Metering Mode – Basics
Manual Mode

Have you ever taken a picture and wondered why in the world your subject was underexposed when your metering said it was perfectly exposed? The reason could be that you are not using the proper metering mode.

Why re-invent the wheel? Check out this explanation of the 3 different metering modes.

Introduction to Metering Modes

There are different types of metering and they are called different things on a Canon verses a Nikon. Here is an example of each of the metering modes. All of these are SOOC for the purpose of you seeing the difference. I metered off of her skin and my meter stated that all of these were properly exposed.

1. Evaluative (Canon), Matrix (Nikon), Pattern (other brands)

2. Center weighted

3. Spot (Nikon), Partial (Canon)

Personally, I use spot metering about 99% of the time. I meter off of the skin by placing my focal point on their face.

Metering mode is a personal choice depending on the situation so feel free to play around with your modes to figure out what you like best.

85 Comments
  • Amber
    September 27, 2010 at 8:22 AM

    Whoa! Love this blog and your demo! I had NO idea this even existed!

    • September 27, 2010 at 3:13 PM

      Yay!! I’m so happy I could teach you something new :O)

  • September 27, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    This is great, Courtney. I need to work on my metering. When you’re outside in full light are you still spot metering?

    • September 27, 2010 at 3:11 PM

      Yes, honestly, the only time I change it is when I’m shooting at night because I’m not shooting people but landmarks, lights, etc :O)

  • September 27, 2010 at 7:32 PM

    She is just as cute as a button! Ok, I’m going to have to read up on this one. I had no idea I had to meter anything but it does make sure. Now I need to find it on my camera and now to change it. Thanks for the great tip.

    • September 27, 2010 at 8:14 PM

      Trish, let me know if you can’t figure out how to change it on your camera. I can try to help! :O) It is more the way the camera decides what to use to meter. For example, spot metering only meters off of what I tell it to (the person’s skin) that way I know the skin is always perfectly exposed, to me that is the most important :O)

      • Brandy
        December 4, 2013 at 9:37 PM

        Hi!

        I love this tutorial, but I have a question.

        How are you metering off of her skin? Isn’t your focal point on her eye? I’m a little confused because I hear people say to focus on the eyes…but in order to get correct exposure you have to focus on her skin…am I missing something lol

        • December 9, 2013 at 1:40 PM

          It can be confusing. Yes, you want to meter off the skin and since the eye is so small 9/10 you are exposing from the skin when you are focusing on the eye. Does that make sense?

          • Ralf
            January 11, 2015 at 4:30 AM

            Hi Courtney, Thanks so much for all of these simple explanations with great example images!
            I’ve got a follow up question on the “metering off of her Skin” vs “focus on the eyes” question.

            Does that mean when you prepare for the shot you use the skin to check for correct exposure (change aperture, shutter and ISO), and then when you are ready you actually focus on the eye?

            Cheers,
            Ralf

            • January 12, 2015 at 3:36 PM

              Yes, that is exactly right. Meter off the skin to set your exposure and then focus on the eye :)

  • September 28, 2010 at 3:03 AM

    Another great post! The pictures really show the results of each type. Spot metering is my preferred choice as well.

  • September 28, 2010 at 5:27 AM

    Thank you! I was just trying to figure out today what to do when photography Bennett with a bright light behind him. The meter said it look good, but he was underexposed.

    • September 28, 2010 at 5:39 AM

      but i may need help!!!

      • September 28, 2010 at 8:27 AM

        If you want me to check out your photo and see if I can help, you can email me at [email protected]. Just be sure to send me your settings and what you focused on :O) I know how frustrating it can be to not know why your photo isn’t turning out the way you want it to :O)

  • September 28, 2010 at 8:08 AM

    Courtney ~ I am impressed you were able to decipher my cryptic message. (That’s what I get for replying while talking, watching TV, and playing with the puppies.) Take 2 ~ I did not know I had to meter. I will have to read up on it and learn how to adjust it on my camera. Oh, I can’t wait till Thursday, my day off this week. I plan on heading out to a local farm to photograph the fall harvest. Now, I’ll have to practice with metering, changing focal points and making sure I have my subject in a “third”… I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks again for all the helpful tips.

