Which Metering Mode is Best? – Photography for Beginners Series
Let’s explore the world of metering a little more! In this episode you are going to learn that not only can your camera meter (measure) light but it can meter the light for you in different ways. You will learn the names and symbols for these metering modes and how they work. So which metering mode is best and why?
In episode 7 you learned how to meter the light in manual mode. This is where the magic happens. Once you come to understand this on a deeper level you will be capturing truly stunning images. The problem is that most people become too frustrated in the early days of manual mode and they give up. This is not because it is difficult but because it takes some getting used to. Don’t be that person. Give it time, practice a lot and enjoy the process! I will be here on your journey with you so stay tuned and follow along. In a couple of months all of this will be second nature.
Below is a written version of what is covered in the podcast but, as always, listening is highly recommended as I go into more detail for you in the show. Why not subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher and listen to it in the car, at the gym or walking the dog? Wherever and whenever you like!
Apologies in advance if your camera brand is not covered here but let’s face it, we’d be here all day! It will be straightforward for you to check your manual (paper copy or online) and find out what the names and symbols for your metering modes. There are also some great forums online where lots of incredibly helpful people are ready to assist you with any questions you have specific to your brand and model. I have linked to some below;
Matrix Metering/Evaluative Metering Mode
This is the default metering mode on most cameras. Your camera will measure the light from different zones in your scene. Based on all of these measurements it will help you reach the exposure it thinks is correct. This metering mode can do a decent job if your scene does not have a lot of contrast. However, if your scene has high contrast (e.g. men in black suits with a bright sky behind) it is unlikely that the measurements taken in this metering mode will lead you to a good exposure!
Centre Weighted Metering Mode
In this mode your camera will measure the light from the entire scene but will give more weight to the centre of your scene based on the assumption that this is where your subject will be. That will not be the case in a lot of your images so I am going to stick my neck out and recommend you avoid this setting.
Spot Metering Mode
With spot metering your camera will measure the reflected light from a small and precise part of your scene and ignores the light everywhere else. With Nikon this precise part will be wherever your focal point happens to be pointing to in your scene (yes you can move your focal point around – more about that soon!) In Canon cameras you spot meter from the centre focal point.
If you are in manual shooting mode then you are taking control of your photography. To have complete control over how your images turn out it is best to use spot metering mode. This way your camera will not be confused by very bright or very dark areas in your image. It will ignore them if you tell it to.
Below are three examples from my dad’s 65th birthday dinner on Saturday. I wanted to capture the candlelit faces of my dad with my two kids but I didn’t want their surroundings to distract too much. Each was taken using a different metering mode meaning the camera measured the reflected light in different ways;
Spot metering is my preference and I certainly recommend it. However, there are many photographers out there successfully using matrix/evaluative metering. Many of them use it alongside aperture priority or program mode. This is also a great way to shoot, especially if you know how to do it well. I use aperture priority mode with matrix metering in very specific scenarios. Read about them here.
Don’t be a slave to your light meter! If you expose for a scene then find that your image is too dark or too bright for your liking all you need to do is manually overexpose (move your light meter towards the positive sign) or underexpose (move your light meter towards the negative sign) by adjusting your exposure settings a little. For me this usually means either speeding up or slowing down my shutter slightly but you can also do this by adjusting your aperture or ISO.
TEA BREAK TASK
Set camera to manual mode and spot metering mode. Select an aperture of f/4 and an ISO of 400. Go outside and find a scene with lots of variation in light.
With your focal point in the centre, aim it at something dark and press your shutter button down lightly to focus. This should also make your exposure line appear. Make sure you are looking at your exposure line through your viewfinder if you have one. Adjust your shutter speed until your light meter reads zero. Check your shutter speed. Take the photograph.
Now aim your focal point at something bright. Adjust your shutter speed until your light meter reads zero. Check your shutter speed – is it much changed? Take the photograph.
You will see from this exercise that your shutter speed will have changed significantly depending on where you asked your camera to spot meter from. In one scene you have so many different exposures. Try pointing your focal point to various parts of your scene and go through the same exercise. This is great practice for you! Look at the different images you have taken and the impact your shutter speed has had on each. Which do you prefer? Can you see the control you have?
Next time we will be getting into focus modes and what they mean so tune in and we can demystify this together! Until then why not join us in our facebook community where there is a great group of fellow beginner photographers waiting to welcome you into the conversations. This week we are sharing black and white images and a winning image will be chosen from the week’s entries on Friday! We would love to have you there too!