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Archive 2011 · Do I really need a Light Meter?
  
 
alaskalive
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p.1 #1 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


I always go look for and take advice from those who have knowledge that I do not have.
I am setting up a home studio and I have bought the things listed here STUDIO EQUIPMENT

I have an opportunity to purchase a brand new Sekonic l358 for $250.00.

Many youtube videos I have watched to learn how to do studio photography show the photographers using a light meter.. many times I see the sekonics in their hands.

Thing is, I do not know if I need a light meter for sure or not?
Your opinions are greatly valued... help please.



Nov 18, 2011 at 06:08 AM
Jonathan Huynh
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p.1 #2 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


No.
Back in the film era. Light Meter is a must have for every photographer. there is no second chance to captures and all will have to wait after that film is developing.
Now and days I more depend of the Histogram and LCD back of every digital camera
to make adjustment for exposure.



Nov 18, 2011 at 06:31 AM
aborr
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p.1 #3 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


It depends on how ambitious you are.

Personally, I couldn't imagine (or don't want to imagine) doing studio or architectural work without one. It's useful for lots of things, from checking the evenness of the illumination on seamless, to checking lighting ratios, to setting levels for hair and kicker lights.

You can get by without one for a simple two light portrait setup, but even then, it's a good learning tool and a timesaver. When your setups start to get more complicated, with more lights and modifiers, it becomes pretty much indispensible.

The histogram on the camera tells you when you've got the base exposure right, but it doesn't tell you about the balance between the various light sources on your subject and background.



Nov 18, 2011 at 09:27 AM
TiSE
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p.1 #4 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


I agree that you can get by without one, but it's a great "learing tool and timsaver". If you get serious with lights, you'll appreciate having one. I have a 358 with PW module and also an L-308S for walk around stuff.. The 358 is excellent if you can fit it in your budget and worth the bit extra over the 308 IMO.


Nov 18, 2011 at 09:48 AM
cgardner
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p.1 #5 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


First you need to understand the goal of the exposure exercise and what defines success. The broader goal beyond the technical stuff is to make a photo look real and create the same emotional response in the mind of the view as seeing the same content in person. In other works making it seem real. With respect to exposure making a photo seem as real as possible requires recording detail everywhere the eye sees it in person. That makes the exposure both optimal technically and perceptually "normal".

That goal can be met quite simply with studio lighting with just the camera and two towels; one white, one black.

1) Start in a dark room, set camera to the desired f/stop. Place a light stand at 8ft from camera and drape the towels over it.

2) Place one light (the fill source) just over or under the lens of the camera. Raise its power as you make test exposures until you see the fuzzy texture of the black towel visible in the playback, pegging fill intensity to the darkest shadow detail you will encounter on your portrait subject standing in the same place a few minutes later.

3) Place the second light off axis. For a full face view a good starting baseline is to either place it directly above the camera so it hits the eye line of the subject at a 45 downward angle (butterfly) or is placed so it hits the nose at a 45 angle from the side and a 45 downward angle. For oblique and profile views maintain the same 45/45 angle relative to the nose (with key light winding up 90 and 135 from the camera axis respectively).

4) Turn on the key light and raise its power, while making test exposures, until the white towel target on the stand begins to visibly clip in the playback warning show by the image blacking out and sometimes blinking in areas of blown out detail. Adjust power until the warning is just barely visible in the brightest parts of the towel.

What you will have done is meet the technical and perceptual goals of exposure with just your camera with very little effort. With a bit of practice and experience knowing the power of your lighting gear it will take you about 30 seconds, a minute at most, far less time than metering each light with a hand incident meter.

The lighting ratio numerically, is not important in meeting the goal of matching scene to sensor range. In fact the ratio numerically needed to do that varies from camera-to-camera with digital because the range of the sensor varies due to physical design of the light capturing sites. The sites are like buckets and those with the largest overall volume have the longest ranges. Full frame cameras with larger sensor sites will usually have longer ranges than those of cropped sensors. Within a die size lower MP sensors generally have longer MP ranges that higher MP sensors. My 1.6 crop 8MP 20D has sensor sites the same size and range as a FF 5D. My 15MP 1.6 crop 50D has smaller sensor sites than the 20D but similar overall volume due to clever design changes and a range that is slightly less than my 20D. Optimal exposure in the technical sense is fitting scene detail to whatever range your sensor has and the best way to determine that is photographic a dark and light object matching the extreme of any scene you will encounter.

