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Thread: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

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    Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    I am cogitating about purchasing a light meter, but not sure how useful it would be. I do some shooting in complex light situations (like most of us, I suppose), and usually bracket the exposures and/or use the spot metering in my camera. However, I wonder if it might not be easier to have a hand-held Sekonic or Gossen. Since I use a tripod a lot, this would be pretty handy, it would seem. Also, and equally important, it would look like I knew what I was doing and and I would look cool (or dorky, not sure which)! Does anyone use a meter regularly, and have any advice? One can pick up a used one pretty reasonably from B&H or Adorama, it seems.

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Hi Richard,

    I use one all the time (Sekonic 758DR), but it really depends on what you're shooting. For studio work it's essential for not only exposure, but also lighting ratios. Outdoors I still use it, but not as much.

    Just keep in mind that using a light meter doesn't guarantee a "perfect exposure" (there's really no such thing) - what it DOES guarantee is that a middle gray will be pretty much in the middle of your histogram; one can still have (plenty of) exposure issues depending on the dynamic range of the scene. They certainly provide an excellent starting point though.

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    I have an old Sekonic 718 incident/flash meter that I use all the time. I have been using it for years. My primary use is when I am shooting with studio strobes. My meter doesn't have the bells and whistles of the newer Sekonic models but, it is quite accurate and does everything that I need to do with it. The price (used) of somewhere around $100 US Dollars was also a plus!

    What Colin says is absolutely true! A meter can measure the light. How you interpret and use that measurement is up to you and is the difference between correct exposure and not!

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    A meter can measure the light. How you interpret and use that measurement is up to you and is the difference between correct exposure and not!
    Couldn't agree more; I'll bet a light meter wouldn't have recommended 1/8000th @ F32 for this shot ...

    Does anyone use an incident light meter?

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    I recently had to get one for my studies and I have actually learnt that it is extremely helpful at times, esp when I was in the Alps recently I actually got correctly colored snow and not some dull shade. For in-studio it is definitely essential, couldn't do without it anymore.

    Awesome Picture Collin!

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Quote Originally Posted by TobyMac View Post
    I recently had to get one for my studies and I have actually learnt that it is extremely helpful at times, esp when I was in the Alps recently I actually got correctly colored snow and not some dull shade. For in-studio it is definitely essential, couldn't do without it anymore.
    Metering always assumes that what you're pointing the camera at is middle gray; in most cases that's usually right, but where there's an extreme (polar bear in a snow storm or black cat on a black rug etc) it gets it wrong. In the case of snow, you need to add about 2EV exposure compensation. Or put another way, if the average of the tones that you point the camera at ISN'T a middle grey, then it will be if you don't apply exposure compensation

    Awesome Picture Colin!
    Thanks - it was one of those "when life serves you lemons, make lemonade" type shots ... we were waiting for the sun to set and there was one heck of a glare coming right off the water - so I maxed out the camera and did this sihouette. Pretty much SOOC too
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 26th March 2012 at 06:55 AM.

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Yeah I learned this the first time I was in the Alps in winter and all my pictures looked rubbish, I had no idea what was going on, but this time I was prepared

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Thanks, Colin, Richard & Tobias for your advice & comments--useful all.
    Richard

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Cool picture, Colin. You're right, there isn't a meter on earth that would replace experience and innovation in that situation.

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    I started out in the 1960s, when incident meters were the rule, but once I got a spot meter (in an FTb in the early 1970s), I found I didn't really need one. As Colin says, a meter assumes that what you are pointing it at is neutral gray. With a spot meter, you decide what to aim it at and decide how many stops it should be off neutral gray. It takes some practice, but it becomes second nature after a while, and if forces you to think about how you want different parts of the image exposed.

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    I've use a hand-held meter for most of my photographic life (50+ years). In-camera metering is pretty good for "average" scenes, whatever that is. But once you get into more dramatic or artistic lighting or studio flash shooting, a good meter is very handy and important. I agree with many of the comments that you still need to think about how you want to expose the scene to achieve your desired result. A good meter takes lots of guess-work out of it.

    For the past few months I've been using the Sekonic L-758DR, an upgrade from my trusty L-358. I wanted the 1 degree spot metering feature for landscape work. In addition, the 758 and your camera/lens combinations can be calibrated with a target to establish your camera's exact sensor dynamic range. This information is loaded into the meter so you can reliably measure the light to obtain the best quality capture in terms of digital information (exposing to the right). I am finding this system very accurate, easy to use and reliable. The L-758DR is a high-end meter; if you don't need these features, the affordable L-358 works well for incident as well as a flash meter in the studio. Both of my meters have radio transmitters that work with the PocketWizard transceivers to trigger flash... no sync cords to trip over. I've invested lots of money in bodies and lenses. I consider my meter just another important link in the chain that helps me get the shot I want. (I have no connection with Sekonic)

  12. #12

    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Good morning,
    I am new to this forum, although I have read hundreds of threads. I would like to make a comment. When there was film in the camera I found a light meeter to be a must. And so I read Mr Ansel Adams books on B&W photography and about his Zone System.
    I always think in Zones when I make a light reading. A spot meter is required. But cameras do have spot metering, so that should be ok. But it can be chumbersom to administrate all the spots you metere with a camera. This is not the case with a spot meter.
    I have been using a handheld meter for many years, but the great leap was made when I bought a spotmeter. Today I use a Seconic 758DR, which is beneficial if you do strobe.

