Camera Basics – Understanding Camera Metering

Apart from the three camera settings that are so important to balance out the exposure of the image, metering is also an important process to achieve an ideal and correct exposure of the image. So what is metering? Metering is the process of how your camera decides to assign the right shutter speed and aperture based on the amount of light the camera can pick up without using an accessory meter. The sensor is a device located inside the camera – mainly to measure the brightness of the subject.

Why metering is important?

When taking images with high-contrast subjects, it is hard for the camera to change the exposure of some parts of the whole image. Therefore, metering helps to cater to a perfect exposure of the whole image. It helps photographers to capture pictures in unusual lighting situations. 

These are the metering button found in a Canon and a Nikon Camera.

Image from Google

The Different Metering modes:

Each digital camera has different metering modes depending on the manufacturer and at which these are the 4 common modes:

  1. Spot metering
  2. Partial Metering (not available in Nikon camera)
  3. Center-weighted metering
  4. Evaluative/Matrix Metering

Each metering mode has a set of shooting conditions that work best. Generally, photographers will use Evaluative/Matrix Metering  – a default metering mode set in most cameras as they work effectively in most light situations. They can be used for almost all scenes as it carries out metering across the entire image. Spot metering on the other hand is most effective when you want a certain object/subject to be correctly exposed. Apart from that, Digital cameras have an automatic exposure known as (AE) where it automatically decides the exposure of the image – where it determines the aperture and the shutter values. Below are the metering icons for your reference:

Image from Google

Let’s find out more about each camera metering mode.

Spot metering

They can only measure light in a very small area that takes a measurement from a single point or spot typically at the center of the image frame. So a mistake in choosing the area could actually affect the entire image with incorrect exposure. Usually, it sets the exposure according to where your focus point is. However, it’s the best mode to use to let you pinpoint small details in your frame and for scenes with areas that differ greatly in brightness level, such as backlit scenes. Other examples would be portraited photography like group photos and street photography of individuals. To get the focus point right and achieve your desired results, your subject has to be still. Below is an example of a spot metering image – where the subject is well focused from the background.

Guide to Spot Metering (Tricks for ALL Situations)Spot metering image: Google

Another good example of using spot metering is taking a photograph of a moon as it would only take up a small portion of the frame. The dark sky around it will give focus only to the moon and nothing around it.


  1. Your camera will not measure the light in the rest of the frame.
  2. It only concentrates on the small area you choose.
  3. Spot metering is best for situations with strong contrasts – any situation with strong highlights and shadows.

Partial metering

Partial Metering is a camera-metering mode in which the metering is weighted at the center of the viewfinder. They are similar to spot metering – helpful for photographing back-lit subjects or scenes with subjects small in the frame. . They are often used when the background is brighter than the subject. For example, taking a picture of a man standing close to a window where the window is brighter than the subject – making the subject so dark that they almost look like a silhouette. This is a good choice to change the camera to partial metering, especially when handling backlighting problems. So if a photographer is inclined more to create backlit portraits then using spot metering is the right choice in this situation.


  1. When the subject is much darker than a brighter background, partial metering will help create a much nicer exposure and a more detailed subject.
  2. Best to capture back-lit subjects.

Center-weighted metering

Center-weighted Metering evaluates the light in the middle of the frame and its surroundings and ignores the corners. It measures the exposure of a pretty big metering spot in the viewfinder of the camera. It is the most important metering mode in determining the correct exposure to the subject in the center of the frame. It only evaluates whatever is in the middle area of the image, which works perfectly for close-ups portraits, or when you want to prioritize the focus on whatever is in the middle frame. Below is an example – where the image captures the face of the wolf and reaches an accurate exposure value. The wolf is well exposed while the background is less visible.

Understanding Metering and Metering ModesCenter-weighted metering image: Google


  1. Suggest only use when the corners of the frame don’t have much importance.

Evaluative/Matrix Metering

Evaluative metering – is a popular and most used automatic metering mode in everyday photography and can be applied in most shooting scenarios (default metering mode on most DSLRs). It takes a series of readings in zones that cover the entire frame and then calculates the overall average exposure value. It generally does a pretty good job of determining the correct exposure as it collects data from across the entire frame and even gives priority to your focus point. Basically giving the camera the job to the job and thinks you want for the image. They will measure:

  1. the Brightness of the whole scene
  2. the Font and Rear lighting conditions and,
  3. the orientation of the camera – be it horizontal or vertical


  1. They are commonly used for general photography but it doesn’t work well for scenes where one area is brighter than the others which will lead to wrong exposure for the whole image.
  2. It is good to take when there are no strong shadows or highlights as it’s easier for the camera to balance the exposure with the help of light metering.


In conclusion, there’s a need for trial and error in photography. Take some time to experiment with the different metering modes in your camera and explore the many possibilities. It allows you to experience the different settings and could help to figure out your style to give artistic looks. And every time you explore the metering modes, it is recommended to set the mode back to the default setting for the following shoots.




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