Sandra Coan: Metering Film in All Kinds of Light

Last week we asked our readers to send us their questions on metering film.  We got such a response that we decided to turn it into a weekly series!

Last week, Joyce covered the basic dos and don'ts of metering.  Today I'm answering a question straight from the film forum.  Here it is:

Question: Do you meter differently on darker, overcast days?

Short Answer:  Nope.

Long Answer:  I meter using incident metering in all lighting situations.

Incident metering means that your meter is reading the light that is falling on your subject rather than the light that is bouncing off your subject.

I like this technique because when using incident metering it doesn’t matter what my subject’s skin tone is or what color clothing they are wearing. The meter is only going to read the light that is falling on them and therefore my readings are super consistent.

I always shoot my film at box speed and set my meter to the bulb out position. Then I meter for the darkest shadow I can find when shooting color and for the highlights when shooting black and white.

I meter this way on cloudy days, sunny days, with window light and with strobes.

It's super consistent and super easy!!  And I'm all about consistent and easy!

Here are a few example of this metering technique in different kinds of light.

Sandra Coan: Metering film in all kinds of light

Here is an example of incident metering (for the shadows)  in cloudy, late afternoon light.

(Contax 645, Portra 800)

Sandra Coan: Metering film in all kinds of light

And here we have an example of what it looks like on a sunny day in mid afternoon light.

(Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

Sandra Coan: Metering film in all kinds of light

Here we have incident metering (for the shadows) with indoor window light (southwest exposure).

(Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

Sandra Coan: Metering film in all kinds of light

And here it is indoor with studio strobes.

(Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

All of these images were taken in very different lighting situations, and they were all metered exactly the same: Incident, box speed, bulb out, in the shadows.

Hope that helps.

If you have any other questions on metering, please share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page or the Facebook film forum.

And don't forget to get your name on the list for my up coming online workshop!  Here's the link.

Have a wonderful day!

Sandra Coan

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!

The Three Basic Components of a Photograph

Some of you may already know, besides teaching Embrace The Grain Workshop online, I also teach Arts and Humanities classes weekly to middle school and high school students.  In the class, I teach art and architecture theories and apply them to our study of historic and classic to modern masters such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Dali, as well as architectures such as Parthenon, Pantheon, Phoenix Hall,  The White House and many more.  Seriously, I can geek out on art and architecture all day every day!  So naturally, I think it would be fun to share with you what I learned about arts, and how I apply what I learned in my photography work.

The Three Basic Components of a Photograph (Art)

Since the beginning of times, people have been making and creating arts.  Whether it's on a wall in a cave or on a piece of stretched canvas, the basic components of art are the same:  Subject, Form and Content.

1. Subject - The "Who" or "What"

The main subject of a photograph can be a person, an object, a theme or an idea.  When we photograph our children at play, the subject of that image is pretty obvious, the children.  However, the subject can also be an unrecognizable object that the photographer use to represent an idea instead of a thing.  Regardless of the genre of photography, a photograph can not be complete without a subject, and it can not interpreted based on the subject alone but with the purpose the subject serves in a photograph as a whole.


2. Form - The "How"

In the components of a photography, the word "Form" is refer to how the composition is arranged and organized in a photograph.  Beside the basic rules of thirds, golden ratio and golden triangle, the form component also includes elements of art (line, shape, form, color, texture, value and space) and principles of art (pattern, rhythm, movement, balance, unity, contrast and emphasis).  The photographer's choices of elements and how he/she arranges them (principles) "forms" how we perceive the subject (or an idea) of a photograph.

©Joyce C. Kang-000024320021001
©Joyce C. Kang-000024320021001

3. Content - The "Why"

The content is the message that the artist or the photographer is trying to communicate with the viewer.  It can simply be a statement, but it can also be an emotion, an expression or a mood.  Surely, it would be ideal if the viewer interprets the content of a photograph as the photographer had intended to communicate.  However, with the vastly different cultural and experience differences will often affect how a viewer "sees" a photograph.  Naturally, people tend to relate to contents that are familiar and recognizable.

