metering

This is the most commonly used metering mode and is also set as the default option in many cameras. In this mode, the camera divides the entire scene into various zones and calculates an average exposure for the entire frame. However, a slightly greater weight is given to the zone with your focus point.

matrix or evaluative metering mode

Greater priority is given to zone 3 as the subject is in that zone

This mode works great when the lighting is uniform. For most photographers, this is the “set it and forget it” metering mode. So unless the lighting is very challenging, you can get away with using this mode.

Center-Weighted Metering

The name says it all. In this mode, the center of the frame is given the highest priority. When metering in this mode, the portion of the frame that lies at the center will be properly exposed.

You can still use this metering mode if the subject isn’t in the middle of the frame. Simply set the subject to the center of the frame once to take the exposure reading, lock the exposure, recompose with the subject placed where you want them, and take the shot.

center weighted metering mode

You can use this metering mode when the subject is backlit or in other challenging lighting situations where evaluative/matrix metering cannot function properly.

Spot Metering

If you need to meter precisely for a very small area of the frame, spot metering is the mode to go for. This mode is more accurate than the center-weighted metering mode. Also, while center-weighted metering mode is restricted to the center of the frame, spot metering is linked with the focus point. The camera will thus ignore the rest of the scene except for the focus point.

matrix metering

The leaves are overexposed when shot in matrix/evaluative metering mode.

spot metering mode

The leaves are exposed properly when shot in spot metering mode.

As with center-weighted metering mode, use the spot metering mode when the lighting is complex, and when the subject occupies a tiny area of the frame.

No matter what metering mode you prefer to use, always refer to the histogram. The histogram tells you exactly if the shot is properly exposed or not.

check histogram of exposure

Which metering mode do you prefer?

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2 responses to “Camera Metering Modes Tutorial”

  1. I have an issue with my Nikon D3300. Shooting a Landscape and pressed Shutter half way to focus, then all the way down to shoot, camera would not fire, nothing. Then went back to my car, aimed at dashboard, focused, then fired, it took the photo of my cars dashboard!! Not sure what is going on with camera. Advice please. Thanks

  2. Neil says:

    Check your autofocus

    https://imaging.nikon.com/support/digitutor/d3300/functions/focusmode_finder.html

    Also, have a read about back button focus – great when you get used to it.

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