Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Camera Metering Modes: A Guide for Beginners

After using my DSLR for a while and exploring the digital menus, I came across ‘metering modes’. There aren’t many choices I thought, how hard can this be to understand? Not hard at all it seems, but let me share how useful camera modes can be.

I believe that knowing about metering is helpful and knowing what it can will be an eye opener. So, what is metering on a camera?

  • I always say ‘knowledge is power‘. Understanding different different facets of the craft makes you a more confident photographer whatever your camera, whatever your skill level.

Metering describes the process of how your camera decides to assign the right shutter speed and aperture based on the amount of light the camera can pick up. Metering is also a way for modern cameras to reflect light and determine the right exposure without using an accessory meter.


What Is A Metering ‘Mode’?

Your DSLR/mirrorless camera measures (meters) the light in three different ways. These may have different names but the concepts are similar.

  • Centre (Center) Weighted Metering
  • Evaluative (Canon) or Matrix (Nikon) Metering
  • Spot Metering

You will find your metering modes in your camera’s menus. If you are not sure where to look, check your printed manual. Manuals can seem a bit boring but for discovering essential stuff they are a good supplement to online searches.

To make a correct exposure, a camera’s sensor must receive the right amount of light. When the sensor in a camera is exposed to too much light, the photo will be overexposed. If it is exposed to not enough light, the image will be underexposed. Properly controlled exposure metering helps you or your camera set a correct exposure.

Metering 101 for Beginners

This is the metering menu on my entry level Canon. Your camera will have something similar.

For a new camera user the centre weighted average is a good starting point but I discuss all three types here so you can see the kind of impact each might have on your cat photos.

Evaluative – Partial – Centre Weighted

Centre Weighted

I hope these two photographs will help you see how centre weighted metering works (and make you smile too).

Your camera looks at the centre of your image and ignores the outside edges. I used clouds to show the part that is not metered and a red cricle to show you the approximate area the camera is interested it. Centre weighted is great for portraits, or if you want to focus on one cat amongst many.

Cat photo of tabby shouting loudly
Portrait of Dot – Centre Weighted Metering

The other setting I used for this particular cat portrait was Aperture Priority. I had turned off the RAW setting on my DSLR, as I anticipated having to take dozens of shots really quickly. This image won my very first Cat Writers’ Association Muse® Medallion.

Evaluative or Matrix

Using this mode, the camera measures or ‘evaluates’ across the whole of your image area in the camera, then averages out its measurements. A bit confusing? Let me share an easier to understand definition from Reyher Photography that I found helpful.

Matrix or Evaluative is the default metering mode on most DSLRs and works very well in the majority of situations. It does a good job determining the proper exposure in a variety of lighting conditions.


I use evaluative metering as my default (unless I am moving in for close up portraits). If you are not 100% sure of your own metering you can safely use evaluative metering and get a well focused cat portrait. Leave this as your details setting while you experiment.

You can inject humour into a photograph by looking for a cat's expression
Evaluative Metering Across The Image

Spot Metering

Spot metering is helpful when you have a high contrast image and location, such as a cat sat by a brightly lit window.

Instead of trying to measure everywhere at once, spot metering pinpoints a very small portion of the area you want to photo and exposes the picture according to that small point. This can be very precise and is often used if you need an accurate reading for a very small section of a photograph, like your cat rather than the brighter window or curtain behind it.

Spot metering will work if you are taking a cat close up like Natasha (above) when she was framed by the wooden slats. This metring mode allowed me to focus closely on her eye and it evened out the light in the image which I was very happy with.

Spot metering is mainly used by professional photographers, and only in certain situations. Say, for example, that you are trying to take a photo of a person in front of strong backlighting.

How do you hold your DSLR, is it the right way?
Learn to Change Your Metering Quickly

Confidently Change Your Camera’s Modes

Information like changing metering is important when you are learning about a complex mechanism like a camera. My Canon 1300D arrived with a printed manual that has been a real help but if you don’t have a manual, look for tutorial videos on manufacturers sites or Vimeo and YouTube, and find out how to change your settings and modes.

When To Use Different AF Modes

  1. Single Shot autofocus (AF) or AF-S is perfect for a static cat portrait. For perfect cat poses when your cat is sat upright or looking out of a window this mode is the best.
  2. Continuous AF known as AF-C on a Nikon or Sony camera or AI Servo on a Canon this is the best mode for your cat in motion. Choose this mode when your cat is cat walking, jumping or playing. Your camera will do its best to keep your cat in focus. This is my go to setting when I want to capture our cats in action.
  3. Manual focus. You turn to this when autofocusing isn’t giving the control you want. This is great for some really close shots when your auto focus might wake a sleeping cat or if the light is dim (Yes, the hear the quiet whirr!) Switch to manual mode. This is often on the lens itself, then approach quietly and use the focus ring togive you the sharpness you need.


Metering for Manual DSLR Cameras

When your experience grows you can experiment with through the lens metering also known as TTL (Through The Lens).

With your camera in Manual mode you can learn to explore light in a more artistic way. TTL metering measures the intensity of light reflected from the scene through your lens and you can deliberately over or underexpose your image for dramatic effects. If you want to try this, set your camera to Manual then look for the meter along the bottom of your screen (if you can’t find it, check your model’s manual).

Cameras with through-the-lens (TTL) exposure meters measure the average reflected light intensity, yielding reliable exposures for subjects of average contrast and brightness distribution.


I hope you now feel you can go out and change your metering mode if you feel it helps your cat photos. It may not be something you do often but it it is another weapon in your cat photography armour. Let me know how you get on!

As usual, if you have any questions after you read the post email me.

12 thoughts on “Camera Metering Modes: A Guide for Beginners”

  1. Learning DSLR has always been a huge goal of mine, but it’s always seemed so overwhelming. I’ll definitely need to reference back to this post when I attempt again so I have more idea what I’m doing, rather than just pressing random buttons and hoping for the best.

  2. thanks so much this post as I use a Canon Camera all the time and learnt from you some useful information

  3. Metering seems like a critical aspect in order to capture a great photo with a traditional camera. I’ll have to dig out my old camera and see if I can play with metering and snap any better photos of Henry. I always love your tips and explanations. Thanks as always!

  4. Love spot focusing! These pics are great… (Okay, I really love the one with the camera!) You always review such great photography tips not just for cat photography, but for dog, horse, any pet and people too!

    I just shared over on my personal Facebook Page the other day about how Canon and Nikon are doing away with the DSLR cameras…and I’m heartbroken! I know that phones have come a long way, but I still sling my DSLR! What are your thoughts on that?

  5. I think I may have some of those options in lesser form on my Canon P & S camera when I use the P setting instead of the Auto setting.

  6. Figuring out the light levels is critical to great photos. Thanks for sharing about metering modes, Marjorie. This was very informative!


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