©Joyce C. Kang 2013-SRkang000729-R1-E024001
©Joyce C. Kang 2013-SRkang000729-R1-E024001

A successful photograph should be able to combine all 3 components (subject, form and content) seamlessly so that the components can not be separated or be interpreted apart from each other.   This unity of the components should contain nothing that's distracting or unnecessary.  Just like a well made automobile, all parts must work together and without void to operate properly and without fail.  Let's look at our own work today with an critical eye, are you successfully using all 3 components in your work?

Sandra Coan Photography: Family Photos on Film
Sandra Coan Photography: Family Photos on Film

Strobes or Sun?

It has finally happened. After months and months of shooting nothing but film with strobes, I've come to the point where I think I prefer the look of strobes over natural light.

Saying that out loud feels a little scary, especially to a community of film shooters, but hear me out:

  • Strobes are consistent.  When I use them, my light is the same at every. single. shoot.  My meter readings are always the same, regardless of the weather.  Using artificial light has allowed me to shoot film 100% of the time and has freed me from stress.
  • Strobes bring out the best in film.  Film loves light.  And strobes give the perfect amount of light every time.  So my images are always perfectly exposed and beautiful.
  • Strobes do not have to look "flashy".  I love strobes, but I HATE images that look artificial and "flashy".  I want my work to be soft and airy and, when used properly, my strobes give me that look.
  • Strobes are easy.  Seriously.  I know that they seem complicated, but they are not.  Everything I do is done with one light and one light modifier.  Thats it.
Sandra Coan Photography: Newborns on film with strobes

Are you interested in learning to shoot with strobes?  I'd love to teach you!

Sign up for my list and be the first to know about new classes!

Have a great day!

Sandra Coan

Sandra Coan Photography: Film with strobes

Beginner Color Film Stock

Are you new to film photography?  Little Bellows is a great resource where you will find what you need to get started.  Today, let's talk a little bit about what are the best beginner color film stock. If you are a beginner to the wonderful world of photography, my recommendation for you is start with the film stocks that have the widest latitude.  What does "widest latitude" mean?  It simply means that the film stock is very forgiving when it comes to exposure.  As you start out shooting film, getting consistent exposure is quite difficult.  There is no LCD on the back of the camera to check on histogram.  You probably feel that you are "taking a leap on faith", or shooting "blind".

The film stocks I always recommend for beginner film shooters are Kodak Portra 400 or Fuji 400h Pro.  These are great stocks that are will give you ample elbow room in getting that good image on your first tries.  These stocks can handle up to 2 stops of underexposure so that if you accidentally make a mistake in metering for the film, the images should still come out nicely.  Besides, these stocks are great at pushing 1 to 2 stops during process.

©Joyce C. Kang-000099320011001
©Joyce C. Kang-000024300008001
Fuji 400 Processed Normal.  Image credit: Heather Chang
Fuji 400h Pushed one stop in process.  Image credit: Heather Chang

Come meet me and Sandra this year at Click Away 2015 San Antonio.  It's the biggest women photographer conference of the year!  I am teaching two introductory outdoor film classes, and Sandra is teaching two indoor film classes.  In addition, we each leading a Golden Hour sessions at the beautiful Mission San Jose.  Don't miss out the perfect opportunity to hang out with your friends and do nothing but shoot, chat and eat (just the few things I love to do) for 3 whole days!!  Register now, we can't wait to meet you!

Sandra Coan: Metering for window light

Metering. This is a topic I could talk about all day long.  It's so important.

It can also feel confusing, as there are so many ways to do it!

Today I'm going to show you how I meter when shooting with window light to create that light airy look I love!

To see how I meter when using strobes, visit this post.  And for more information on hand held meters and what to look for when buying one for yourself, click here.

Happy shooting!


Sandra Coan: How to meter film with window light

Captured with a Contax 645 and Portra 800.  Processed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.

