Ever since I started taking pictures I have never once used a light-meter I was always of the opinion that the meter in the camera was always up to the job; if it wasn’t “quite right” you just applied some exposure compensation. With practice you could also apply this before taking the picture depending on the subject, lighting conditions and camera/lens combination in use.
The meters in the cameras got better and along with centre-weighted metering came complex manufacturer created algorithm based measuring methods such as Matrix or Evaluative metering. Spot and partial (Canon’s proprietary “large spot” metering system) meters were added to the pro cameras and are now found on nearly all DSLR/CILC cameras too.
With digital photography this got easier as you could take multiple shots and if the one you took wasn’t OK you would just take another shot, bracketing your shots no longer cost anything (apart from more post capture image sorting maybe). Capturing in RAW and using software programs like Adobe Lightroom allowed even more control and some shots could be rescued from incorrect exposure settings – to a degree anyway.
Another revolution came with mirror-less cameras that allow you to fully preview the shot before the picture is taken – provided it is configured that way.
So with all of these enhancements why are light meters (still) required?
The main issue with the in-camera meters is that they take reflective light readings; i.e. they measure the light being reflected off the subject you are taking pictures of and this is different to measuring the light falling onto the subject. This is particularly evident when taking pictures of a subject that is predominately black (i.e. a Groom) or white (Bride in white wedding dress).
Assuming you can approach the subject (be that a person, animal or object) you should meter the light falling onto the subject – i.e. take an incident light meter reading; even the best camera in the world cannot do this you need a light meter. There are a few exceptions to the rule (isn’t there always) such as translucent subjects. When you start to add flash into the mix the in-camera meter has a really hard time getting the correct exposure.
I was never sure if I needed to add a light-meter to my lighting set-up that I have progressively been creating over the last few months. That was until I watched Damian McGillicuddy at work at this year’s LCE Photo and Optics show; he showed how using a meter you could gradually create lighting configuration he required (he calls this his Lego-brick method) with taking a single test shot.
Although Damian uses a very advanced Sekonic (he is after all sponsored by Sekonic) he points out that he only uses a small portion of its features, so as long as you don’t need the advanced features a more basic model will do.
I had a look and after a bit of research (via Google) I found that the Sekonic L-308S would be suitable for the job. This meter usually retails for around £150 but thanks to an Amazon Black-Friday lightning deal I managed to get one for only ⅔rds the price. You can read more about this meter here.
Part of my research involved looking at the various YouTube videos initially about this meter but also about light-meter usage in general. The two following YouTube videos from the PhotoVideoEDU team (www.photovideoedu.com) provide a good explanation of how to use the light meter in two different situations.
The video “Measuring and Evaluating Light in Landscape Photography” was filmed on 6th August 2012 but the techniques are still relevant and show how to use a light meter for Landscape photographs. Even though I was talking about portrait photographs earlier the principals are the same and I do take landscape photographs:
The second video “Adding Fill Flash for Beautiful Ambient Light Portraits” was produced this year (21st April) and although is typically using a much newer touch-screen Sekonic light meter still follows the same principals. The trainer also mentions how to use the older L-308S to do the same thing:
Another photographer that I respect that advocates the use of a light meter is Frank Doorhof, there are any many articles on the Internet about this, the best one to start with is the one titled “Why I use a Light Meter (and You should, Too)”, you can read this here. I recommend a quick trip to Google and search for “Frank Doorhof on light meters“. If you have a Kelby One subscription you can watch many of his training videos too and one of them goes into great detail on how he uses the light meter.
I have read through the manual a couple of times and it seems that using the light meter is quite easy; I’m glad I didn’t go for a more expensive, complex model as I would still be reading the manual now.
I also hope to learn a lot more about using light meters at the Olympus Big Shoot Experience that is hosted by Damian McGillicuddy at the end of this week (from tomorrow in fact) there are a number of training opportunities to choose from and I will be there on Thursday morning and all day Friday too. There is a Saturday option but unfortunately I couldn’t afford this as well – maybe next time Damian is in the vicinity. The shoot is taking place at Studio Antics which is just outside Nottingham (East Bridgford).
Hopefully I will be able to try-out the meter whilst I am there to see it in action.