Once you obtain optimal "scene-matches-sensor" exposure by adjusting fill and key power visually based on shadow and highlight detail your photo will look similar to this:







It looks "normal", exactly how the guy looks in person in average lighting. Not thoughtful and moody or over the top light and carefree, just normal. That's what optimal exposure does, create "normal" seen by eye rendering because that is how it is engineered to work.

That is of course not how you will want to light all your portraits. For the wife and kids you'll want lighter shadows and for your wise old 80 year-old uncle you'll want darker shadows. The highlights in both will wind up looking the same in both. What changes the reaction of the viewer is a reaction to the tone of the shadows, controlled with fill.

That creates a bit of a dilemma exposure-wise. Above the shot has perfect exposure with detail in the darkest parts of his clothing if fill is increased any more to lighten the shadows on the face it will make the shadows on the clothing lighter than "normal" giving the photo a washed out look. Conversely if fill is reduced to make the shadows on the face darker for your wise old uncle Fred you will no longer see the detail in is black suit.

The solution to that dilemma? Learning to "feather" the key and fill light sources and control their footprints with modifier size, placement and direction of fall-off.

This shot taken with a butterfly pattern with both lights back near the camera record the full range of the scene (i.e. perfect exposure technically) and produces a perceptually "normal" result.







This oblique shot with the key light placed 45/45 from his nose on the left also has a full range of tone, but changing the background and making the facial shadows a bit darker changes the mood a bit.







For this profile shot I turned him and used the small 16" x 22" SB with a circle mask and grid used as hair light in the other shots as my key light because I wanted attention focused on the face





This is what the out of camera RAW file looks like for that shot:






The profile shot has the same overall tonal range as the others, but I changed the direction of the fill source, moving it directly in front of him instead of over the camera so it would fall off front>back relative to his face and clothing not front > back relative to the camera as in the other views. I used very small key light source close to his face so it would highlight only his face (eliminating specular shape clues elsewhere) and fall off rapidly top>bottom on his clothing. just applied physics of light.

I didn't use a meter for any of those shots, I just did the basic set-up of the lights visually using a target on a stand for each set-up while he amused himself watching TV in the next room. When he came back under the lights I didn't need to fiddle with them while he waited.

What was the ratio for those shots? Don't know, don't really care. I don't build my lighting strategies from numerical blueprints I build them based on goals, primarily the reaction I want to evoke in the mind of the viewer. In shooting with progressively darker shadows I wanted to create a progressively more serious vibe conveying he fact it was his confirmation and passage out of boyhood to a become a mature young adult.

I could if needed tell you the lighting ratio very easily using the white towel and the camera clipping warning. I would turn on just the fill and adjust my camera aperture until the fill was clipping the white towel. Then I'd turn off the fill turn on the key light and again adjust aperture until the white towel was below clipping. The difference between the two would tell me exactly what the ratio between incident strength was in f/stop. I could measure the hair light and the background the same way by simply putting a white towel where they hit. I buy them by the bag of 50 at Costco (shop towels).

When lighting a group before the group arrives I'll put a light stand or chair on the four corners of where the group will standing and one in the middle. I then adjust my lighting until I can get all the towels clipping in the playback at the same time, telling me the lighting pattern is even. There is a trick to doing that with one or two centered lights; arrange the group in an arc or chevron pattern in front of the light(s).






Once the lights are even all I need to do is close the aperture 1/3 stop and I have even lighting and perfect exposure. SInce I know from experience how to arrange a group for even lighting the process doesn't take very long and the results are far better than the film days trying to do the same thing with only meter readings.

I use a meter: the clipping warning of the camera which makes every pixel in the camera playback a spot metering zone. That's million zone metering! Hard to beat that.

Digital camera added three new forms of "metering": instant playback, the histogram depicting the sensor range, and the highlight clipping warning.

Just by looking at the playback it is possible to tell if the exposure is in the "ballpark" of correct or not. By including a white textured and black textured object a photograph as a test object the playback, in combination with your brain and eyes, can tell you whether exposure is correct more accurately, faster than a meter.

The full width of the histogram depicts the range of the sensor. It represents the scene as a bar graph of 256 tonal values from no light (left) to the point of max. saturation of the sensor "clipping" on the right. It will show whether or not the scene fits the sensor, but only after you first "peg" the exposure to the highlights, which is most easily done with the clipping warning.

