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When you get a new camera, it's always important to play with all the buttons and change all settings to know what they do. But if you've only briefly experimented with the metering modes on your camera then you may not have noticed it make much of a difference. The metering modes affect the way your camera judges how to properly expose an image. In some scenes, it may not make much of a difference which mode you choose, but in others it can dramatically change the exposure.
This is the most common metering mode and is the default setting for most cameras. Matrix mode takes into consideration everything that's in the frame. For the majority of pictures, this will give you the best exposure because the camera is trying to keep the highlights from blowing out and the shadows from being too dark for all things in the frame. For very high contrast scenes that go beyond the dynamic range of your camera, some things will be over or under exposed. This will vary depending on your camera and exposure compensation value.
This mode focuses on properly exposing the subject in the middle of your frame. This is handy for taking photos of things that are darker or brighter than their surroundings. For instance, say you're taking a photo of your friend with the sunlight behind her and she only takes up about 20% of the frame. Since your subject is backlit, your friend will be in shadow and the surrounding scene will be brighter. And since 80% of the photo is bright and 20% is dark, matrix mode will give priority to the bright area meaning your friend will look dark in your photo. Using center-weighted mode, you can place your friend in the center of the frame and have the camera properly expose for her instead of the background.
However, don't think that your subject has to be in the center of your photo for you to effectively use center-weighted mode. If that was the case, it would be rather useless. What you can do is center your subject in the middle of the frame and hit the AE lock button which will lock the exposure in place. Then you can recompose your photo and take the shot.
This is very similar to center-weighted mode except that you can choose the spot where you want the photo to be properly metered. The area in which the camera looks is also much smaller, and in some cameras you can choose how big of an area that is. This is often used in lieu of center-weighted mode because you can pick a very specific spot that you want your camera to base the metering off of depending on your focusing point. It's also very helpful in situations where you don't have time to recompose your photo.
What mode works best for you depends on your subject and what camera you're shooting. Some people choose spot metering because they want precise control over their exposure or are afraid that the camera's matrix mode won't know how to properly expose certain scenes with tricky lighting. I've been using my camera long enough that to know what the matrix mode will attempt to do and adjust by changing the exposure compensation value even before I take the shot. But experimenting with different modes and in different situations will give you the best idea of what works for you.
Written by Spencer Seastrom
Image credit: wamsler / 123RF Stock Photo