A few years ago (starting with D810) Nikon introduced a new metering mode…and many photographers I’ve talked to don’t even know it exists. We all know about spot, center weighted and matrix metering modes…but who uses Highlight Metering Mode? My default metering mode is still matrix metering mode, but when you are worried about clipping highlights, you might want to consider Highlight Metering Mode.
This mode is available on the new mirrorless cameras like the Z6 and Z7, as well as cameras like the D810, 850, 750, 500 and D5. To select this mode, go to your metering mode selection and look for the mode that has a spot meter mode symbol with an asterisk to the right. This is Highlight Metering Mode.
When would you want to use it? As the name implies, try it out on scenes that have a bright highlight you don’t want to clip like the image at top. In other words, if your subject is the highlight in your image, this mode would be a good choice. The camera will protect the highlights and not overexposure this area. Imagine scenes that have spotlight lighting on your subject, this is the time to use it. But be careful. The camera will not overexposure the highlights, but your shadows will be darker as a result. At higher ISOs even more contrast is created (you lose dynamic range with higher ISO settings), so experiment using this metering mode. And remember, no matter what metering mode you prefer, interpreting your histogram and watching for ‘blinkies’ (blown out highlights) are invaluable in determining exposure in conjunction with metering mode selection.
I’ve tried this mode out, and it does as advertised. But my default is matrix metering, and adjusting exposure based on blinkies and histogram information. As cameras get better at recording wider dynamic range, it will be curious to see how metering and digital exposure evolves. Maybe we won’t even need a highlight metering mode!