The clipping warning, when enabled in the playback shows when and where exposure is maxing out the sensor and obliterating detail.

With those three methods of metering available do you really need to carry another meter on a lanyard around your neck? Unless you have an unlimited budget the money would be better spent elsewhere.



Edited on Nov 18, 2011 at 01:42 PM · View previous versions



Nov 18, 2011 at 01:28 PM
xtremediver
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p.1 #6 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


Just try to do studio work without one. Once you get into using the "chimping" method it is hard to go back, but no amount of "chimping" is going to get your images perfect every time and lighting ratio's are precise with the use of a simple meter. Built in camera meters are decent for certain applications, but are fooled quite easily. I never miss my mark with a light meter and for the price you are able to buy the Sekonic L-358 for (same one I use) you would crazy not to IMHO. The L-358 will let you balance your ambient and fill light with accurate readings displaying the percentage of flash being used, try that with the "chimping" method.


Nov 18, 2011 at 01:37 PM
sherijohnson
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p.1 #7 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


I can't imagine not having one for my studio lights, it's not the same as using a flash on your camera which is a bit more automatic. You can try to use your lights without the meter, but you might not get the results you are looking for, if that is the case, the lightmeter solves the problem easily.


Nov 18, 2011 at 03:26 PM
benee
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p.1 #8 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


for serious studio work with more than say 2 lights, yes, it's good to have. If its a simple one-light setup, no.


Nov 18, 2011 at 03:30 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #9 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


It just depends on how much control you want to have over your work.

You can certainly get by without one and chimp all day long. Also, in the studio, you could rely on your camera's reflective meter and a gray card to read values comparatively ... but both get to be a PITA.

But here's my big rub with relying on the histo alone ... while the histo can show me the range and amount of my light values ... it CAN'T tell me what PART of the scene is associated with those values. On my Kodak SLR/C, I can chimp down to the pixel and get an RGB value reading, so I can distinguish the difference between a shadow area vs. a black fabric area and decide whether I'm over/under where I want to be. Most camera histograms don't have that ability.

There's an old saying that says something like "Your best second lens is a good tripod." Likewise, I believe that a good light meter is a very wise LIFETIME investment. To me, it is the tool that provides the stability and confidence in your lighting technique, similar to what a tripod does for your glass, i.e. "Your best second light is a good light meter."

I don't always use a tripod and I can adapt and overcome without one in many different ways ... but a rock solid tripod is a foundational piece of gear. A rock solid light meter is much the same (imo) ... there are other ways to get by without using one (bracket, sunny 16, histo, etc.), but when you want to produce your best work, use your best tools/techniques. Of course, when you're trying to balance multiple lights, your choices are fewer, i.e. trial & error/chimp vs. meter and adjust.

So whether it is the convenience of using a handheld meter that you prefer (vs. chimping), its usefulness at being able to place it in specific portions of the scene or the ability to get different forms of information (EV readout is my favorite), it is a tool I highly recommend.

Will it make YOU a better photographer just because you buy one ... not necessarily. Will it allow YOU to have better precision & control (if you so choose) ... I think so.

You can certainly get by without one, but you can certainly do better with one ... your call.

HINT: Borrow or rent one for a few days ... then you'll have a better understanding of how it can help you.
LensRentals (et al) can hook you up ... but at $250 for a new one, consider this. BUY IT ... use it for as long as you want. You'll either love it and keep it, or you'll wind up not using it. THEN, you can always re-sell it. The money you 'might' lose won't be that much different from a rental fee ... but you'll have unlimited time to play & learn with it.

BUY IT ... money well spent.

HTH

Edited on Nov 18, 2011 at 03:54 PM · View previous versions



Nov 18, 2011 at 03:39 PM
kenyee
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p.1 #10 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


Also, if you tether, you probably don't need it.
Histograms are pretty useless when you try doing high key or low key styles because they show the entire frame. Sometimes you do want blown out whites...sometimes you want zeroed blacks.
And LCD on the back of cameras aren't accurate enough...some are better than others.

