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DPChallenge Forums >> Hardware and Software >> Light Meter. Is it worth it?
Showing posts 1 - 13 of 13, (reverse)
09/11/2010 12:35:41 PM · #1
I've been a pretty serious photography hobbyist for the past 6 years. However, I've never used a light meter. I've always been content with the built-in camera metering. I was watching some videos on You Tube last night and they were talking about metering and how valuable it is to have an external light meter (like the Sekonic L-358). I'm curious what people's take is on the need for a light meter. Is it worth spending $300 (more or less) on a light meter? How much better will pictures turn out by using a light meter to set the proper exposure? I'd like to take my photography to a new level. But I'm sure if a light meter would help with that. The other thing I'm worried about is how often/when to use a light meter. Do those of you that use a light meter use it all the time...landscape, wedding, portrait, etc.? Or is it something that you only occasionally pull out. Thanks!
09/11/2010 12:40:10 PM · #2
It's pretty much required for serious studio work, and pretty much not necessary for landscape work. IMO anyway.

09/11/2010 12:51:27 PM · #3
Thanks Bear. Is there any benefit to using a light meter for landscape photography? Also, I'm assuming that when you say "studio" you mean either indoors or outdoor portrait shots, right? Does a good understanding of Photoshop make up for the lack of light meter usage? I know that things like
09/11/2010 12:59:13 PM · #4
I use one for my pinhole images and other manual cameras that don't meter.
09/11/2010 01:04:53 PM · #5
i recommend the Sekonic L-358. This baby can "Up to 9 readings can be stored in memory for meter averaging and contrast evaluations in Aperture and Shutter priority modes".
09/11/2010 02:04:04 PM · #6
Originally posted by Terramar:

Thanks Bear. Is there any benefit to using a light meter for landscape photography? Also, I'm assuming that when you say "studio" you mean either indoors or outdoor portrait shots, right? Does a good understanding of Photoshop make up for the lack of light meter usage? I know that things like

Here's the deal, basically; there are three kinds of metering, pretty much Reflected Light metering (what your camera uses), Incident Light metering (that measures the light falling on the scene rather than what's reflected from it), and Strobe metering (that measures the intensity of light produced by studio strobes). In addition there's a subset of Reflected Light metering, a "Spot Meter" that is like a RL meter with a telephoto lens on it that allows accurate metering of very small areas at considerable distances, relatively speaking.

Some meters combine the three types of metering into one unit; the recommended Sekonic, I think, does that. I know it does incident light and strobe light, and I'm pretty sure it has another disk that converts it to a reflected light meter.

Now, when a reflected light meter functions, it is making an "assumption": that the surface off which the light is reflecting is an industry-standard, 18% gray reflectance. In other words, the meter doesn't "know" whether it's metering strong light on a black wall or weak light on a white wall, so it gives you the same gray for both, if the wall is all that's in the metering zone. It is assumed, incidentally, that on the average outdoor scene, if you took all the tonalities in the scene and stirred them up like mixing paint, that the result would be that 18% gray.

So what this means, when using a reflected light meter, is that if what you are metering is NOT 18% gray, you have to compensate by adjusting the recommended exposure; if you're shooting snow, the meter will underexpose and you have to give more exposure than indicated to keep the snow bright if you're shooting in deep shadow int he forest, the meter will overexpose and everything will look not-gloomy-enough, so you have to give less exposure than recommended to render the scene faithfully.

If you're using a SPOT meter (and some dSLRs actually have a spot metering mode, very handy), you can do this more precisely, isolating the area that's most important to you and calculating your exposure based on very specific readings. You can meter more than one area, and then you can compare the readings and determine how extreme is the dynamic range you are trying to capture, and make compensations for this, including shooting more than one exposure of the scene in preparation for HDR processing. That's why B/W large-format, "zone system" photographers used spot meters and exposure calculation charts to fine tune their exposures and processing times to produce usable negatives in extreme situations.


