In Photography

Metering Mode Explained Simply

Shooting in manual mode may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Today, lets cover which metering mode is best for shooting in manual.

What is Metering?

First, lets talk about metering. When you look through your viewfinder, you’ll see a horizontal line with a zero in the middle and a plus sign on one end and a minus sign on the other. Depending on what brand of camera you own, this may be opposite. I use Nikon, and the meter is positive on the left and negative on the right. It doesn’t seem intuitive to some, but I learned that way, and it works for me. Depending on how your brain works, you may choose to leave it or *reverse it to where the meter looks like Canon’s (and most other brands, I believe).

Shooting in Manual Metering

***For Nikon users wishing to switch the meter: Go into your menu under the Custom Setting Menu…and scroll down until you see “controls”, then scroll to “reverse indicator”.  I use a Nikon D750 and f8 will allow me to reverse the meter. I also own a Nikon D700 and the reverse indicator is on f12. For other models of Nikons, it should be close to those….if not, google “reverse indicator for Nikon (Your Model #) and you should find an answer! 

The meter is a tool to determine how much light is needed to expose a scene adequately. There are several metering modes that I’ll go over quickly.

Choosing the Best Metering Mode

Okay, when shooting in manual, it’s easy to choose your meter mode. It’s going to be spot. ha! But, in case you don’t believe me, below read about the different types of modes and decide for yourself. 🙂

Matrix or Evaluative (depending on brand) Metering Mode

This is the default mode that your camera will have turned on from the factory. In this mode, the camera will take into account the entire scene and expose accordingly. This mode works best in Auto. If the scene has bright areas and dark areas, it will chose somewhere in the middle, which may not be what you have envisioned. So, simply put, this is basically auto for metering. You may get lucky and get a good exposure, you might not. Sounds a little risky to me! I never use this mode to meter.

Matrix Metering Shooting in Manual

Center Weighted Metering or Center Weighted Average Metering Mode

In this mode, the center of the image determines what data is used to determine the exposure. There is a slightly better change of getting a nice exposure, but your subject must be smack dab in the middle of the image for best results…still not the best mode for most situations. Ditto the above metering mode….I never use this mode to meter.

Center Weighted Metering Shooting in Manual

Spot Metering Mode

Now we are talking. In this metering mode, a tiny portion of the image is considered when choosing the exposure. I guess you are wondering how that could be better? Particularly in portraits, where the most important exposure is skin, this is the easiest mode to get consistent, perfect exposures. It’s a little different depending if your using a Nikon or Canon camera, so I’ll explain.

Nikon Users: You can select any focal point, whichever you have chosen to focus and frame your image. Next, place that focal point over the area that you want correctly exposed. For portraits, that would be skin. Then based on that meter reading, dial in your exposure to somewhere between 0 and +1. So, for example, the spot right over her ear…place that over her face, and take a measurement.

Nikon Spot Metering Mode

Canon Users: You guys read the exposure using the center focal point only. So, move your camera until the center focal point is over her skin and then dial in the exposure to somewhere between 0 and +1 depending on your camera and your taste.

Canon Spot Metering Modes


Get out your camera manual (it is really a wealth of info!!!!) and learn how to change your metering modes. Sometimes the modes can be changed easily from the exterior of your camera (look for the symbols demonstrated in the above photos) and other models, you’ll need to go into the menu on the LCD.

Are you ready to learn to shoot in manual mode? Turn it to spot metering and don’t look back!

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