In order to meter effectively, and to get the tonality and visual information that we want in our images, It’s important to understand how metering patterns work.
Our camera’s meter works by reading reflected light from whatever is in the meter’s “area of influence” and then, based on the “brightness” of whatever our meter is reading, we get an aperture and shutter speed combination as an exposure. The “area of influence” is what we could call a metering pattern or metering mode.
Get your camera manual. If you don’t have a camera manual, please get one immediately. You can usually download one for free from your camera manufacturers website.
After you have your manual, use it to learn about what type of metering patterns/modes are available to you and, if you have multiple patterns available to you, learn how to change them.
There are different metering patterns or modes. The most common are listed below.
1. Matrix or Evaluative. In matrix or evaluative your whole viewing area/viewfinder becomes your meter. This area is broken up into a grid pattern and each separate square/rectangle becomes like a mini-meter. Each separate section of the grid pattern is used in evaluating the scene’s brightness levels and then the exposure for the scene is averaged based on each section of the whole. Matrix metering appears to work well under AVERAGE conditions. Although many would consider this adequate, I consider this the most difficult way to get precise metering readings, especially in high contrast situations.
2. Center Weighted. As with the matrix or evaluative metering pattern your whole area of view is considered in averaging the exposure, HOWEVER, the pattern differs in that the majority of the exposure is based on whatever is in the CENTER of your frame. Depending on the camera it is usually something like 75 percent of the exposure will be biased toward whatever is in the center of the frame while the other 25 percent of the will be based on the rest of the frame. Although not the most accurate metering pattern, I think that this is a much more accurate metering method than matrix or evaluative, especially when trying to get an exposure of something specific.
3. Spot or Partial. Spot or partial metering is the most precise meter. Depending on the meter, you can get as little as one degree accuracy. If I have spot metering available in camera, that’s my choice.
My preferred pattern is the one that covers the narrowest area, and that would be spot. If you dan’t have spot then partial would be the choice.