On my flight to NYC last week, I finished Frank Doorhof’s book Mastering the Model Shoot. He did make a compelling case on why to use a light meter for fashion shots. I don’t shoot fashion too often but his writing did get me thinking. It also highlighted a problem I have when shooting strobes which leads to plenty of post processing.

For landscapes we have ambient light, shadows and highlights. How do we work with this as a landscape photographer? We trust the camera light meter and the LCD maybe even the histogram but with all these tools when we look at the picture on the LCD or even worse on the PC we find out that we lost details in the highlights or shadows.
Frustrating?? You bet. Doing this with long exposure is even worse, getting close to insanity, wait 5 minutes find out the exposure timing was not correct and the sunrise is over, please come back tomorrow and try again. Not ideal I know.
While in New York I looked at light meters these things cost a fortune. B&H had a great deal on a used meter and I got me a meter, I could always sell it on ebay and not lose too much. After watching many of the Sekonic YouTube videos and reading Franks chapter 20 times I was ready to put my theory to work.

Digital cameras do have a certain dynamic range in which we can work with. Anything outside will be either completely black or white. In my case with the A99 it is roughly -1 +2 where things can be worked with(it is actually more but this is a comfortable safety margin).
How do I use the meter?
I take 1 reading with the Dome and store the reading in memory. This sets the ambient light conditions.
Then I meter the brightest point in my frame take one incident reading and store the reading.
Then a reading from the darkest area where I want to retain details and store it as well.
The meter now has 3 readings and shows then on a scale at the bottom of the LCD. If all the readings are within my range I know that the picture will be fully exposed and visible. In reality this never happens and we need to make a decision where are we willing to lose some details? This is the creative decision. In high contrast situations today I got many readings with +5 and -2 compared to the ambient reading. Either recompose or decide to lose the highlights or shadows.
After 1 after-noon working with the light meter I am totally sold on this method. It provides a great starting point. Once this point is found it is a matter to work with creativity to make our vision reality.
Here 3 examples
1. Camera based reading for a correct exposure pointing slightly toward the sky

2. Camera based exposure this time pointing toward the shadow in the front

Neither is really flattering this time incident reading, and incident reading for the sky and foreground . The highlight and shadow are within the capability of my RX100, dial the readings into the camera in manual mode and snap the picture. If you ask me it does look much better than the 2 camera readings.

2 thoughts on “The Light meter magic

  1. Totally amazing difference. The point was not to show how to make the best picture possible but how the picture did look straight out of Camera and how the Camera meter and we can be fooled.
    In the last 2 day’s I have noticed that I see shadows, contrasts in a very different way. I am new to the light meter. There are many cases where I will still depend on the camera, for the big shots this removes the guessing. I had fewer shots today but many more keepers.

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