In Camera Meter

Since we are on the topic of Metering and Rating film last week, I thought it is essential that we also cover the different metering modes.  Most of the film cameras we purchase or ones that were past down from parents or grandparents are missing one very important piece of information:  User's Manual.  If you don't have a User's Manual for your film camera, please google it online and download a copy.  It will save you so much time! Yes I know, you just want to dive right in and load some film.  And what's so different between an old Nikon film camera from DSLR anyways?  The old film camera has a meter that works just like my brand new Nikon 4Ds, doesn't it?

Well...not exactly!

Let's take the in-camera meter for example...You see, most of the old film cameras do not have some of the modern metering features like the one we are used to in a DSLR.  For example, you are probably used to this:

Metering Modes

However, if you are lucky to get a proper working meter in an old film camera, you are probably going to get this:

Metering Modes2

And, if you have a more modern SLR or medium format from the 1980's, you might even get this:

Metering Modes3

So, my point is, unless you are shooting with a modern 35mm or medium format SLR, you are limited to the metering mode that's available.  Besides, film photographers are known to be old camera "collectors", we need to have a proper working light meter with any camera of any condition at any time.  This is the reason why it is essential to own a handheld meter so you know you'll always have a reliable partner when you are out shooting that dream $10,000.000 wedding that is sure to grace the pages of Martha Stewart Wedding magazine ;)

Fuji400h and Portra 400: A Comparison

What I love about shooting film is that each film stock has it's own personality; a unique way of seeing light and interpreting color.

When you know your stocks, you can make choices on what to shoot to achieve your style and vision.

It's like choosing to paint with oils or water colors!  So cool!

Today I'm talking about two of my favorite films, Fuji 400h and Portra 400.

As you can see from the examples below, both film stocks have an amazing range.  The difference is in tone.


Here they are in real life...

Sandra Coan on Fuji 400h

Fuji 400h, Contax 645


 Portra 400, Contax 645

(images courtesy of Sandra Coan Photography)

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Leave your comments or questions in the comment space below, or on out Facebook page.  And don't forget to sign up for out newsletter!!

Which Handheld Light Meter Should I Buy?

"Which handheld light meter should I buy?" is probably one of the most asked questions in the film photography forums, film interest groups, and also in my workshop, Embrace The Grain.  With the gazillion choices of different brands, models and options, the decision can be understandably daunting.  Now let's mix in the choices between buying brand new or used, or download that "free" phone app, the choices start to get even more over-whelming and quite confusing. So which meter should YOU buy?  Well, let me ask you a few questions:

©Joyce C. Kang-untitled20150203010002

1. Do you have a meter that actually WORKS in ALL light situations?

A meter needs to be able to read the light ACCURATELY, including in tough lighting situations such as high contrast light and back light.   It needs to be able to function like it is intended to be: measuring incident light and/or reflected light.

2. Do you have a meter that has all of the basic functions that YOU need?

Buying a meter is like buying a car.  You can buy a car with a manual window crank with no A/C or a car with seat warmers and backup cameras, both will get you from point A to point B.  Although it might be more posh traveling in a luxury car, it will still get you the same end result: your destination.  So start at the basic function of a meter, incident metering, and go from there. Figure out which function you must have and which you can do without is the key to selecting the perfect one.

3. Do you want to STOP wasting your hard-earned money?

Let's face it, shooting film is EXPENSIVE!  The processing fee, the scanning fee, the shipping cost and the film cost all add up quickly.  You are spending at least $20 to $30 per roll!!  This is why consistency is a priority when you are shooting film.  Consistency comes from accurate metering.  That's it!  Nope, I am not tricking you.  It is really that simple. It will cost you at least $50 up-front though, and what does this $50 mean to YOU?  I can tell you what it means to ME.  It means that spending $50 buying a proper meter is the same amount of of money that I would have wasted on processing and scanning TWO rolls of underexposed scans that turn my stomach.


If you answered "YES" to all of the questions I asked above, then you need, and you MUST have a handheld meter now.  Use your common sense!  "Free" doesn't always mean it is better.  A handheld meter should your film camera's best friend.  These two should be two peas in a pod.  If you have a film camera in your hands, you should have its sidekick, the handheld meter, somewhere close and ready to jump into action!  Now, stop wasting money on scans that make you go "ewwww".  GET A HANDHELD METER!

