Dos and Don'ts on Handheld Light Meter by Joyce Kang

The most frequently asked questions when a digital photographer starts on the film photography journey is metering.  Metering plays an extensive and an intricate part in getting the beautiful film images we all love so much.   In the first installment of the Metering Tutorial series, I will briefly go through a few

dos and don'ts on handheld light meter:

©Joyce C. Kang-DDBKang000105-R1-E010001
©Joyce C. Kang-DDBKang000105-R1-E010001

Do get a meter

First and foremost, the one thing you can’t do without if you want to nail your film exposure is a handheld light meter.  If you don’t have a handheld meter, you must get one now!

Don’t get a phone app

While some photographer swear by the phone app, I highly recommend that you do not believe the hype.  Get a real light meter that is technologically designed and fabricated for the purpose of metering light.  The statics have shown that the phone light meter app consistently underexposes images by at least 1/3 stop or more.

Do have a properly working meter

A used meter is an economical option when you first start on film.  It's always a plus when a relative or an old friend who passes down his used light meter.  However, please make sure it actually works.  The best way to check is to test it out against your DSLR in-camera meter.  If you purchased it from eBay or other retailers, make sure they have refund policy for items that doesn’t work as they were advertised.

©Joyce C. Kang-DDKang001017-R2-E019002
©Joyce C. Kang-DDKang001017-R2-E019002

Don’t need to be fancy

A light meter doesn't have to have all the whistles and bells.  A good old working analogue meter works just as well as a brand new digital fancy one that computes light down to .00001% accuracy.  One advice from a film workshop instructor (that's me): get one that will fit your purpose.  For example, if you shoot with a strobe or a speedlight, you will need one that can also meter for flash.

Do read the user’s guide

If you purchased a used meter, you can download one online.  Read it from cover to cover so you know what the essential buttons are for and where you to find it when you need to use it.  Always keep a copy of the user's manual handy just in case you need to look up a particular function.

Don’t think there is only one way to meter for every light

Not all light is created equal.  The intensity, direction and temperature are just a few of  the characteristics of light.  So, why do people automatically assume there is only one way to meter for ALL types of light?  "Over exposure" doesn't necessarily work in all situations.  This leads us to the next DO...

©Joyce C. Kang-000003990018001
©Joyce C. Kang-000003990018001

Do learn how to use the meter properly

Learning the hows and whys is the ONLY way to understand how and why you should meter differently under any given light.  In Embrace the Grain workshop, I devote three full weeks just on teaching how get proper exposure using correct metering through learning to "see" different light.  In the brand new online workshop, The Missing Link, which will be launching in Janurary 2016, Sandra Coan will also dedicate a big part of the workshop on metering for indoor natural and studio strobe light.

Don't only ask "How did you rate that film?"

How film photographer "rate" the film is only a small part in getting the exposure on film.  Notice I didn't say "proper" exposure?  Rating film is just a tiny part of a huge equation in achieving the proper exposure.  There are many other variables that contribute to getting the best image on film.  Getting the proper exposure is about understanding the light you are shooting in.  It's about knowing  the reasoning behind why you should meter a certain way to maximize the characteristic of a particular film.  It's about creating a beautiful piece of art with light that is infused with your own style and vision.

Do you want to learn more on how to use your light meter?  Next week Sandra will continue the series on our brand new Metering Tutorial.  Stay tuned...

Are you a hands-on learner?  Do you learn by actual doing than reading?  Come join both Sandra Coan and Joyce Kang of Little Bellows at the Click Away in San Antonio, October 8-10, 2015:

3 Days, 6 Classes, including:

  • 4 boutique interactive sessions on indoor film photography with studio strobe and outdoor film photography with natural light and OCF.
  • 2 Golden Hour Walks with hands-on learning at the beautiful historic San Jose Mission in San Antonio

Don't wait, Register now because classes are filling up quickly!