The illustrated Sekonic is primarily an incident light meter. Your camera is already a (very expensive and capable) reflected light meter, so IMO you don't really, really need another RLM. It might be nice, but you can easily compensate. But the INCIDENT meter, that's a different beast. It measures the light falling on the scene, and it gives an exposure based on the illumination, not the reflectivity. So, in theory, if you meter correctly and do what the meter tells you to, all tones in the image will be rendered accurately.

VERY useful in the studio, you can see why. Go to full manual, set an exposure based on the lighting, and you'll get the same exposure for every shot regardless whether you are zoomed in on the face or zoomed out to include that black dress, see? And you use the meter to set up your lights, as well; turn the main light on, meter its intensity, then turn it off and set the fill light, say, so that it's 1/4 of what the main light is providing, if you want a 25% full ratio.

That's with hot lights. But you can fairly well balance those by eye when you get experienced. With STROBES, on the other hand, you virtually MUST have a strobe meter, which is an incident meter that measures light intensity from short bursts and stores the information for review. It's by far the best way to balance the strobes.

So there you have it; a quick primer on the different light meters. Hope this is useful.


Message edited by author 2010-09-11 16:16:12.
09/11/2010 02:08:35 PM · #7
Thanks! Great answer. That makes sense.
09/11/2010 02:58:03 PM · #8

This is the one I have. I use this a lot out on the boat shooting sharks and whales. in that specific circumstance my camera's light-meter just does not do the same for me. I use the spot facility on the fake seal and 3 spots around it, the average lighting is very reliable.

But yes, do I think it is an investment I will make again, NO. maybe I will get more value IF I decide to start shooting movies, who knows?

Bear, great explanation. Also recommend checking out You Tube, there are fabulous information floating around there.
09/11/2010 03:27:47 PM · #9
In my opinion you can get by quite well with on camera features. I use the histogram and haven't had issues. It may depend on what you use it for, but it wouldn't be close to the top of my buy list. I mainly do portraiture.
09/11/2010 10:19:53 PM · #10
For studio strobe work, it is a very helpful thing to have. You can dial in your setup pretty closely before your client is ready, rather than trial and error tweaking. Shallow dof portrait, pick your aperture, adjust your main/key light, set the fill, background or no, etc. If you routinely do the same set up, then you'll know where to position your lights, how far, how high, what power and you'll develop a feel for it. But the meter helps you get that feel, and helps when your location changes, you can't use your usual settings, or you are just (like me) often shooting different subjects with different lighting, modifiers, intentions.

I have the sekonic L 358 also, love it. I can "get by" without it, but it makes my life easier on many occasions. Not too pricey for that puppy, and there are less expensive lights. I recently saw someone post about a light meter that was kinda "old school" in that it had a circular slide-rule sort of arrangement sot that you could see all the shutterspeed/aperture combinations at a glance. I kinda like that idea, though it doesn't really matter much for strobe work, where your shutter speed is typically fixed.
09/12/2010 09:48:42 PM · #11
I'm still a bit of a beginner, but in the last couple months I found this web article to present an interesting point of view, which suggests that you train your eye and not use a light meter (for nature/landscape photography): Ultimate Exposure Computer

I would think that you could put the same concepts to work for you in any kind of photography situation.
09/13/2010 01:30:32 AM · #12
I can do a model shoot without my Sekonic 385... but damn it sucks to have to.
By far, the most used tool in my arsenal.

And to the people I work with, a light meter really makes a statement that I know what I'm doing, compared to the tons of GWC's (guys with cameras) that show up with nothing more than a camera and a willingness to see skin.
09/13/2010 02:10:05 AM · #13
i agree with Trumpeteer4 that in the modern age of digital cameras equipped with histogram display, having a meter in studio is not really necessary anymore (I am not talking about a need to impress your client :)). I do a bit of studio work with strobes (you can check out my portfolio), and a few test shots and a quick histogram analysis do the job for me.
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