    Fredrik

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fredrikfw View Post
    Today I use a Seconic 758DR, which is beneficial if you do strobe.
    Hi Fredrik,

    That's 3 of us using the same meter -- on the 1 thread -- I think that's a record!

    PS: Welcome to CiC - great to have you with us

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Hi Richard,
    I also use a Sekonic meter. I find it makes decision making easier and more reliable. i don't have anything to offer over what has already been said except to say that Sekonic has some really good tutorial videos to help you on the way.
    Regards

    Graham

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    I own a Sekonic L-358, but mostly when I do indoor flash work, as it is primarily a flash meter; and with the Pocket Wizard add on transmitter I can do things by myself and don't need to grab someone to help me as I set up the lighting. As was mentioned by the others, a lightmeter is really a bit of a misnomer, as the device is actually an 18% gray meter. It's an averaging device and it's whole purpose is to tell you how to get that average image. In a wierd lighting situation, it's not going to work well, so you still have to bracket. As with others, I use it to check out lighting ratios.

    The best metering device I have, I use all the time, and that is the histogram function on my DSLR. It provides me with a lot more information than any light meter. It is something I use all the time. It helps me adjust how I bracket my shots.

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    the device is actually an 18% gray meter.
    Not even that these days -- they're down to about 12.5%.

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Thanks for all the input. As a result of the good comments, I bought an old, but nicely made, and fully functional, Sekonic, and am looking forward to those "challenging" lighting situations. Manfred--I am thinking that the histogram function, as useful as it is, would be misled by complex lighting, such as the one Colin posted--since it is reading the reflected light, not the incident light. Am I right? Or wrong?

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Donham View Post
    Thanks for all the input. As a result of the good comments, I bought an old, but nicely made, and fully functional, Sekonic, and am looking forward to those "challenging" lighting situations. Manfred--I am thinking that the histogram function, as useful as it is, would be misled by complex lighting, such as the one Colin posted--since it is reading the reflected light, not the incident light. Am I right? Or wrong?
    Hi Richard,

    If you're talking about lightmeters then some measure just ambient light, and some measure ambient & reflected light (seperately). The ambient light measurement is "absolute" (ie you can take it at face value) (not withstanding any desired creative interpretations), but the reflected light measurement ASSUMES THAT YOU'RE METERING OFF A MIDDLE GRAY. If you're not metering off a middle grey then you need to increase the exposure by 2 stops to turn a white into a white, or decrease an exposure by 2 stops to turn a black into a black. In both cases if you don't make any compensation then you'll get a grey object.

    Basically what the meter does in reflected mode is give you a setting that'll give you a middle gray photo.

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    Administrator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Donham View Post
    Thanks for all the input. As a result of the good comments, I bought an old, but nicely made, and fully functional, Sekonic, and am looking forward to those "challenging" lighting situations. Manfred--I am thinking that the histogram function, as useful as it is, would be misled by complex lighting, such as the one Colin posted--since it is reading the reflected light, not the incident light. Am I right? Or wrong?
    Richard - In my view both the histogram and the lightmeter (incident and reflective) are tools to guide the photographer. Ulitmately it is up to him / her to expose to get the shot he / she wants, within the limitations of the equipment. I do a lot of shots in ice and snow in the winter and know I have to "overexpose" by at least a stop in many situations, so experience plus light meter / historgram are my tool of choice. Frankly, with the polar bear in the snow, there is no way I would consider using an incident reading, from a purely practical standpoint. I prefer to come back alive!

    In any abnormal lighting situation I will tend to bracket my shots, play with my white balance, etc. in order to get a range of images to work with when I get home.

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    Re: Does anyone use an incident light meter?

    Colin--it has always seemed counter-intuitive, but I have known that you need to increase exposure of a white subject to get it white and decrease exposure of a dark subject to get it more accurately black. The meter will be one more piece of reinforcement so that it becomes more natural, I hope--interested in comparing the reading on the hand meter with the camera's in those situations.
    Manfred--couldn't agree more with what you say, and particularly the wisdom of not trying to meter a polar bear in snow! When I am thoughtful about my photos, I bracket too.

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