    • September 28, 2010 at 8:29 AM

      How exciting to photograph a fall harvest!! I can’t wait to see your photos!! Let me know if you have any more questions :O)

  • Cassie
    September 30, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    When you are shooting a large group do you use your spot meter? I appreciate all your tips! They have been very useful!

    • September 30, 2010 at 8:06 PM

      Yes, I still use spot metering and just choose someone’s skin to meter off of. Glad you have found some helpful tips :0)

  • October 1, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    Wow! I had no idea this existed. For some reason I missed this tutorial. So I don’t have anything for tomorrow. I will try this out this week and post next friday! Thanks again!

    • October 2, 2010 at 7:15 PM

      You can always post any picture you took this week! We love your photos! :O)

  • March 4, 2011 at 1:01 AM

    I have been spending hours on your site the last few days, trying to better figure out my new D90, which i noticed you shoot. (I also got the 50mm f/1.8 lens).

    The part about metering I didn’t get was, what do you meter with? As in, when you look through the camera, what are you pointing at the face or whatever to meter? You answered that with one of your last sentences on this post: with the focal point.

    Thank you for all these tutorials. These have been so much more helpful than the forums i joined.

    • March 8, 2011 at 1:36 PM

      The red square in your view finder is what I put on the skin to meter, that is the focal point :O) Good luck!

  • Marina
    December 8, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    Okay I’m feeling like a dummy, but what exactly do you do “to meter”? Just take the picture or an I missing out on an entire step? So confused!

    • December 9, 2011 at 2:31 PM

      Don’t feel like a dummy!!! Believe me I have asked all the questions you are thinking :O) You will want to put your square or red circle which ever your camera has, put that on the skin. That red square or circle is what your camera reads to “meter” off of. Good luck!

  • Lisa
    April 7, 2012 at 10:36 PM

    Hi there I have just come across your site via Facebook and so glad I did. If you don’t mind I have query regarding metering to skin (I am determined to get it right). Once you have got your focal point on their skin do you need to lock it in, say if I press the focus back button (on Nikon D700), recompose the shot and then press the shutter button on the front of the camera. Or is there no locking in? Hope this makes sense!!

    • Courtney
      April 14, 2012 at 10:21 AM

      When you use BBF you aren’t “locking” your image. You are locking on the same plane as what you focused on. So basically, if your subject moves forward or backwards they will not be in focus anymore. What are you recomposing?? Do you have it set up so you can select your focal point and move it around? http://www.clickitupanotch.com/2010/09/changing-your-focal-point/ Hope this helps. Let me know :O)

    • May 22, 2012 at 7:31 PM

      That is very interesting, You’re an ovlery professional blogger. I have joined your feed and look ahead to in search of extra of your fantastic post. Also, I’ve shared your website in my social networks

  • Sherry
    April 13, 2012 at 5:58 AM

    On your last picture example you have spot(nikon) partial (canon). I have a canon which has both options (spot and partial) so which do I use?

    • Courtney
      April 14, 2012 at 10:22 AM

      I would guess spot. What type of Canon do you have?? I can find out for sure :O)

      • Sherry
        April 15, 2012 at 9:37 PM

        It’s a Canon Rebel T2i. Also do you still choose spot when there are multiple subjects?

        • Courtney
          April 16, 2012 at 8:53 PM

          Here is a good post that talks about T2i and metering modes. I think you would still want to choose spot metering but it won’t be an active AF point anymore. http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/T2I/T2IA5.HTM When you are shooting more than one person you can meter off one of them.

          • Sherry
            April 17, 2012 at 3:14 AM

            Thank-you!

  • Van
    March 19, 2013 at 7:55 PM

    So glad I found your site. Thank you for all the straightforward tips and easy-to-follow instructions.
    Thank You!!!

