Why I’m sold on using a Light Meter

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: August 30, 2012

Category: General

Hi Everyone,

How’s it going?

Those of you who follow me on social media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ will have read that since returning from The Netherlands I’ve had to send one of my lenses into Nikon for repair…my beloved f/2.8 24-70mm.

Thankfully the repair isn’t down to me dropping the lens or anything like that but seems to be down to dust/grime; a repair that according to Nikon UK should be relatively inexpensive and quick to sort out.

So what was wrong with the lens?
Well, during last Sunday’s workshop the first set up I worked on with 3 lights was all shot at f/11. Reason? I was shooting a composite and f/11 ensured that all of the model from the tip of her nose to the back of her head was well and truly in focus…vital when dropping in a new background.

So I set everything up with the lights and background all prepped at f/11, I set my new camera to the same, took a shot of our model Nadine and then…WHAT THE??? Majorly over exposed shot….how could this be?

Ok being honest, at this point I’m thinking…hmmm Light Meter…must be down to the Light Meter seeing since I was trying one out for the first time, however one of the workshop attendees takes a shot from the back of the room with a trigger and gets a perfectly exposed shot…also at f/11.

At this point I do my best not to show panic setting in as I’m beginning to think it could be down to my brand new Nikon D800…barely out of its wrapping but something must be wrong with it.

Time to dive into the camera’s menu…maybe by accident I’d switched to Auto ISO…No! Bracketing on?…No! Finally I tried a different lens and Boom! Perfect exposure.

Anyway long story short I’ve sent the lens into Nikon for repair and sure enough it’s just dirt but from this point on my way of shooting has changed…I’m now sold on using a Light Meter!

I used to think that using one would slow me down, however it’s done quite the opposite. Setting up lights, getting backgrounds and subject perfectly exposed from the very first shot and leaving me to get on with shooting is taking no time at all. I’ve set up the similar lighting more times than I can remember however by being open to learn I’ve now changed the way I set up, especially in the studio as it now involves the use of my new friend…the Light Meter; a friend who has potentially saved me a lot of time and money…by not sending in my Nikon D800 for starters 🙂

So…my question to you is “Are you using a Light Meter” and if you are why didn’t you tell me earlier?…only kidding 🙂 Seriously though, I never thought I’d use a Light Meter…I thought my cameras meter was more than enough but I’ve been completely converted into using one. Have you? If so, for what reason?

Right, I need to make a move so have a great day and I’ll catch you tomorrow,
Enjoy,
Glyn

 

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24 Comments

  1. Kevin Sharpe

    Hi Glyn,

    So thats why you were shooting so different to everyone at your workshop, we just couldn’t work it out on the day, mystery sorted!

    I use a light meter on all my studio shots, just because I don’t trust the back of the camera, it tends to be dark, I also some times use it on weddings when the light is all over the place just to get a base reading to work from.

    I’ve got the sekonic L-358, it wasn’t too expensive but it’s a great piece of kit, always nails the exposure for me!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Kevin…Yep, mystery sorted 🙂 lol
      Needless to say my Light Meter now has it’s own reserved area of my camera bag…reserved only for special friends 🙂

      Cheers,
      Glyn

      Reply
  2. Mike

    Hi Glyn,

    Long time no chat, glad to see you are going from strength to strength :-))

    Excuse my ignorance here, but how would dirt in the lens cause the shot to be that over exposed??

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hey Mike,

      Great to hear from you Buddy and thanks for the kind words 🙂
      Re the shot being over exposed, the dust/grime inside the lens is causing the aperture to stick wide open. It’s been driving me insane but thankfully now the lens has gone off to the health farm and will return feeling all refreshed and working 🙂

      Hope all is well with you mate; must catch up soon,
      Glyn

      Reply
  3. Sean McCormack

    Hey Glyn,
    I use a light meter usually, but currently my Polaris is consistently off by about a stop-with different lenses too I might add. I need to sit down and do a meter calibration-something else Frank knows a thing or two about.

    My studio isn’t massive, so I already know from experience what I get from each modifier/light combination at normal shooting distance in studio. But that experience started with making meter readings.

    The other beauty about it is exactly repeatable setups!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Sean…totally with you there mate. I’m totally 100% sold on using one 🙂

      Reply
  4. Morgana

    Haven’t made the jump to a light meter yet… Need to learn how to use one first :):)

    Reply
  5. Nicholas Hopkins

    Hi Glyn,

    Yes i use a light meter all the time, with outdoor shoots i take a reflective reading from a 18% grey card with the card facing the direction of what ever my light source is….I then switch my lens to manual focus and fill the frame with the grey card, take a shot and dial that into my custom white balance.
    So i could not be without my light meter and 18% grey card 🙂

    May i ask if you use a grey card???