Kim Hildebrand: Portra 800 Four Ways

Oh how I love a good film test!  So when I saw this post my friend Kim Hildebrand posted on her blog, I knew I had to share it!  Fascinating! -Sandra

From Kim:

A major business goal of mine this year is to be able to shoot family sessions with film 100% of the time this Fall.  I am so completely hooked on everything about film – from the tonal range, the luminosity, the depth of field, the highlight retention, to the creamy skin tones!

A huge part of getting a consistent ‘look’ with film, besides picking one lab to work with, is choosing your go-to film.  Different films render colors, highlights and shadows in different ways.

I’ve narrowed down my favorite outdoor film for shooting in Seattle (which tends to have blue/green light almost all the time) as gorgeous Portra 800.  I had been asking around how I should rate this in a full-sun situation.  Some filmies said box speed, some said 640, some swore by 400, and a few even said 200!  Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I decided to do my own test.  I recruited my amazing, beautiful friend to be my model one sunny day at noon.

I shot five rolls of film rated at:  Portra 800 at 800, 640, 400, 200; and p160 rated at 160.  I shot part of the roll in full-sun and the second part in open shade to see which rating would give me the best results and best ideal shutter speeds for shooting locally.  How did I meter, you ask?  For each roll, I compared four ways to meter:  bulb-in @ 45 degrees, bulb in – in the darkest shadow of my subject, in-camera meter (+2) on subject’s forehead (I use the Pentax 645n), and the Sunny-16 rule.  I was impressed that for the most part that all four metering methods were giving me the same reading.  (All rolls developed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.)

This first comparison also shows how color and skin tones rendered in full sun with p800 and the last roll – Portra 160:


Comparison of Portra 800 only:


Look at how forgiving Portra 800 is!  I was blown away when I saw the results.  I really thought I would see more differences since rating at 200 is already two stops over box speed.   I am also amazed at how well a good lab can make your scans look consistent, even when rated differently.  There is a 4-stop difference between the p800 rated at 800, shot at f2.8 @ 1000 vs. p800 rated at 200, shot at f2.8 @ 250!  So develop a relationship with, and love your lab. Please see my straight-scan comparison I added at the end of the post.

And here are the same comparisons in the shade, last roll Portra 160:


Comparison of Portra 800 only:


Edited to add:

I found out RPL tried to match up scans from the rolls into one cohesive set since all rolls were submitted in one order.  I asked them to re-scan one image from each roll and do a straight scan since I was testing exposure.  A straight scan means that the lab doesn’t do any adjusting.  Here are the results:


I’m still quite surprised to see there is not much difference in exposure, colors, or contrast.  I can see a difference in skin tone but that may be attributed to the difference in the field used.  640 was taken in an adjacent field with less green.

What differences do you see?  Which is your favorite?

I hope you found this helpful!


Digital, Film and Strobes...

Well, The Missing Link: A Film Photographer's Guide to Studio Strobes has been out for a week as of today! I know so many of you who have the guide have been trying out your new skills.

Now the waiting starts!

The lag-time between shooting and seeing results that we film photographers endure is so hard!! When I first started with strobes I would practice with my digital camera to see if I was getting it right.  I wanted the feedback right away!

If you are also using your digital camera to practice with, great!  But there are a few things you should know...

Digital and film react to light very differently.

When shooting strobes with your digital camera you will want to meter for the highlights.

If you meter for your shadows (like you would for color film) your digital image will look totally blown out.

Don't be alarmed.... that's what you want.

I always know my color film will look great when my digital images are completely blown!

digital vs film comparrison with strobe exposure

If your digital image looks like this...                                    your film image will look like this!

Hope that helps, and happy shooting! Sandra


Do you want to learn about shooting film with strobes?  

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Light is Light: The First Lesson in Mastering Strobes

The number one reason photographers stay away from studio strobes is that they fear that they don't understand them.  Strobes seem techy and complicated.  And if by chance they could get them set up, they wouldn’t even know where to begin. I get it!  I used to feel the exact same way.  In fact, my lights sat is storage for years for this very reason.

