Birding and Metering Mode


Senior Member
Nov 3, 2014
Oklahoma, USA
My premise is that in a bird shot what one aims to do is to define feathers and skeletal structure. Colors, plummage, etc. In many birding shots I have viewed, made by photographers all over the globe, I find that I prefer ones that expose for the bird itself and not necessarily anything background or habitat. It occurs to me that spot metering would be the ideal mode to use to get this result.

So my question is - what meter mode do you use when birding and what are you after in a bird shot that your selected metering mode provides?

one eye jack

Senior Member
Jun 11, 2011
This is basically about how metering works in a camera,since the days of film it is referenced to a shade of middle grey or 18% grey (from publishing world or printed media aka Kodak). The link below is right up your alley.;)

From the above link:

Understanding your meter

Okay, so you can get a long way by just trusting your meter, using your histogram display to adjust exposure and using bracketing if you need extra reassurance. To get beyond a certain level, though, you need to understand how to use your meter to get a good exposure first time. By knowing what your meter is trying to do, you can either accept its recommendation or deliberately increase or decrease exposure in situations where you know this won't give the best result. By practising dialling in exposure compensation without taking your eye off the bird in your viewfinder, you can make sure you get a correctly exposed shot no matter how fleetingly the opportunity appears. (Well, most of the time!)

So what does your meter try to do? Simplistically, it tries to make your image mid-toned on average, so that if your picture contains nothing but mid-tones (e.g. a field of grass on an overcast day), it would come out at the correct exposure level. If the scene contains a wider range of tones (e.g. the same field of grass under bright, backlit sunlight), the meter tries to set the average of these tones to mid-grey, so that they will have the best chance of all being captured without over- or under-exposure.

I say simplistically because modern multi-segment meters (when set to matrix or evaluative mode) take many separate readings from different parts of the image and apply advanced computing and pattern-matching to au[/tomatically compensate for extremes of brightness in a range of image types.

Applying exposure compensation

In practice, the effect of this sophistication of modern meters is to reduce the amount of exposure compensation needed. You will, therefore, see a difference between my guidance and that based on the use of older average or centre-weighted-average meters. You will normally need to compensate in the same direction, but with a reduced amount. In the following image captions, I'll describe the compensation that should be used in various scenarios. It’s worth taking the time to study how the histograms relate to the image in each case. A summary table is included at the end.
PS: Matrix or evaluative or whatever another camera brand calls it only works if native
electronic linked lenses are used.If you are using vintage manual lenses then it will not kick in so need to select average,center weighted or spot metering and compensate from there.

Last edited:
Jun 2, 2012
Singapore when back at home
Hi Jeff. It depends on the back ground. If the bird is in a evenly lit background without strong back light, matrix mode will work fine but if there is strong back light the bird will come out severely underexposed. So I don't use matrix meter for birding. The metering mode I prefer to use is center weighted area. I also set the center weighted to 8mm diameter instead of the usual 12mm .

Center weighted metering exposes for the bird itself, I make sure the bird fills up the center area of the frame for effective metering. The strong highlight will be blown to oblivion with this metering mode most of the time but the bird itself will be well exposed.

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