    • Courtney
      March 22, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      Welcome!! Thanks :)

  • karresa grant
    May 4, 2013 at 9:46 PM

    <3 your videos they are so much help to me :-) i have a canon rebel xsi can you tell me where i can adjust my meter mode on this camera please and thank you!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      May 7, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      Hey! Glad you enjoy the videos! I don’t have a Canon Rebel xsi. If you google it you should be able to find something with directions on how to change your metering modes :)

  • emma
    June 5, 2013 at 3:22 AM

    Thankyou so much for your easy to understand tips. Question though, when metering in spot on my nikon d5100 is it always in the smack bang middle of the frame? Or now that I’ve changed to AF-S or even AF-C does that mean the metering follows my focus points? Also I hope this isn’t too much of a dumb Q, but metering is done by half pressing the shutter button, does that need to be kept pressed down or can you release before taking the pic? Ps I’m just trying out BBF aswell! So much learning going on here! Thanks in advance.
    Emma

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 7, 2013 at 2:25 PM

      Hey Emma!

      You should be able to change your focal point so you can choose where you want it to meter off of – http://clickitupanotch.com/2010/09/changing-your-focal-point/ You can focus when you press the meter down half way but you should be able to meter without pressing it down half way. If you are too overwhelmed don’t worry about BBF for now. It took me a while before I moved on to BBF. Good luck :)

  • June 10, 2013 at 5:57 PM

    This has helped me ALOT today. I thought I was doing all the right things and kept my camera on matrix all the time. Definitely going to change this today and give it a try.

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 17, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      Hope you were able to change it and give it a try!

  • Cindy MacDonald
    January 3, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    Okay so maybe I am just missing the answer to this, or it is to late for me to comprehend, but if we should be focusing on the eyes, but metering off of the skin should we be keeping the red box on the face most of the time? I have read on other sites that you can meter to get the exposure right, but then move the camera to change where you want your focus point to be. Would that mean to focus on the skin to meter and without letting go of the shutter button, move the camera to what I want to focus on or is there another way? I hope that makes sense.

    • January 6, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      Hey Cindy,

      Yes, it is slightly confusing. The shutter button doesn’t have anything to do with metering so you don’t need to worry about holding that. The shutter helps find the focus. So I normally put the focus on the eye and can meter and get a properly exposed image :) Hope that helps.

  • Aditya
    February 21, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    Can’t express you how thankful I am that I clicked on to this site. Have gone through only two blogs and loving every bit. I have a kid who is ten months old and trying to capture all his moments and now I will try to do in manual thanks to you with my Nikon d5100.

  • Andrea
    June 3, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    Hi Courtney.
    I have read all the comments above and just want to check if I understand correctly.
    I have my Nikon D5100 on Spot Metering and Single-point AF mode. (According to the manual, spot metering doesn’t work on some AF modes). I move my red dot to my focal point and my camera will meter according to that focal point and I adjust my SS, F stop and ISO to get the correct exposure. Once exposure is correct, I then focus on my point using BBF (I’m trying out BBF) and shoot.
    Thanks a million for everything.
    Andrea

  • Debi
    June 6, 2014 at 11:25 PM

    I’m trying to find the metering on my Nikon D80 and can’t find anything that says that in the menu. Is it called something else in this camera?

  • Cheryl
    July 13, 2014 at 10:29 PM

    Took a picture where the sun wa going down. I was about 50 feet away. I spot metered but the faces were still dark. Does this not work in that situation.

  • Natasha
    October 2, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    I just found your site yesterday and have been spending HOURS reading up on tons of helpful information. Metering has ALWAYS confused me. I have a Canon t3i and always just leave it on spot metering – even though I don’t think I really know what I am doing. haha So glad I found this article (and the comments!) and will play around with metering more!

    • October 6, 2014 at 9:30 AM

      Hey Natasha,

      I’m thrilled to hear you have found the site so helpful! Have fun playing with metering mode.

  • Rasmus
    October 8, 2014 at 4:19 AM

    Hey Courtney

    I’m finding it very difficult getting a proper metering (even with spot), when shooting outside photos, where part of the subject is lit by sun and other parts are not (mostly portraits). How do you handle these kind of situations? Do you just avoid them completely ;-)?

    Thank you for a VERY informative site.

