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PHOTOCADEMY Lesson #3! Are you using the wrong metering mode?

Watch Master Guide to DSLR Metering Modes on YouTube

I lost track years ago how many people have told me that the meter is not working properly in their camera. They complain of consistently over and underexposed images. Watch this video to learn how to choose the proper metering mode. The next lesson we will be bringing the metering modes and the histogram usage together and give step by step instructions. Keep shooting!

Post your assignment photos here

Video Transcript

Welcome to Photocademy Lesson #3, The Master Guide to DSLR Metering Modes. We will be introducing the 3 major metering modes and providing examples of when to use each one. In our next Lesson we will expand on using the camera's meter and steps to perfect exposures every time.

Keep in mind that each camera is a little different and you will need to refer to your camera's manual for details.

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The first and most important metering mode is what Nikon calls matrix metering. Canon calls it evaluative, Sony uses the term multi & Panasonic calls it multiple.

Panasonic, like I, recommend using matrix metering most of the time. If you have a good understanding of exposure and your camera you will be able to use it almost exclusively.

When using matrix metering, the camera uses most of the area it sees in the scene in order to judge the total amount of light entering the lens. The camera uses that measurement to give you an exposure recommendation as shown by the guide in your viewfinder that looks like this. Often, that recommendation will be just fine, giving you the proper exposure.

These few images are classic examples of when to use matrix metering. Generally speaking, matrix metering measures scenes where there are continuous tones throughout the image and you want to meter all of the light in the scene.

As we just learned matrix is the most used and flexible metering mode. Another mode that is necessary sometimes is center weighted metering. When using center weighted mode it assigns a larger percentage of the exposure calculation to the center of the metered image frame. On some camera and lens combinations you can set how large that center circle is.

The perfect example of when to use center weighted metering is when the background is much brighter than the subject. Since the meter calculation is giving more weight to the center of the image, it can give a more accurate result. The subject will need to be in the center of the frame in order for this metering mode to work well.

The final mode that most DSLR cameras have is spot metering. The size of the metered circle varies by the camera model but it is usually between 3-10% of the viewfinder. On a Nikon camera the spot that the meter uses to calculate exposure is linked to the focus point which allows us to customize the area being metered, regardless of whether the subject is in the center of your scene, or to the left or right. Of course, to take advantage of this, you must have single point focus selected as your focusing choice so that YOU, not the camera, are deciding upon where to focus AND read exposure.

You can use the spot mode when you have a very large difference in light intensity between the subject and the background or you need to control where the meter is reading the light intensity. You could use spot metering on these images since you are already moving your focus point off to the side and there is a big difference in the foreground vs background light levels and colors. Just be careful, if you put that spot in the wrong place or on a very dark or light area your exposure can be negatively affected.

Now to review. Most of the time, matrix (AKA evaluative, multi, or multiple) metering will give you the most accurate reading. The other two modes, center weighted and spot metering, should only be used in special situations. Just don't forget to switch back to matrix metering when finished. It would stink to think that your camera is working incorrectly only to find out that you forgot to change metering modes. We've heard from many folks who thought there was something wrong with their camera's light meter only to find out that they had it on the wrong setting! Embarrassing, yes? Spot metering is especially dangerous since it moves with the focus point.

The meter reading, or exposure recommendation, is not 100% accurate, so use it like a guide, not a hard and fast rule. Know that you are the boss, not your camera.

In our next video we will teach you how to put your knowledge of metering modes into practice by using the metering guide in your camera as well as your histogram. You might want to bone up on your histogram skills (found in our previous video) because it is important to the process.

On to your assignment. Create a series of 3 images using each of the 3 primary metering modes. Use manual exposure mode and set the meter scale in the middle so there are no hashmarks to the left or right of 0. Note how your exposure recommendation changes. Also try on spot metering mode and try moving the focus point around the frame and note how the meter scale changes depending on the color or brightness of the focus/spot meter location.

Our next lesson is don't be duped by your DSLR's meter. Keep Shooting

Master Guide to DSLR Metering Modes
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