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Thread: Hand held meters

  1. #1
    flipmode's Avatar
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    Hand held meters

    Hi,

    I was wondering if using a hand held meter for outdoor portraits is recommended? Why or why not? Also, would using a hand held meter be more reliable that the camera's built in meter?

    Thanks,

    Chris

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    Re: Hand held meters

    Hi Chris,

    Yes / No / Maybe

    The light meter built into all cameras usually does a pretty good job, but it only measures REFLECTED light, and it assumes that the brightest thing in the scene is white / the darkest thing is black / and "aims for the middle" (OK, somewhat over-simplified, but you get the idea). Problem is, it's easily fooled -- it you're shooting around lots of snow then it'll under-expose by 2 shots and give you gray snow. If you're shooting a black cat on a black rug then it'll over-expose by 2 stops and give you a gray cat. Light meters measure the light hitting the object (incident light), and thus gets it right everytime.

    The other situation where they're mandatory is when using manual flash / strobes - a good "case in point" is this shot I took today - off memory I increased the exposure in Photoshop by 1/4 of a stop (ie "next to nothing"), and made no adjustments to the black clipping point - so exposure wise it's pretty much "out of the camera" - and was metered with my Sekonic 758DR lightmeter. Without my light meter I'd have had to get the correct exposure by trial and error.


    I whote quite a bit about how metering works (and doesn't work) here if this is of any help.

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    PopsPhotos's Avatar
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    Re: Hand held meters

    I use my old GE 8DW58Y4 when in doubt and shooting with settings on manual. I find that the automatics work pretty well when set to spot for tough shots and area for general work. Of course, I grew up with only manual controls, so I am accustomed to estimating the contrast range and twiddling Dee and Dum. One trick is to choose a spot you want to be white, setting exposure for that, locking and swingin back to compose.

    Pops

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    arith's Avatar
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    Re: Hand held meters

    What is the difference between an expensive light meter and an old one costing pennies? It is a long time since I used a light meter and now use the camera's to guess a starting point and take a pic, adjusting down according to how blown highlights are. With flash I just use the guide number and guess, this can take several attempts though.

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    Re: Hand held meters

    Quote Originally Posted by arith View Post
    What is the difference between an expensive light meter and an old one costing pennies? It is a long time since I used a light meter and now use the camera's to guess a starting point and take a pic, adjusting down according to how blown highlights are. With flash I just use the guide number and guess, this can take several attempts though.
    Quite a lot If we take my one for example, I can load in exposure profiles for all combinations of incident and reflected, flash and ambient, for all ISOs up to 3200 for up to 3 cameras - I can dial in compensations for filters - I can trigger my pocket wizards - I can average any number of readings (and recall the last 9 of them) - I can recalculate the exposure for different speeds / apertures / ISOs - I can check contrast - I can analyse percentage flash ...

    ... and muchmore!

    PS: I think it measures ambient light so I know what to set the camera too as well!

  6. #6
    flipmode's Avatar
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    Re: Hand held meters

    Thanks for the responses.

    Colin, so regarding the scenario with dark subjects such as a black cat or vice-versa, white snow...with a hand held meter, since it would be reading incident light, then over/under compensating the exposure wouldn't be necessary correct?

    I'm looking into investing into a hand held meter, the sekonic L-358.

  7. #7
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    Re: Hand held meters

    Do you need a hand held light meter? Yes and no, it all depends on your shooting needs.

    In-camera metering and histograms can't help you set up lighting ratios for multiple strobes or from light sources, or help you get the precise ambient-flash balance. Histograms can tell you when you're grossly over- or underexposed; if you know what to look for. Here's a great explanation: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tu...stograms.shtml.

    For using histograms with hot shoe flash, I highly recommend this book:
    http://neilvn.com/tangents/about/book/

    Note: Hand held light meters reads "incident light measurement", which deals solely with the light and not with subject reflectivity (like in camera meters), is the simplest and most foolproof way to determine exposure.

    But again it all depends on your needs; time is the biggest factor when it comes using hand held light meters. Studio, commercial, and controlled settings are idea for using hand held light meters because you have the time to set it up. While fast paced events and weddings for example will not give you the luxury of time using your hand held so histograms makes more sense. Whether it's in camera or hand held, knowing how your light meter behaves is very key in "crafting your exposures"; again "if know what to look for". Bottom line, you want to create as high of a quality image file (data) as possible to work with in post processing.

    Do I use a hand held light meter? Yes I do but not always; I have the same model that you're considering the Sekonic L-358. I use it more when it comes to working with mixed lighting situations indoors acquiring shutter speeds, at a specific aperture, and ISOs I want. But I also know how my camera's meter behaves. Shots taken with histogram readings only:

    Hand held meters

    Hand held meters
    Last edited by Amberglass; 23rd March 2010 at 03:56 AM.

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    Re: Hand held meters

    Quote Originally Posted by flipmode View Post
    Colin, so regarding the scenario with dark subjects such as a black cat or vice-versa, white snow...with a hand held meter, since it would be reading incident light, then over/under compensating the exposure wouldn't be necessary correct?
    Correct - you don't need any kind of compensation with incident light meters.

    I'm looking into investing into a hand held meter, the sekonic L-358.
    I've sold one - they're quite nice, but I STILL prefer my 758DR

  9. #9
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    Re: Hand held meters

    With portraits I rely on the build in meter. I don't like to bother the models with a meter near their faces.
    During Architecture photography however I use a hand-held spot-meter (Gossen Spotmaster). First I look up the best shooting point and position the camera on a tripod. Than I use the spot-meter to measure the contrast ratio between highlights and shadows and dial the best settings in the camera on manual mode.

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