    Rasmus

  • Jessie
    October 9, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    Hi Courtney,

    Can I do this in manual mode. My 50mm 1.4 lens won’t work in auto. If so, just keep it on the M dial setting? I am a newbie. Hope this makes sense! :)

  • Jessie
    October 13, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    I mispoke. The lens is actually a 1.8, and autofocus doesn’t work on my camera with that particular lens. I have tried metering with this lens and camera, and can’t see any results. Does that camera automatically change settings once I meter? How do I know if the camera is telling me that the subject is properly exposed?

  • October 27, 2014 at 2:44 PM

    Hi Courtney,

    I love you posts/blogs! It is wonderful that you allow people to play in your sandbox, rather than keeping everything that you know to yourself for fear someone may do it better..You ROCK!

    Now that that’s out of the way, I’m looking to you for some advice. I am thinking serioulsy about volunteering with “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep”. If you haven’t heard of this service, it is for parents that’s newborn child may either have been still born or is not expected to live a long time. The photographer comes to the hospital to take pictures of the little time they have with their baby before saying good-bye. This happened to my niece and her husband and they cherish the pictures that were captured of their little boy, that left us too soon.

    Here’s where I’m a bit panicked. I do a lot of sessions indoors in a make shift photo studio or outside. I have to admit, a good deal of my time is spent post prossessing, but it seems to be getting shorter and shorter as I become more experienced. I need to be proficient in low light situations. I have a Nikon D800/Sigma F2.8 70-200, Sigma 1.4 35mm fixed lens, Nikon 1.8 50mm. My first thought would be to use the Sigma 70-200, as it is zoom lens and I could stay out of the way and capture the moments, but really would appreciate if you could weigh in on this for me.

    Thanks so much!
    Robin

    • October 28, 2014 at 10:47 AM

      Hey Robin,

      Thanks! Yes, I’m familiar with NILMDTS. It is a wonderful organization and I think it’s wonderful you want to volunteer. As for lenses I would think the 35mm 1.4 would be your best bet. That would allow you more flexibility with a wider aperture to bring in more light. Also, I too have a 70-200 but find it hard to use indoors. I would imagine in a small hospital room that a 70-200 would be hard. If you do want a zoom then maybe the 24-70mm would be a good bet.

  • Geraldine Swynnerton
    November 1, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    Hi Courtney. I cannot remember where I found your site but tonight I am REALLY glad I did! Until now I have been trying to get a meter reading and focusing at the same time, on the same spot and the fact that some of my photos come out spot on, is a miracle! By saying that you can basically point the camera in the area of where u want to take a meter reading, adjusting it & then pushing the shutter half way to focus, makes a big step forward in my progress! Thank you so much.

    • November 4, 2014 at 2:42 PM

      I’m so glad to hear you found this tutorial helpful! Yay for progress! :)

  • Jane Margaret Visaya
    January 21, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    Hi Courtney, I’ve been reading your posts from the beginning because I’m keeping track of everything that I’ve learned about photography especially from the basics. I first started to learn the basics when I found your blog and it helped me a lot. I just really don’t understand that well how metering works. I have quite a few ideas on my mind but I just can’t put it into words. I don’t know. Haha. But I was just hoping you could explain some for me or if you know any site that I could read about this topic which explains metering in a simple manner, that might be a big help. Thank you so much!

  • dana
    January 22, 2015 at 5:49 PM

    I am still trying to grasp metering. Is this to just help guide me along with my settings or is my camera supposed to locking in some sort of information. I have a Canon 6D and the manual has no information on it at all. I have no clue if I am doing this right. I have always used my meter to gauge my settings, but it’s always been based on my personal taste. I BBF and with my camera I use the center point to meter, so I am even confused if I am pushing the right buttons to meter right… I could be doing this all wrong..

    • January 23, 2015 at 11:14 AM

      Hey Dana,

      If shooting on manual mode then you use metering to adjust your settings. Your camera won’t lock anything unless you set the settings there. Yes, you use the meter to gauge your settings. To meter you will change your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

      • dana
        January 23, 2015 at 1:28 PM

        Thank you so much! I am just waaaayyy over thinking this!

        • Janet
          February 10, 2015 at 5:00 PM

          Sound just like me Dana….

