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Understanding Spot Metering in Photography

Spot Metering

Capturing the perfect image is a pursuit that photographers of all skill levels undertake, and understanding your camera's various features and functions is an important part of that quest. One such feature that can significantly impact the quality of your photographs is spot metering. It's an essential tool to master for achieving well-exposed images, especially in tricky lighting conditions.

In this guide to spot metering, I will go into detail on spot metering, its role in creating stunning images, and the best practices for using it to enhance your photography skills.

I am RayCee the Artist, a professional portrait photographer and event photographer, and if you would like to schedule a photoshoot with me, please contact me at!

Overview of Spot Metering

Spot metering is a feature on digital cameras that measures the light intensity in a small, precise area of the frame. This metering mode reads the light from a small portion of the image – typically around 1 to 5% – allowing photographers to achieve accurate exposure for a specific part of their scene.

Primarily, spot metering is beneficial in challenging light situations where the subject is either backlit or surrounded by contrasting light and dark areas. By allowing you to focus on a small spot, it ensures the most critical part of your composition is correctly exposed, thereby enhancing the overall quality of your images.

Spot Metering in Manual Mode

Spot Metering

Spot metering can be employed effectively across different shooting modes, including manual mode. Here, you can view the meter in action by peering inside your camera's viewfinder. You'll notice a set of bars shifting to the "+" or "-" side, indicating the light intensity in your scene. Your camera's built-in light meter uses this information to recommend optimal exposure settings, helping you capture well-exposed images.

The Power of Spot Metering: When and Why to Use It?

Spot Metering

Spot metering shines in situations where the lighting conditions are harsh or uneven. It allows photographers to overcome such challenges, delivering well-exposed images even in the most demanding scenarios. Here are some situations where spot metering can prove particularly advantageous:

Backlit Subjects

When photographing a subject against a bright light source, such as the sun or a bright window, the camera's default metering mode may cause the subject to appear underexposed or silhouetted. Spot metering allows you to meter the light from the subject, ensuring they are accurately exposed, even if the background ends up overexposed.

High Contrast Scenes

In high contrast scenes, such as a subject in the shade with a sunlit background, the camera's default metering mode might fail to expose the subject correctly. Spot metering allows you to take a light reading from your subject, ensuring they are well exposed.


In portrait photography, ensuring accurate exposure of the subject's face is crucial. Spot metering allows for precise exposure settings by focusing on the subject's face, ensuring skin tones are captured accurately. This is particularly beneficial when photographing subjects against light or dark backgrounds.

Extreme Close-ups

In extreme close-ups where the subject fills the frame, spot metering can ensure accurate exposure without being influenced by the background or surroundings.

Snow or Beach Scenes

In bright scenes such as snow-covered landscapes or sunny beach settings, spot metering can help prevent overexposure, ensuring the white sand or snow is captured accurately without appearing grey.

Spot Metering and Skin Color

A crucial aspect of using spot metering effectively, particularly in portrait photography, is understanding how skin color impacts metering. Since the camera's goal is to render everything as medium grey, it tends to brighten dark skin and darken light skin. This understanding allows you to adjust your exposure settings accordingly to capture accurate skin tones. For instance, you might need to underexpose slightly for black skin and overexpose for white skin.

Spot Metering vs Other Metering Modes

Spot Metering

Modern digital cameras typically offer three primary modes of exposure metering systems - Spot Metering, Matrix/Evaluative Metering, and Center-Weighted Metering. Each of these modes serves a unique purpose and can be used to achieve different results:

Spot Metering

Ideal for focusing on a small, specific area of the scene, ensuring it's correctly exposed. Particularly useful in challenging lighting conditions.

Matrix/Evaluative Metering

This default metering mode evaluates light across the entire frame and calculates an average for the whole image. It's ideal for scenes with even lighting.

Center-Weighted Metering

This mode measures light from the central area of the frame only. It's beneficial when you want the camera to prioritize the middle of the frame, such as in close-up portraits.

Understanding the differences between these modes can help you choose the right metering mode for each scenario, enhancing your photographic outcomes.

Harnessing the Power of Spot Metering

Spot Metering

Spot metering is a powerful tool that can greatly elevate your photography. However, to use it effectively, you need to know how to set and adjust it on your camera. The process of using spot metering typically involves three main steps:


Position the spot on the area you want to expose correctly, such as your subject's face, and take a meter reading.

Adjusting Camera Settings

Adjust your camera settings according to the meter reading. This could involve tweaking the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, or exposure compensation.

Taking the Photo

Once you've adjusted your settings and achieved the desired exposure, you can capture your photo.

It is important to keep practicing and experimenting with spot metering in different scenarios. This will help you understand its potential and learn when to use it best.


Spot metering is a powerful tool in a photographer's arsenal, allowing for precise control over exposure in a variety of challenging scenarios. Whether you're capturing a backlit portrait, a high contrast scene, or an extreme close-up, spot metering can help ensure your subject is well-exposed, resulting in higher quality images.

Like any photographic technique, mastering spot metering takes time and practice. Experiment with different scenarios, learn how to adjust your settings effectively, and you'll soon see a noticeable improvement in your photography. Remember, the journey to capturing the perfect image is a continuous learning process, and understanding spot metering is an important milestone on that journey.

I am RayCee the Artist, a professional portrait photographer and event photographer, and if you would like to schedule a photoshoot with me, please contact me at!


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