Me and My Lightmeter

Sekonic 358 Light Meter

To meter or not to meter.

I’ve been reading photo blogs religously for the last couple of years, and the one over-arching theme amongst the digital professionals has been: when shooting digital, use the LCD as your meter rather than using an actual light meter. Nearly all of the pro-photo bloggers that I read don’t use meters, so naturally I stopped using my meter at all. When I started my lighting class at the beginning of the summer, I wasn’t in the habit of metering and caught shit from Clay about forgetting to meter. After a few weeks, I came to the realization: metering makes my life a whole lot easier and my work has improved greatly.

The photographers who advocate not using a meter generally have been shooting for years. As such, they have much more experience guessing where the exposure needs to be for a given situation. Even after my piddly two years shooting professionally I’m much better at guessing exposure – imagine where I’ll be in eight or ten years. However, in order to learn how to guess those exposures, you need to understand the exposure. If you’re constantly just clicking up or down a stop with your aperture, you aren’t going to understand the relationships between the light and your camera settings. You aren’t going to think, ok, if my key is f8 then I want my kicker to be f1. You’re just taking a few dozen setup shots to get it right. And lets not get started about drop off. Depending on your light source, drop off can be pretty dramatic. If you have your model step back a couple feet, do you really want to go through another series of test shots to check your aperture?  Bottom line, until you have a lot of experience with a lot of different lighting setups, being scientific is going to get you more accurate images, quicker.

For the most part, I work without and assistant. This makes it hard when you have to set up lights on your own in a strange place without someone to stand in. When I was going through my non-metered phase, I’d guess at the lights then put the camera on a tripod, hit the shutter then run over to the setup and get into the shot to test the light. I’d have to do this a half dozen times to get it right, and even then, I’m relying on my LCD for accuracy. This sucks. When I meter, I have a pretty decent idea of how the lights are going to hit. When my subject arrives I’m all set up and generally only need minor tweaks to the angles etc.

Long story short, metering allows me to get set up faster, make changes faster, get lighting experience through a scientific approach as opposed to a haphazard one, and in general makes me more confident when I’m shooting. I heart metering.

I use a Sekonic L-358 (with the Pocket Wizard chip for wireless triggering) and it works great.


Portrait: Caucasian Male, Candid

Last year I was shooting almost exclusively on white seamless for my firm – the type of advertising we were shooting for was all actual employees for a people first campaign. This year the style has changed dramatically, and while I’m glad to be doing a wider variety of work, I still kind of miss the seamless stuff.

If you want to get into some seamless stuff, here is an excellent tutorial that I came across today which is excellent. Zach tells you how to go through the a bargain-basement set too. As always, I’m jealous of the studio. Why can’t I have a nice big studio?


Outside My Bubble

It’s been a little over four years since I first started hiring and working with professional photographers, and almost exactly a year since I took my first shots as a professional myself. Working as a photographer is maybe only 50% of my workday at the moment, and it’s definitely the fun half. I’m still doing a good bit of design, and I’d like to be doing much more photography. This week for example, I only have two still life shoots, and next week I’ll be shooting some more of our employees for advertising, but in between I’m still slogging my way through tedious reports and the other corporate design work I’ve been doing for the last seven years.

This is part of the reason I’m enjoying the photography work so much – it’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s a way for me to build on my creativity a bit. I’ve been complaining about the boring work I’ve had to do for years, and photography gives me an excuse to stay cloistered in my cushy corporate job a little longer. The question arises: Once I get my fill of corporate photography for my one big client, my employer, will I stay here being bored like I have been with the design side, or will I try to branch out on my own? Or will my other projects pay off so that I don’t have to worry about it?

Dipping my toe in to the wild world of photography outside my bubble is a bit scary. I read a number of blogs that are uplifting and encouraging. But I read an equal number of blogs that scare the pants off me. Some of these make me question my creativity, my ability to drum up business for myself, and whether or not I’m real or if I’m just a poser, an artist or a hack. I had an email conversation with Jayme Thornton, one of the first photographers I hired in New York (who does really great work, btw), and he said “you’re in a brave new world of photography bizness. It’s mean and changing.”

The “mean” part is what I’m worried about I suppose. There are so many amateurs crossing over to the pro side, that I often question whether or not I’m one of them. Technology has made the competition fierce, although to be honest, I wouldn’t be here without the technology advancements either. From the sound of it, I just need to dive in, no matter how cold the water is and see what happens. For now I’ve got the cushy job to protect me while I learn.

I am also extremely lucky to be part of my other project which I have no doubt will make me rich someday, and then I’ll be able to make photos to my hearts content with a couple of 1Ds Mark IIIs and a full array of Profotos without having to worry about making money with my art. Right? Right??