  • Mira
    January 30, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    Hello , i am new to the blog and i like it a lot !!! THANK YOU ..
    i just want to ask if there is a way to practice the metering thing ??!
    and thank you again

    • February 2, 2015 at 10:24 AM

      Hey Mira,

      Welcome! Glad you are enjoying the blog! For metering modes, I would suggest putting it on spot metering and moving on. You do need to practice metering on your subject to get your exposure correct that doesn’t include changing your metering mode. That is when you would use shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

  • Suzanne
    February 3, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    Hi Courtenay,
    Thank you for all of your tips. They are all so relevant do me. One question about metering. Is spot metering suggested for taking photos of a dancer performing on stage? It’s the setting I’ve been using but wonder if you suggest a different one.
    Thank you :)

    • February 6, 2015 at 11:44 AM

      Hey Suzanne,

      Yes, I would suggest still using spot metering since the light is so direct on the subject. Good luck!

  • February 3, 2015 at 5:31 PM

    Thanks for this! I knew those were on my cameraa but didn’t really understand what it was for. I always wondered how to meter right and get my daughter to not be ao dark in backlit pictures. This will help that right?

    • February 6, 2015 at 11:44 AM

      Yes, if you use the spot meter option and place the meter on your daughter to meter than she should be properly exposed then. Good luck :)

      • February 7, 2015 at 3:09 PM

        Thanks! I’ll try that this weekend :)

  • February 3, 2015 at 5:33 PM

    Ooo I would have the same question as Sudan above since my daughter is in ballet this year.

  • Janet
    February 10, 2015 at 4:59 PM

    I’ve said this to myself soooo many times….. NOW I GET it!

    Thank you Courtney! I love your short, to the point tips and hints, especially when they are accompanied with photos…

  • Michelle
    February 15, 2015 at 1:48 AM

    Thanks for your helpful info about photography! I find it very easy to understand and now I know more about my camera, feels good :)

    I have a question about metering. Sounds like centre and spot metering modes are more for metering light for subjects that are in the middle of the frame. What if I want to compose my picture so that my subject is off centre? Will these modes still help in getting the right exposure? Thanks!

    • February 17, 2015 at 11:37 AM

      Hey Michelle,
      It depends on your camera. Canon people need to set their meter (exposure) from the center and then recompose the shot. However, Nikon users have an active focal point so you can meter (exposure) and put your focal point on your subject no matter where they are in the frame.

  • February 24, 2015 at 8:37 AM

    Very nice explanation but I am confused. I have Canon 40D and am still learning, working on understanding metering. I love yor blog, very helpful. So in the Canon manual it says that Spot metering is “metering a specific part of the subject or scene. The metering is weighted at the center covering about 3.8% of the viewfinder area” (a dot symbol) and partial metering is “Effective when the background is much brighter than the subject due to backlighting, etc. Partial metering covers about 9% of the viewfinder area at the center” (eye like symbol)
    Isn’t your picture #3 an example of the spot metering? You said partial in Canon and thats what got me confused. Thank you in advance for any help on this. Which metering mode should I use to really blow out that background and make my daughter look well exposed?

    • February 24, 2015 at 2:12 PM

      Hey Dorota,

      It can be quite confusing. I’m a Nikon shooter so I did the best I could to find Canon information to go with the post. If you have spot metering on Canon then I would use that. I use spot metering almost 100% of the time. If you are looking for which mode to use for a bright background then yes, spot metering will help you there.

      • February 24, 2015 at 2:30 PM

        Thank you so much! I just discovered your blog and I am a huge fan :)

  • February 24, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    I guess I dont understand what the difference is between the two… I will apreciate any help on this, Courtney. Thank youso much

  • Holly
    June 19, 2016 at 11:15 PM

    You’re amazing Courtney! Photography has been a passion of mine for years and I shoot in manual but I have never been extremely confident in using it. The way you explain EVERYTHING IS just wonderful.. so easy to understand. My daughter is now 16 months and I can say my photography is improving so much everyday because of all you have shared. THANK YOU!!!! so very much. I have join some of the instagram challenges and I can’t wait to post my first photos on them tomorrow. Thank you again! Keep clickin ;)
    Holly Rowbottom :)

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