In this quick guide we explain how metering modes work, and how to select the best one for the job at hand.
Knowing which mode to use to take a meter reading will make a big difference to the accuracy of the exposure in your images, and help you to deal with different lighting situations. Most digital cameras these days have a choice of average, spot and centre-weighted metering modes.
In order to get a well-exposed photograph, your camera has to evaluate how much light there is in the scene. It does this by using a built-in light meter that takes a reading from the scene and then uses a computer program to calculate the appropriate shutter speed and aperture setting.
Each of your camera’s metering modes uses the same light reading, but they process the information in different ways to give weight to specific parts of the scene.
The default mode on most cameras is evaluative or matrix metering, which produces good results in most situations. It’s less reliable with backlighting or when there are areas that are very bright or dark.
Centre-weighted metering mode gives more emphasis to the middle of the frame and less to the background. This is useful when it’s more important to get the exposure right for the main subject than the background.
Spot metering takes a reading from a specific point. This is handy when there are large areas of light or dark in the scene.
When to use different metering modes
In Matrix or Evaluative metering, the camera computes the exposure based on a large number of readings taken across the frame. This works well most of the time – but it can be hard to try and predict the situations where it will come unstuck!
This mode gives more weight to the subject in the middle of the frame, although the background can still affect the meter reading. The main subject should be placed in the centre to get the best results, so it’s good for portraits, for example.
This works by taking a meter reading from a small area in the middle of the frame, usually the central 2–5%. You can also use it to take a reading from a midtone that isn’t in your picture, providing it’s lit by the same light as your intended subject.
When to use spot metering
Canon metering modes: how to get perfectly exposed images
Creative spot metering: how professionals expose in high-contrast conditions
10 common exposure problems every photographer faces (and how to avoid them)