Smartphone cameras have come a long way over the years, reducing the gap in photo quality between them and larger digital cameras. While even at this point having a “real” camera is still worthwhile, there are a couple important smartphone camera settings to know that can create dramatically better photos. Before we talk about some of these, namely “spot metering”, we need to understand what metering is. If you are already familiar with metering mode, skip ahead.

What is metering mode?

Metering mode is how your camera determines the correct aperture, exposure, and light sensitivity settings for your shot. Auto settings will usually handle this for the user depending on the distance of objects and light levels detected in the view finder. Many cameras, and now smartphones, allow for manual and specific ways of focusing images.

When there are multiple subjects in the shot, who should the camera focus on? If there are objects of varying distance and/or brightness, again who should the camera focus on? There are circumstances where you’d want several subjects equally focused, especially where lighting is consistent. Other times, though, it can make a big difference to specify a particular area, which is where spot metering shines over the other modes.

How does spot metering work?

Essentially spot metering mode selects a small area of the view finder and adjusts exposure for the optimal clarity of that spot. If there is a lot of light contrast in the photo, this can help expose for the focal point of the image for much clearer presentation. Another way this is useful is in focusing a specific area if using the auto focus mode would have presented multiple objects equally.

In touch screen digital cameras and smartphones, spot mode works by just touching the area of the screen with the object you want to be the focal point.

An example is the photo below:

Flower Spot Metering Mode

Taken on a Galaxy S4

In this example I touched the center of the dandelion near the stamen. Notice how the grass around the flower is muted and unfocused. This really brings out the dandelion and gives it a dramatic intensity. This allows you to take some great closeups. If you catch the right angles and lighting, you can take eye-catching shots that will wow your friends and family.

Another example of where I’ve gotten a surprising result from using spot metering is a hike in the woods. There was a half fallen tree slumped over at a cool angle amid a bunch of other foliage right in the bright of tree cover. I knelt down so I was aimed slightly upward at the tree and touched precisely where the light from above hit the focal tree. The way that tree stood out from the others and the light focus point muted the tree colors as well to very striking effect.

You can access this settings in your Android camera app. See the screenshot below, taken on a Galaxy S4 as was the shot above:

Galaxy S4 Spot Mode Settings

Other types of metering modes

Other types of metering, such as averaged and matrix metering, can offer some other dynamic photo options. Read more about other metering modes:

Now, go out there and take some sharp Android photos!