The Best DSLR Metering Mode For Amazing Photos

Inside: Need camera metering modes explained? Understand your camera’s metering modes and learn how to choose the best DSLR metering mode for amazing images! This post may contain affiliate links.

  • Do you struggle to get consistent results from your camera?
  • Have you noticed how your camera takes great images in certain lighting situations but not in others?
  • Can’t figure out why?

I’m here to help!

If you’re shooting with your DSLR in auto mode, your camera may not be using the best metering mode for the light you’re shooting in.

Read on to learn about the different metering modes available and how to choose the best DSLR metering mode for consistent results in any light.

What Are The Different DSLR Metering Modes?

Your camera uses different metering modes to take a “meter reading” (also known as “metering”).

When light from a scene hits your camera meter it determines how much light is available to create an exposure (or image).

It evaluates the light and generates a reading on your in-camera meter which tells you if there’s too much light, too little light, or the right amount.

Your in-camera meter looks like a number line with numbers from -3 to +3. You can see it inside your camera’s view finder.

Here’s how to take a meter reading:

Look through your viewfinder and place your active focal point (Nikon) or center focal point (Canon) over your subject. Depress your shutter button halfway.

Related: How to choose your focal point.

You’ll see a ticker on your in-camera meter.

  • When the ticker falls on 0 (or +1), you’ll have a well exposed photo.
  • If there’s too much light, your ticker will fall toward the + side of the number line and your image will be overexposed (too bright).
  • And if there’s too little light, your ticker will fall toward the – side of the number line and your image will be underexposed (too dark).

Based on the meter reading you can adjust your camera settings so your photo will be properly exposed.

There are 3 common metering modes your camera can use to read the light (4 options for Canon models).

Evaluative (Canon) or Matrix (Nikon)

The red areas in the images below represent the parts of the scene your camera would use in each metering mode to read the light.

In evaluative or matrix mode, your camera evaluates the light from the entire scene, with some preference given for the active focal point.

Center-Weighted Metering Mode

In center-weighted mode, your camera prioritizes the light coming from the center of the frame but then averages it with the rest of the scene.

Spot Metering Mode

In spot metering mode, your camera evaluates the light reflected from one very small spot.

  • On Nikon cameras, it reads the light on the active focal point.
  • On Canon cameras, it reads the light on the center focal point.

See the small red dot on the butterfly? Spot metering mode reads only the light reflected off your subject:

camera metering modes explained

Partial Metering Mode (Canon cameras only)

In partial metering mode, your camera evaluates the light reflected from the center focal point.  It’s similar to spot metering mode but includes a larger area.

partial metering canon

Check out this page for another visual representation of these 4 metering modes.

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What’s The Best DSLR Metering Mode?

So glad you asked!

Different metering modes work better or worse under different lighting conditions. Let’s look at some examples of images taken in the same light with different metering modes.

nikon metering modes

Each of the metering modes worked well in this situation because the light is even across the scene. 

When I pointed my camera at the pear and adjusted my settings to 0 on my in-camera meter, each photo came out well-exposed no matter the metering mode.

Different Light

However, Matrix/Evaluative Mode and Center-Weighted Modes don’t work as well in situations where there’s a lot of difference between light and dark areas of the scene, especially when the light source is behind your subject.

Check out what happened when I changed my angle to place the light source behind my subject:

canon dslr metering modes

The first two modes tried to read the light from both the bright window and the darker pear, which made the pear too dark.

Partial metering worked better, but spot metering mode gave me the best result and good exposure on the pear.

The areas of red overlay below demonstrate how the camera read the light in each metering mode:

light metering dslr

In my experience, spot metering mode provides the most precision and works under the widest variety of lighting conditions. 

I shoot in spot metering mode 100% of the time.

I love spot metering mode because it works great for photos shot in backlight (my favorite type of light!), like this one:

Because I used spot metering mode, the camera didn’t get confused by the bright light behind her (the backlight).

Here’s another example:

Thanks to spot metering the people in this photo are properly exposed even though they are in a shady area and walking into bright light.

If I had used evaluative or matrix metering, the camera would have taken all the light throughout the frame into account to set the exposure and would have underexposed the subjects because it would want to balance them with the brightness of the light in the trees.

Related: Understanding the Types of Light In Photography

Important Note: You can’t change your metering mode if your camera’s in auto mode. If you need help getting your DSLR off auto mode check out this resource: How To Use DSLR Camera.

How To Change Your Camera Metering Mode

Here’s how to switch to spot metering mode:

On some cameras, there’s a dedicated button that allows you to change the metering mode:

On my camera when I depress the metering mode button I’m able to rotate the command dial until I get to spot metering mode.

The symbol for spot metering mode looks like one dot in the center of a square, as pictured below:

On entry-level DSLR cameras, there won’t be a dedicated button for changing the metering mode. You’ll need to go into the camera’s menu to change the metering mode.

Here’s how:

  • Press the “INFO” (Nikon) or the “Q” button (Canon)
  • Use the up and down toggle key to scroll to the metering icon
  • Choose spot metering (center dot).

Here’s a quick video demonstration on how to change your Canon dslr metering modes:

If you have any trouble figuring this out pull out your camera manual.  Use it to find out how to switch your particular camera model to spot metering mode.  

Or try Google!  You may find a search for “how to switch to spot metering mode on a (camera model)” very helpful.

Give spot metering a try!

You’ll enjoy better control over your images and more consistent results in any light!

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