As amateur photographers, once you have come to grips with ISO, aperture and shutter speed we find ourselves craving to learn more in order to take our photographs to the next level. There are so many technical terms, complicated theories and concepts that can often sound too daunting to deal with. What I have found easier with photography is not to attempt to learn everything at the same time but rather to take it step by step. So, the technical term that I will be explaining today is metering. Most cameras will have some subset of the following metering modes: spot, center weighted average (sometimes just called “average”), evaluative (sometimes called multi-segment or matrix) and partial (not found on all cameras so won’t go into this one). Today, I intend on explaining each one of these in a way that I hope will help you take your wildlife photography to the next level.
Different metering modes measure the brightness of an image in different ways according to what your subject is and adjusting the exposure accordingly. Cameras all differ in how to change the metering mode and what symbols are used for each one but the general symbol to look out for is one that looks like an eye. For the sake of attempting to keep things as simple as possible, I have only shown examples on a Nikon D300 and a Canon 7D. I recommend a Google search or the information booklet that comes with your camera to help you find yours.
Spot metering is the easiest to understand: The camera meters only a small area in the center of the frame. This mode is useful if there is a particular area of the frame that you must expose properly, even if it comes at the expense of overexposing or underexposing the rest of the image. Spot metering can be tricky to use properly. If the metered area is quite small, tiny camera movements can have dramatic effects on the metering, making it tricky to get the desired exposure.
Evaluative Metering (Matrix)
Evaluative metering is the most complex metering method, even though it is often the default on most cameras. It samples multiple areas of the frame and tries to come up with a good exposure value that takes all of these areas into account. The camera will seperate what it sees into different zones and will expose according to these zones taking into consideration the focal point that you have chosen. With this being said, it is the most commonly used metering in wildlife photography and is often the default on most cameras. The best time to use evaluative metering is when your composition does not have too much difference in the lights and darks and you will find that the camera exposes perfectly. For wildlife photography, I suggest using this mode as your default setting.
Center-weighted average metering takes an average over the entire scene, where, as the name indicates, the average is weighted more heavily towards the centre. This implicitly makes the assumption that the centre is the most important part of the image, but that you don’t want to completely ignore the edges of the image either. Different to evaluative in that it does not use the focal point to take the exposure from but rather only uses the centre of the image, making every shot on centre weighted the same in terms of where the exposure is taken from. If implemented properly, this metering mode usually works pretty well. Moreover, with some practice, it will be relatively easy to predict when it will fail and to compensate. In wildlife photography this is the less popular of the different metering modes.
I hope that I have helped you to understand this concept. If you have any advice on how to use these metering modes that I haven’t mentioned then please feel free to let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Kate Neill
Photographed by James Tyrrell, Kate Neill and David Dampier