Why Center-Weighted Average is the Right Metering Mode 85% of the Time

metering modes

metering modes

I Think That “Center-Weighted Average” Metering is Best (Usually)

As you can see from the image above, most cameras have at least three metering modes (the region where the camera measures light to calculate the exposure.) Some have four or more. For years, I only used “center-weighted average” because it was how I was taught, and it worked well. Well, it still works the best. After trying the other types of metering and thinking about it a bit, I think I know why.

It has to do with the way I shoot. I think it has to do with how you shoot too. See if this seems familiar.

  1. See something or a scene to photograph.
  2. Focus on the “something” in the scene or at the hyperfocal distance, by depressing the shutter button half way or use back button focusing.
  3. Recompose the scene in the viewfinder or on the back display by moving the camera while keeping the shutter button half way down. (Back button focusing works great here.)
  4. Steady yourself, and take the shot.

See, I knew it would seem familiar to you too. That’s great. That means that center-weighted average metering will probably work the best for you too.

Assuming your camera is on a focus mode of one-shot, as it often should be, (or the equivalent in back button focus mode) your camera just metered the light when you depressed the shutter button half way. That was when you focused on that “something” or at that hyperfocal distance in the scene. That means that the light at the point of interest was metered, and the camera’s exposure based mainly on that. The “center-weighted average” metering takes the whole image into account, but it gives particular emphasis to the center where you focused.

How I Use Center Weighted Average Metering

If I want the scene to have the perfect exposure, I either want it perfectly on the subject of interest, or I want it in the brightest or darkest region.

If it is a landscape scene for example without a focal “something,” I usually want the sky to be at the right exposure because it is prone to being blown out (overexposed). I focus and meter on a region of the sky that is not directly in the sun, but above or to the right of it by a bit.

Alternatively, if I don’t care about the sky so much as the land where the detail may be, I will meter and focus on a dark but not black region of land. By using “center-weighted averaging,” I get a good overall exposure of the scene.

Why Matrix or Evaluative Metering Doesn’t Work As Well For Me

Contrasting this with matrix or evaluative metering, for the light sky and dark land scenario above, I would get a neutral image without the sky being too light or the land being too dark. That is what I call a “bland image” because there are no tonal contrasts in it. That is what matrix or evaluative metering will do for you.

It is almost never good.

When I Use Spot Metering

Sometimes for wildlife I want to meter right off of their face or body with spot metering. Or, it works well for finding the middle gray in a black and white image. This kind of metering only takes into account the spot where the camera focuses. But, this is a rare occasion because center weighted will work well for that situation also. The one time when spot will only work is when a subject is backlit. Backlighting will cause the camera to underexpose the subject in the image unless you use spot metering and meter off the subject.

 Summary

I have often wondered why center weighted average metering worked so well for me. I had to stop and think about what my camera was doing while I was focusing, and what I was doing while composing a scene in my viewfinder. Whether it is because of my older style of shooting or because it just works best for me, I can tell you that center weighted averaging works for me most of the time. It may for you also, so try it and see what you think.

Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it!


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