DSLR cameras have a built-in system that decides the best exposure. This system takes action when you use the camera in any of its automatic modes and it decides the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO values. The way in which a camera determines the right exposure is called the metering mode.
Choosing the right metering mode for your lighting conditions can make a big difference. Basically, the metering mode determines what points of the scenery and how many of them will be considered when deciding exposure settings. This is important especially for sceneries with wide dynamic range, strong shadows, or different lighting conditions for subject and background.
How many modes exist?
Most cameras have three metering modes: spot metering, matrix metering, and center-weighted metering. You can find them with different names to different producers but they will do pretty much the same thing.
Some cameras offer metering modes dedicated to a specific situations. For example, in some Nikon DSLR cameras you’ll find the highlight-weighted metering mode. It ensures that highlights are exposed correctly even when you photograph subjects in motion. Highlight-weighted metering mode is useful for concert and wedding photography.
If you choose spot metering, the camera will consider only the light from a small area around the focal point. The light from the rest of the scenery will not matter. Spot metering allows you to have the subject correctly exposed. For example, when photographing a person with the light behind, you can use spot metering to set the right exposure for subject’s face.
This metering mode is useful for small subjects like wild flowers or subjects situated at the edge of the scenery.
Matrix or multi-zone metering
If you choose matrix metering, the camera will consider the light of the entire scenery. It will divide the frame in zones and give an exposure score to each zone. The area around the focal point is considered more important than the rest of the areas, but the camera will try to have the right exposure for the entire scenery.
Matrix metering is useful for almost any type of photography. It’s the camera’s default metering mode. You can use it for street and landscape photography and every time you want a deep depth of field.
If you choose center-weighted metering, the camera will consider the light from an area around the center of the frame. It doesn’t matter where the focal point is.
Center-weighted metering is useful when you have large subjects placed in the middle of the frame. It’s used especially for portraits.
Knowing your camera’s metering modes saves you time and energy. It allows you to create artistic photographs without spending too much time on manual settings or take snapshots in seconds. This doesn’t exclude using the camera in manual mode and setting the exposure by yourself. But sometimes speed is essential.
Using the right metering mode can completely transform a picture. You can bring to life dull subjects, reduce the background’s impact without blurring it, and bring light where you need it.
You may also be interested in 5 styles of portrait photography.