    Reply
  6. Jonathan Thompson

    I’m sold, but then I was there on the same day you saw the light-…..meter, Frank should get a cut, he makes it almost impossible to argue with the results. I just need to shell out for one & then give it a few thousand test drives. Keeping it calibrated seems to be the only tricky part of it, but then I’ve never had to calibrate one so I don’t really know.
    Can’t wait to put a L/M through it’s paces. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Jonathan Thompson

    PS. Also great to hear the lens repair isn’t a big deal & won’t dip into the new, altra spiffy light meter purchase fund 🙂

    Reply
  8. Brian Worley

    Geez one weekend with Frank and you’re a light meter convert 🙂

    Seriously though I have also re-adjusted to using one much more in the studio with multiple light sources in the last year too. I’ve got an inexpensive Sekonic L358 that seems to deliver what I need it for, and certainly is key to getting the exposures with multiple lights right.
    Shooting with two softboxes either side of a model? yes the light meter will tell you where the middle of the light is and you can see if the two softboxes are actually facing the same angle, quite important when you are trying to symmetrically light a model, and much faster to shoot the frames right than “fix it in photoshop” 🙂

    Reply
  9. Matt Kloskowski

    Hey Glyn,
    Being devil’s advocate here… I don’t use a light meter. I’ve found that if my exposure is off, my LCD usually tells me really fast. Not to mention, creatively I find the light meter to often produce a flat result. It gives you the “correct” light setting, but is the “correct” one the best one? Kinda like white balance – you can hold a gray card, but is the neutral white balance really the right one? To me it always looks cold.

    Same thing here. I know light meters were really important before digital but with the LCD I think they’ve become less essential.

    Just my take 🙂
    Great story though and thought provoking post.
    Talk soon!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Totally with you here Matt. The first time I used a light meter was last week with Frank and whereas I adjusted the light after the fact it mainly helped me setup quicker. Definitely something to explore more but as to say, the reading it gives initially can be a little flat.

      Cheers,
      Glyn

      Reply
  10. Matt Kloskowski

    Hey Glyn,
    One more thing… I’ve found them really difficult to use with compositing-based photo shoots. The edge lights come off as too powerful and the main light usually comes off as not powerful enough (at least for me since I don’t want a bright light filling them in).

    Reply
  11. David Shepherd

    I use a light meter only to get me to correct exposure. I then adjust lighting to the creatively pleasing look. I think that the light shapers will do different things and the meter can tell you how the shape is behaving. But like Matt stated, the LCD/Tether will give you correct look. It is great to have one and combined with the “Blinky’s” in the camera.

    Reply
  12. Marc

    I’m hooked on the lightmeter as well. Also usefull to get a white/black or neutral gray background. Just use reflective metering on the background. If you make sure your exposure on the model is the same as your background, your good to go. Result neutral gray on your background.

    Reply
  13. kelley

    Once upon a time, it was the only way. Amazing how useful old school stuff can still be. PS Sweet meter!

    Reply
  14. Mark Tizard

    Hi Glyn
    I got fed up with trying different settings on my lights and camera so I purchased a sekonic light meter. Hey presto all my lights perfectly balanced FOR ME, but I agree with Matt Kloskowski
    there is no right or wrong exposure its what you as an artist wants it to be, but using one is a great starting point and I wouldn’t be without it.

    Cheers
    Mark

    Reply
  15. Clive Litchfield

    Hi Glyn

    I’d be lost without one, back of the LCD just doesn’t cut it. It’s bang on every time, if you want to tweak from there, fill your boots.

    Reply
  16. David Rogers

    You should fire your assistant.

    I have owned a light meter for so long it doesn’t have anything fancy on it. But what it does right is predict an exposure. Since turning digital most all photographers I work with simply use the back of the camera or the monitor.

    The question I have always posed is, “is your monitor calibrated?”. The fact that RAW data allows for so much freedom and in turn error has made the humble light meter dormant, if one was owned at all.

    Its a shame, but then its the world we live in and accept, but just like an A-Clamp or a short roll of Gaffer’s tape, a light meter should be in every assistants bag, even if its not in the photographers bag.

    Its useful for post shoot philosophical discussions too. 🙂

    A note to Nicholas: A traditional Gray card used for film exposure is purely for “exposure” values. While its more useful than a a sheet of blue wrapping paper, an 18% Gray card is not spectrally accurate (unlike a Gretag Macbeth card) which is where color balance or white balance comes in. Having said that, unless color accuracy is extremely important in your workflow I would ditch the 18% gray card as most color evaluations are made long after the exposure in post work.

    Reply
  17. Nicholas Hopkins

    @ David
    Re 18% grey card….I find that when shooting weddings the colour temp can change dramatically from scene to scene be it inside or outdoors, a two minute custom white balance reading with a grey card gives me accurate exposure and true colour temp which in turn cuts down my post process work….I guess it’s horses for courses in terms of what you shoot and where….
    For me personally the grey card will not be ditched 🙂

    Reply
  18. David Rogers

    @Nicholas
    That makes perfect sense. In a multi-scene, high volume environment such as a wedding or product shoot, the custom white balance is an excellent approach.
    I’d wager, most of Glyn’s fans shoot a more individual approach. So, true, the horse indeed is dictated by the course. Shoot happy.

    Reply
  19. gray

    old school rules dude. they had light meters for a reason

    Reply
  20. Natasha Lambert

    Thank you for the information. I was wondering if the specs of the Sekonic L-758DR comparable to the Cl-200A Chroma Meter ? I’ve recently caught the light meterbug, but I could definitely use a hand.

    Reply

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