Day 66: Metering

I went to a styled shoot, my film camera in hand, and sat there for ten minutes loading my first roll of film. I asked another film photographer if she would let me tag along behind her at the shoot and she said “Of course!” It was time to get started and she pulled out a small black device and said “Do you have your meter ready?”

My what??

“Um, no, I don’t have… one of those… things.” She taught me the basics of using it and then I went home to find that I had another $300 thing to buy. Of course. Once I got my meter though, I did find it was a necessary tool to carry with me to shoots, so now my light meter is never far from me.

The first thing you’ll notice about your light meter is the lumisphere, the little white round dome. That is there to take a reading of all the light 180 degrees around it. So it will sense the light to the side of it, above, below and in front of it. That dome (or bulb) should be able to protrude out or retract in based on the wheel that surrounds it. When you hear someone say “bulb out”, they mean the bulb is set to protrude out and when they say “bulb in” then the bulb is set back in the meter.

There are two types of metering: there is Incident Metering (bulb metering) and Reflective Metering (spot metering).

Incident metering is when your meter moves to the subject and takes a reading from the position of your subject. You’ll see photographers take a reading off of themselves by holding the meter under their chin, pressing the button and looking at the meter.

This is measuring the light that is falling on them at that moment. Because film is light hungry and it retains the details in the highlights, I meter bulb in, pointed 45 degrees towards the ground from the subjects chin. Because there is a natural shadow under your chin, this method gives me a reading that is evaluating more towards the natural shadows in an image rather than the highlights.

Reflective metering is when you stand apart from the subject and point the meter at it to determine how much light is reflecting off of the subject. This might be good for a landscape scene where you can’t get right up against the subject. This also lets you control WHERE on the scene you’re metering for. You point it at a specific part and take a reading based on the light that is reflecting off of that particular spot.

Some things to keep in mind when metering:

  • Make sure you’re not standing in front of the subject. Stand to the side of them so you don’t block their light.
  • Make sure there are no stray beams of sun that hit your bulb. That will throw off your reading in a huge way.
  • Set your meter to give you your shutter speed readings. I like to determine my own aperture value as I’m sure you do too… and since we aren’t shooting with flash, we aren’t limited to a specific shutter speed.
  • This is still just a tool. It won’t make creative decisions for you and it’s not always right. Look at and think about what you’re shooting and if you need to change your settings based on your own unique vision, you totally can!

Day 98 is currently reserved for any questions you have throughout the 100 days. To submit a question, please click here!¬† If you’re interested in supporting this project, please share, PIN and comment! Any other questions, comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at denise(at)denisekaris(dot)com

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris