Most cameras offer several choices for light metering. From spot to evaluative metering, how do you know which option will produce the best results in a given shooting scenario? Michael Snedic  talks us through the making of five images to shed some light on this important subject.

Metering is one area that I constantly get asked about by photography students, even from fairly experienced photographers. Understanding metering is really quite easy and doesn't need to be put in the 'too hard' basket.

Most cameras offer several choices for light metering, from spot metering (where the camera assesses a very small area at the centre of the frame) to matrix or average metering (where the camera makes a complex reading of the entire scene, placing emphasis on the areas of the frame where the subject is most likely to be).

My aim in this article is to explain, using various images as examples, when to use certain types of metering.

(Note: For Nikon cameras, their ‘average’ metering mode is called Matrix and for Canon cameras this is called Evaluative. Other brands call this type of metering either Multi-segment, Multi-zone or Pattern.)


I was walking along the boardwalk in Cairns, the sky reflecting an amazing gold colour into the water. The wind created a ripple effect and it was an absolutely amazing scene. In the corner of my eye, I saw some movement and it was a Great Egret walking in the shallow water. The bird suddenly stopped and in an instant, I knew I wanted a silhouetted image of the bird against the golden water.

Since the egret stood motionless for quite a while, I used my sturdy tripod to minimise camera shake. I zoomed out, so that the bird was only a tiny feature against a backdrop of stunning gold.

As a Nikon user, I used Matrix metering, which read the light reading for the whole scene, yet created the silhouette I wanted.

Nikon D700 with a Nikon 200mm f4 lens, f4.5 @ 1/4000s. ISO 400 and Matrix Metering. Gitzo tripod, cable release.


Late one afternoon on Lord Howe Island, I walked down to the rocks by the seaside, as it was an exceptionally low tide and there was green algae covering the rocks. I used the island’s pier as a feature in my image, with Lord Howe’s two iconic mountains, Mt Gower and Mt Lidgebird, as the backdrops for my image. Due to the subtle lighting created by pre-sunset, I used the Matrix metering in my camera to capture all of the lighting in the scene evenly.

Nikon D700 with a Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens, f18 @ 1/250s. ISO 320 and Matrix Metering.  High ISO used to create higher shutter speed, to counter any camera movement due to strong wind. Gitzo tripod, cable release.


This Red-capped Robin was sitting in a perfect position on a branch, with a bright blue sky in the background. I knew that if I used Matrix metering, the robin would end up as a sillhouette. I instantly chose the Spot metering mode which meters directly on the bird but not the background. Spot metering is designed to meter on your subject, therefore exposing it correctly.
Being careful to avoid distractions behind the bird, I moved my camera and lens and walked around it until there was nothing but open expanse in the distance. I focused on the bird's eye and took this shot.

Nikon D300 with a Sigma 150-500mm lens, f6.3 @ 1/2500s. ISO 200 and spot metering.  Hand-held, leaning against a tree for stabilisation.


Sometimes, when photographing a bird with a bright background, spot metering alone isn't enough. For this Red-tailed Tropicbird, I used the aperture priority setting, my normal setting for bird photography. Normally for a white bird, especially in sunlight, you need to use some negative (i.e. -1) Exposure Compensation. In this case, though, the bird was flying with the sun above it, which created shadows underneath its wings. I therefore had to use some positive Exposure Compensation (in this case, plus 1) to add some light to the shadow areas.

Nikon D300 with a Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 lens, f4 @ 1/8000s. ISO 800 and Spot Metering.  High shutter speed needed capture a sharp image of the bird flying past at great speed.


Even with macro shots such as this Hop Bush, Spot Metering is recommended if you want to expose the flower correctly. A bright background easily fools the metering on your camera, so by using Spot Metering you are making certain exposure is correct. Even when there is back-lighting, as in this case, Spot metering generally meters the plant correctly. By using aperture priority, I let the camera choose the aperture (or f-stop) needed for the image and the camera chooses the required shutter speed for perfect exposure.

Nikon D700 with a Sigma 150mm f2.8 lens, f11 @ 1/160s. ISO 1600 and Spot Metering. Higher ISO used to create higher shutter speed, to counter movement to the plant created by wind.

Michael Snedic is an AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photographers) Accredited Photographer and experienced photography tutor and writer. He has been a wildlife and nature photography specialist for the past 17 years. Michael is a sought-after speaker at camera clubs and photography conventions across Australia, is the author of two coffee-table books on wildlife and a Lowepro Ambassador.

Michael presents week-long photography tours to Tasmania and Lord Howe Island, two of his favourite photographic locations across Australia. He looks forward to sharing his photographic knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with participants of these amazing tours
He is also co-owner of Trekabout Photography Workshops with Mark Rayner. Trekabout present exciting photographic workshops and tours to the best photographic destinations across Australia, including stunning Africa.

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