So get a decent lightmeter. You don't need an expensive one...even an older Gossen Luna Pro F is fine, but you'd probably feel more comfortable w/ a digital Sekonic one since everyone seems to use it




Nov 18, 2011 at 03:42 PM
 

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Rick Ryan
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p.1 #11 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


Since I see in your equipment list you have a couple of alien bees and are looking to get triggering equipment you might consider the Buff Cyber Commander ($180), which has a built in flash meter and his Cybersync triggers Rcvrs ($90). Not only does that give you a light meter but also remote triggering AND remote control of your alien bee lights. And it will be cheaper than the PW and Sekonic combination.

Rick



Nov 18, 2011 at 04:13 PM
Micky Bill
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p.1 #12 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


This is like the UV filter debates, its one of those things that there are strong feelings about the necessity of a meter these days. Some people can't imagine life without one and other see no need. I have at least two or three and they saw daily use when I shot medium and large format film. The meter served as a starting point, before shooting Polaroids, then film. But i guess shooting polaroids were a early version of chimping which is often looked down upon around here.
Today's cameras have a few tools for exposure, the internal meter, blinky clipping alerts, the histogram, and the LCD. For me those work pretty well. I use my hand held meter once or twice a year, partly to see if it still works.
If you wil use it as an incident meter it makes more sense than using it as a reflected or spot meter since you already have a good one on your camera. If you can get a good new one for a couple hundred, buy it and see if makes sense for you, then either sell it or keep using it.

A hand held meter isn't a magical problem solver, it simply gives you basic information and it's up to you interpret that info.



Nov 18, 2011 at 05:37 PM
BrianO
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p.1 #13 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


A flash meter is a great time saver, especially if you're doing multiple-light setups and wanting different ratios.

You can do it using the camera's histogram, but it can take multiple shots and trial-and-error. Do you really want to be wasting your shutter's limited lifetime and your memory card's space?

Here are some sites you may find helpful:

http://www.sekonic.com/Classroom/WhatIsaHistogram/WhatIsaHistogram.aspx

http://www.sekonic.com/Classroom/MeteringTechniques/IncidentvsReflected.aspx

and a PDF download:

http://www.sekonic.com/images/files/HistogramsLightmetersWorkTogether.pdf



Nov 18, 2011 at 08:15 PM
Daan B
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p.1 #14 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


Choosing between fiddling with the histogram and working with a precise instrument, the choice is obvious.


Nov 18, 2011 at 08:27 PM
DanBrown
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p.1 #15 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


RustyBug wrote:
You can certainly get by without one, but you can certainly do better with one ... your call.

BUY IT ... money well spent.



+1

You won't regret buying a light meter. The Sekonic web site has lots of tutorials on using their equipment.




Nov 18, 2011 at 09:08 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #16 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


alaskalive wrote:
I am going to be an awesome studio photographer


I think you'll find that the light meter is absolutely going to be part of your arsenal en route to your goal. The only part of the equation that is variable (imo) is not "IF" ... but "WHEN". We all have to make such decisions along the way, and when they are being coupled with other decisions ... the "WHEN" isn't always an easy one to answer.

You've got a lot of ground to cover and learn (which is fine, we all start at the beginning). So even if "NOW" isn't in the cards for you, it won't prevent you from progressing "NOW" through other methods/approaches. Ultimately, it is YOU that will make you "awesome" and you'll pick & choose the tools that you prefer to use.

To me, a studio photographer without a light meter is kinda like a carpenter without a tape measure ... skilled carpenters may be able to work without one, but most skilled carpenters still have one in their tool chest. You can either "measure twice & cut once" ... or you can "cut, check for fit, re-cut, re-check for fit, re-cut, re-check for fit, etc."

If you've only got one board to cut, either way might be okay. But when you are trying to put together multiple boards (or lights) to achieve a specific outcome (i.e. square or evenly lit, etc.) ... it can be a tough gig to get the additional pieces to fit together properly by way of "cut & check" as your methodolgy / approach. And, to pour "salt in the wound", your camera's histo & LCD screen can't remotely match what you are going to find on your monitor or in the print ... it really stinks to THINK you got it the way you want it, only to later realize otherwise.


Edited on Nov 18, 2011 at 09:55 PM · View previous versions



Nov 18, 2011 at 09:37 PM
cgardner
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p.1 #17 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


A meter is indeed a precision instrument but it's accuracy in determining exposure and ratio hinges on the operator's ability to use it correctly and how accurate the ISO indicator of the camera is.

