Concert Photography Metering Mode

Concert Photography Metering Mode

Concert Photography Metering Mode

Here we look at the three main metering modes, and find out which is the best concert photography metering mode.

Light is an all-pervasive factor in concert photography, often forcing you to make snap judgments about exposure. Yet all the preparation and knowledge you have about exposure can go to waste if you’re not familiar with how your camera determines exposure, known as metering.

What are the common metering modes, how do they affect the exposure, and which is best for concert photography?

Metering Simplified

First, a quick explanation.

Digital cameras, unlike film cameras, are able to tell you if your photograph is deemed ‘correctly exposed’ using a built in light meter. The meter bases its evaluation of correct exposure on one area, or a combination of areas, of the image. The metering mode tells the camera which area or areas to consider.

In manual shooting mode, metering is only advisory: the scale in the viewfinder will tell you if your image is deemed to be over- or under-exposed, but you ultimately have control.

In aperture or shutter speed priority modes however, the other exposure variable will be determined by the meter’s calculations for exposure, making it much more important that you set it right.

Let’s take a typical example at a concert to work with: your subject is well-lit, in the center of the stage, but the background is very dark.well lit subject dark background

well lit subject dark background

well lit subject dark background

Matrix/Evaluative metering

This is the default mode, and the only mode in most automated settings (which you of course will not use in concerts!). In this mode, the image is divided into multiple sections, and each section is individually evaluated for how well exposed it is. These are then put into an algorithm to determine whether the whole image needs to be exposed more or less, with some bias towards the focal point.

In our example image, the subject is very well-lit but the background, which takes up the majority of the image, is dark, and so matrix metering will overexpose the subject to brighten up the background. Not good!

Nikon Nikon Matrix Metering Mode

Nikon Nikon Matrix Metering Mode

Center-Weighted Metering

Slightly better is center-weighted metering, which measures exposure from a large area in the center of the image, and ignores the edges. Our example image has our subject in the center, and so this would work well here, exposing only for the subject and not the dark background.
However, what if our subject were off-center slightly, complying with the rule of thirds?

Off Center SubjectWith center-weighted metering, the camera would now overexpose the entire image again to brighten up the center, which happens to be our background. Not good either.

Spot Metering

Here we go! In spot metering, metering is evaluated based solely on one point – on most cameras, the same as the focus point being used – and ignores everything else. In our example, even if the subject was way off-center, you could just move the focus spot to the subject and it would evaluate exposure based on your subject.

Spot Metering Mode

Spot Metering Mode

If in manual mode, this also means that you can leave spot metering on, checking occasionally with the viewfinder’s light meter that the focal point (subject) is being lit correctly and otherwise ignoring it, knowing that your aperture and shutter speed are not being altered by it.

What if you want to make your subject a silhouette? Easy! Just move the spot meter point to the background (either by moving the camera or selecting the focal point), alter your exposure settings to expose it correctly, and focus on the subject.

Exposure compensation

One final point to remember is that exposure compensation also factors into this calculation. Exposure compensation is essentially you telling the camera to overexpose or underexpose compared to what it’s programmed to, because the light meter can’t always get it right. By default, exposure compensation is at 0.

Let me know in the comments below which metering mode you´re using and why.

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  • Chris Brown

    I set to manual.
    Most concerts use a reasonably fixed level of light
    I just adjust up or down a stop on the fly

    • thanks Chris for your comment. Yes, when shooting Manual you don´t have to bother about metering modes.