While many of the simplest cameras have only one metering mode, many of the more advanced compact cameras and all DSLRs offer you a choice of metering mode options when you are shooting an image.
But what exactly is a metering mode? Well, you know that, in order to be able to determine the proper exposure for a scene, your camera must meter, or measure, the light within the scene. The metering mode determines where within the scene the light is measured.
Matrix metering, also called multi-segment or evaluative metering, depending on the brand, is the default metering on most cameras. With matrix metering, the camera divides the scene into a number of segments and measures the brightness in each of these zones. The exposure for the entire scene is then determined based on these measurements, using a set of algorithms programmed into the camera’s onboard software. So, basically, matrix metering determines exposure by using something akin to the average brightness over the entire scene.
Matrix metering is a good for most scenes, especially those that are evenly lit and are fairly low contrast.
Center-weighted metering determines the exposure by measuring light throughout the scene, but giving more weight to the light reading taken at the part of the scene contained within a circular area in the center of the viewfinder. On some camera models, you can actually change the size of that circle.
Center-weighted metering allows you to expose for your subject in a more thoughtful way than matrix metering does. For that reason, center-weighted metering is a great choice when you are shooting a single subject that you want to be certain is correctly exposed. A good example here is portrait photography.
Spot or partial metering determines exposure based on the light reading at a specific part of the scene. The difference between spot metering and partial metering is the size of the metered area, with spot metering using a much smaller area than partial.
Spot metering is a good option when you need complete control over the metering area. This is often the case when you are shooting a scene that’s high in contrast or where your subject is significantly lighter or darker than their background. A good example of one of these types of situations is photographing the moon at night, a bright object surrounded by a large area of darkness. By using spot metering, you can make sure to use an exposure that allows the details of your subject to show through.
For some additional reading on metering modes, check out this great post from Digital Photo Secrets:
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f you are just getting started in photography, exposure is one of the first things you need learn.
But even beyond that, getting a good handle on exposure and how the different components of exposure work together is essential if you want to take control of your photography and the images that you are creating.