The correct procedure for measuring exposure, per the manual, is to place the meter in front of the subject dome up and point the dome at the camera. If the meter reads f/8 and you set the lens to f/8 more often than not the highlight detail in the subject is not expose correctly. The reason is that ISO 100 selected on the camera isn't always ISO 100 per the calibration standard the meter is set to in the factory. My Canon cameras are 1/3 of a stop off. That's why Sekonic has included two different compensation registers on the L-358 meter and others.

To get the meter in sync with the camera you need to first set Custom WB off a gray card then shoot a bracketed 1/3 step increment series around the meter reading of a textured white highlight like a terry towel then open and look at the files on the computer and visually, based on the highlight detail, determine which has the best exposure.

Here's one of my L-358 meter calibration test shots. Meter reading was 5.6 but this 6.3 exposure from the bracket test was better exposed in the highlights per inspection of the detail:







Since the post processing workflow affects highlights what is even better is to convert the RAW files to 8-bit sRGB JPGs (worst case scenario) to evaluate them.

If you find, as I have, the indicated meter reading does not produce the best exposure you enter a compensation factor into the meter one of two ways listed in the manual. For example I my case the meter reading was f/5.6 but f/6.3 produced the better exposed highlights so I entered a + 0.3 stop compensation into the meter and it's reading changed to f/6.3. The actual "accurate" reading was actually f/5/6, the display was simply adjusted to account for the 1/3 stop error in the camera ISO indicator.

As for judging white backgrounds without a meter? Agree the histogram suck for that task but the clipping warning doesn't. Indoors and out I routinely set rim-light / key light ratios using the clipping warning. It's no brainer simple:

Outdoors:

1) Adjust exposure of ambient rim light until rim light parts of 3D white towel clipping is seen and reduce by 1/3 stop under clipping.







2) Raise frontal flash intensity until flash lit front of towel is clipping them reduce power by 2/3 stop.







Indoors, white background? Same steps then after setting foreground raise background to the point of clipping to see if lighting is even reduce exposure 2/3 stops below clipping so rim lit white areas have detail and rim light contrasts with solid whites in foreground and background..

Try it some time and you'll see how well it works






Nov 18, 2011 at 09:43 PM
rico
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p.1 #18 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


For portraits, I use a lightmeter to set the key/fill ratio and the "blinkies" to set exposure. For tabletop, I use the blinkies for maximum exposure of each light source, then combine frames in post.


Nov 19, 2011 at 06:03 AM
Ronny Mills
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p.1 #19 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


Frank Doorhof says "Yes"

"Watch fashion and glamour photographer Frank Doorhof do a demo shoot with a gorgeous model in his studio in the Netherlands. Also, learn why the Kelby Media Training instructor and lighting whiz never goes anywhere without his Sekonic light meter."



Nov 19, 2011 at 07:04 AM
Peter Figen
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p.1 #20 · Do I really need a Light Meter?


I've been using light meters since the late 1960's, and while I wouldn't be without one, the only time I use one today is shooting copywork in the studio or shooting film. You simply don't need one for the vast majority of digital shooting anymore. It's faster and more accurate to just see your image, and if you're in the studio, you're probably going to be tethered anyway. I see a full res 1DsMKIII file on a MacbookPro screen in about two seconds. It's so much faster to make a quick adjustment of either aperture or strobe power than take the time to measure.

With just a little bit of experience, even shooting outdoors or on location and only using the rear LCD, you can quickly learn to correlate what you see on the back of the camera to what your final image is going to look like. Not unlike using Polaroid back in the day. Even then, black and white Polaroid was a better indication of your exposure than a light meter ever was - once you learned how to use it.

I was just up in Montana shooting with a Mamiya 7 and realized I left my meter back in L.A. Whoops. No big deal. Modified sunny sixteen - more like sunny eleven for black and white, figure in the three stops for the 25A and bang. Perfect exposures that scanned like a dream.

I honestly can't remember the last time I used a meter in the studio, other than for flat art. I do use an electronic tuner for my guitar though. Go figure.

My favorite meter of all time is the Minolta Flashmeter VI. The best overall meter I've ever used. Not only works great for flash and ambient, reflected, spot and incident, but it's beautiful to look at and feels just right in your hand.

I guess what I'm saying - and this comes from thirty plus years of studio experience and shooting digital for at least ten, is that a light meter would be the least of my worries at this stage.



Nov 19, 2011 at 08:44 AM
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