What are Metering Modes?
Metering is the process that the camera goes through to look at a scene and work out what the exposure should be. There’s a variety of different modes that you can use to best suit the type of photo that you’re taking and in this post we’ll be looking at exactly what the modes do and when you should be using them.
What They do and When You Should use Them!
Evaluative / Matrix / Pattern / Mutli-zone Metering Modes
This is the most complex and modern way of metering that your camera will have. It collects data from across the whole frame and even gives priority to the area that you’re focusing on. The camera will look at a scene and see a really bright area like the sun and take that into account when trying to work out the best exposure – this will reduce the amount of contrast and silhouettes. This has different names for different manufacturers and software, but they all do basically the same thing.
Partial Metering Mode
This collects data from a small circular area in the center of the frame coving roughly 10-15% of the scene. This is useful for when your subject is in the center of the frame and you want them to be take priority in the exposure. You may notice that there’s not a whole lot of difference between evaluative and partial metering modes, but that comes down to the conditions you’re shooting in.
Spot Metering Mode
This is like partial metering, only the dot in the center is smaller, roughly 5% of the frame. This is good for smaller subjects and I personally use it over partial because I know that any light surrounding the subject, won’t be a problem. It’s a more advanced way of working out the exposure for your camera because it’s metering for such a small area; the rest of the scene may not be correct and that leaves it up to you to work it out on your own. Notice that the skin tones are much softer and easier to look out, while this is good, it leaves the rest of the scene rather underexposed. Be careful when using this mode, it has it’s uses, but you don’t want to end up with all your photos like this.
Center – Weighted Average
This is similar to spot and partial metering, only the area in which the photo is metered is a lot larger. This is due to camera manufacturers realising that most people took photographs with people taking up the whole of the center of the image and that there needed to be an effective way of metering this. You’ll notice in the photo below that the background is quite well exposed, but this is at the expense of the skin tone being horribly overexposed and unusable. This mode can be hard to predict and I don’t like using it.
Average Metering Mode
This works in a similar way to evaluative metering in the fact that it measures light from the whole scene, only it does it in a very unintelligent way, it doesn’t recognise what’s in the scene and make changes accordingly. What this means is that if there’s a bright sun, or alternatively a dark shade in a scene, it will treat it the same as the rest of the photo which often results in over and under exposed areas of a photo. This mode isn’t usually found on modern cameras anymore.
Which ones You Should use and When
You should have a pretty good understanding of what they do and when to use them by now, but i’d like to go into more detail about the 2 I use the most – Evaluative and Spot. The reason I use these is because I find evaluative to be pretty good at working out what I want in the majority of situations and it would be pointless to switch to partial of center-weighted. The other mode I use is spot and that’s because that’s where I find evaluative doesn’t deliver too well, and I have to take things into my own hands.
Here’s some photos that i’ve taken on evaluative metering mode and why that mode was a good choice:
This photo was taken well into the evening and there was no bright lights in the photo so didn’t require any special metering modes. I leave my camera with evaluative on as standard just for shots like this where there dynamic range of brightness is very small.
The majority of this photo is a bright sunny sky and if the camera was set to any of the other metering modes, it would likely have taken most of the metering sample from the sky causing the subject to be very underexposed and silhouette like. Because I had the camera set to evaluative, you’re able to see a lot more detail in the subject then you otherwise would have.
The photo is the opposite to the one above really in that the majority of the photo is dark, but the effect that the evaluative metering mode has had it much the same – it brings out the all the darker highlights (such as along the bridge) while still keeping the silhouettes where i wanted them. Sometimes on evaluative, the camera can sees a black and think that it should be grey and tries to boost the exposure too much – this photo worked out just how I wanted it.
Here’s an example of where the evaluative metering mode has really prevailed and noticed the sun creeping through the top of the photo and ignored it in favour of correctly exposing the rest of the photo. The same photo shot on spot metering had much the same effect, but now let’s have a look at when you might want to use spot.
When you’ve got a sun glaring straight down your lens and a big bright sky right next to it, it’s a lot harder for evaluative to get it right and you’re going to end up with silhouettes – this is when I like to switch to spot metering. Remember that the spot in the center of the frame is very small so make sure you have it pointed on something important like skin as I have in this photo. Take some time and experiment with the different modes and you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make.