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.

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One Comment

  1. Hello. I saw you in the Photo Shelter publication “Creating A Successful Portfolio”. Of course one must peruse the featured websites! I’m returning to photography after a hiatus…fine tuning my areas of pursuit. My boot camp training was working as an assistant to commercial photographers in Kansas City (I live in GA. now). Thus it is refreshing to see this article about using a meter. That was the norm when using film as we did back then. Light is still light, whether using analog or digital gear. A meter removes most of the guess work, trial and error, wasted time, etc. I use one. If I may say, you produce very inspiring images, sir….thanks again!

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