Digital Camera Metering Modes

Photographically, it’s something of a crime that most cameras come out of the box, get charged up, and live out their useful lives on default settings in automatic mode. Mid-level to prosumer point-and-shoot cameras give the photographer far more control and power than most people realize. When you’re ready to stop settling for snapshots and take charge of the color and light in your images, start by learning how to use your camera’s metering modes.

* Read the Manual *

Always start by finding out exactly what your camera can do. Dig out the manual and look up “metering.” Read about each setting and practice going through the steps on the camera so you’ll be able to change them quickly and intuitively. Experiment with some initial test shots and look for subtle differences in how the camera “sees” the available light.

According to how the scene is metered, the camera will use different exposure options. Don’t let the word “exposure” scare you. It just means the camera will decide how fast the shutter will click and how large or small the opening or “aperture” of the lens will be.

* Common Metering Modes *

While not as sophisticated as the light meters the pros use, your camera can still interpret available light in a scene in different and useful ways. The following settings are the ones you will likely have at your disposal:

– Center Weighted: Sometimes referred to as “overall” metering, this is the default in most point and shoot models and the metering that will be standard if no other options are available. It averages the entire frame while concentrating on the center portion and is good for general and portrait photography.

– Evaluative: Also called “matrix” metering, it looks at the frame by zones which are then evaluated collectively to take an average. Increasingly this is becoming the default on newer and higher end point and shoot models because the complexity of the algorithms used to read the scene returns better light interpretation than Center Weighted metering. With this version, your camera will be able to correctly interpret the lighting in most scenes.

– Spot: This one points right at the center of the frame, about 4-5% of the overall view, and takes a precise light reading for that area while ignoring the remainder of the frame. It allows you to make sure that the subject – the thing you’re interested in photographing – has the best lighting. This is a good choice in a scene with lighting extremes, such as backlighting, a dark background, or pools of bright sunlight.

– Partial: Essentially this is just a “bigger” version of spot metering that takes a reading on roughly 13.5-14% of the frame. Use this one for portraits when there’s a light behind the person and you want to minimize the risk of under exposing the face. If you’re unsure about the lighting, especially with backlighting present, take a couple of shots with Spot Metering and a couple with Partial just to be safe.

* Shoot, Shoot, Shoot and Then, Shoot Some More *

If you’re not filling up the memory card on your digital camera, you’re probably not getting the shots you want. The beauty of digital over film is that there are no expensive, “wasted” shots. The pros don’t get that magnificent shot in a single try and neither will you. No one ever has to see the failures. The more pictures you take and the more you experiment to understand all the unique nuances of your camera, the more in charge you’ll be when you press that shutter button.