Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Light Meters


Somebody wanted to know if I recommend using a flash meter with digital. For those who don't know - a light meter is a little box that measures either the amount of light falling on it (usually on a little dome) or in some field of view. A flash meter is one that has the capability of either looking for a flash or even triggering it in the first place.

Most folks with modern cameras don't need an external light meter because they have a fancy one built into the camera that looks at the scene and figures out what to do. But if you're using a flash system that's totally outside of the camera, the camera has no direct way of telling you anything about the light. But with digital it's no big deal - you take a picture, look at it, and adjust accordingly. But yet you always see studio photographers using a meter - why is that?

I have a pretty basic model - the Sekonic L-308s. Works great. It's very small so I can use it in the field with my old cameras that don't have a built in meter (although as a practical matter you can usually guess if you know the sunny f/16 rule). I find with the portrait or other realistic setups like the picture here it's a real timesaver. It's just a lot faster and more accurate to read the number off the meter and adjust accordingly than to take a picture and squint at the histogram on the camera. For more dramatic lighting I don't use it at all. I don't want the light to be "accurate", I want it to do a certain thing even if the model's skin is more or less reflective. So it's really easier just to look at the histogram.

If I were using it just in the studio, using portrait lighting more, and had a bigger budget I'd go up a model to the L-358 but it's really not critical - even the cheapest of the Sekonic meters is really a pretty good meter. Frankly I think most of the "features" of the models above that are just marketing, but I'm sure there's some product photographer or other photographer with special needs who thinks they're critical.

Anyway, they're nice and if I had purchased one when I first started I bet it would have saved me a lot of time. There are a few old shoots that looked OK on the back of the camera (before I learned you have to use the histogram - the picture isn't that accurate) that are salvagable in Photoshop but it would have been a lot easiser if they were just right in the first place.

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