But the truth is you already know most of what you need to know about working with strobes.  For reals.


Because light is light.

Sandra Coan baby on film with strobes

Contax 645, Fuji 400h, and Strobes.  Processed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.

It doesn’t matter whether your source is the sun shining through a window or a bulb shining through a soft box, the same rules apply.

So if you already know the basics of working with window light then you already know the basics of working with strobes.

Just think of your strobes and soft box as a portable window.

Do you know how to place a subject when working with window light?

Of course you do!!

Then guess what, you know how to do it with a strobe and a soft box too!

Do you know how to meter your people when working with window light?


Well then guess what, one easy adjustment to your meter and you can do it with a strobe!

Does having only one good window in a clients home interfere with the flow of your shoot?

Of course not! You do that all the time!!

Then guess what, having one light and one soft box won’t hinder you either. In fact, it will be even better because you’ll know that the light coming out of the strobe and soft box will be perfect, consistent light every single time you use it!

How great is that?!

The only thing new to learn is what equipment to get and how to set it up in a way that will work with your vintage film cameras and create soft, luminous, natural light looking photos each and every time you shoot.

 And I can’t wait to show you!

Sign up here to be on list so that you'll be the first to know when The Missing Link: A Film Photographer's Guide to Studio Strobes is released!

And don't forget to share all of your pretty strobe work with us by using the tag #LBstrobes.

Have a great day!


natural looking studio strobes on film by Sandra Coan

Contax 645, Fuji 400h, and Strobes.  Processed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.

My Year of Bad Photos

Most film photographers believe that in order to shoot film 100% of the time they need to shoot outside.  They really struggle when the weather turns cold or rainy or when they are asked to photograph a subject indoors. I know this because this is my story too!

I’m a photographer in Seattle, WA.  Struggling with not enough natural light is my middle name!

Seattle in January meter reading

January in Seattle.  Sigh.

 When I became serious about shooting film I really felt that I only had two options;  push my film or go back to my digital camera and embrace hybrid shooting. I really didn't want to go back to my digital camera, so I settled on pushing.

I did my homework. I asked questions on all the forums I was on.  I was ready!  And excited.  This was going to work!  Woohoo!!!

And then the scans came back.

Portra pushed two stop in low light
Portra pushed two stop in low light

Super contrasty.  Wonky colors.  Not at all like the soft, airy images I was used to.

portra pushed two stops
portra pushed two stops

The black and white was a little better, but still not at all the kind of work my clients expected of me.

tri-x pushed two stops
tri-x pushed two stops

Defeated, I went back to my digital gear.

That was nearly two years  ago.

If only I could go back in time and tell myself what I know now.

Here's the story, you can shoot film 100% of the time - even inside, even on super dark days.  You can create soft, luminous images at every single session regardless of the weather.  And you can do it without pushing your film or relying on your digital gear.

Let me show you how!

Fuji on Strobes by Sandra Coan
Fuji on Strobes by Sandra Coan

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be sharing tips on how to get started with studio strobes, so be sure to check back next Thursday!

And if you are already giving it a try, share your images with us with by using the tag #LBstrobes!  We want to see your beautiful work!

And don't forget to  SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER HERE  so that you’ll be the first to know when The Missing Link: A Film Photographer's Guide to Studio Strobes is released!

Have a great day!


Five Film Stocks and a Creepy Doll

Sometimes I think that I missed my calling.  I really should have been a scientist. This thought usually comes to me late at night when I'm lying in bed mulling over things.  I run experiments in my head.  I come up with theories and imagine ways to test them.  And then when I finally do drift off to sleep, I dream about my obsessions.

My latest obsession has been shooting film with strobes.  I think about it all the time. I read about it.  I Google it.  I even dream about it.  It's a little ridiculous.

A couple weeks ago I became curious about how different film stocks would look when shot with strobes.  I already know that I love the look of Portra 800 when shot with natural light and Fuji 400h is my go-to strobe film... but then I started wondering "how would Portra 800 look with strobe?  Or Ektar!! Or.. or..."  I'm sure you can see where this is going....

So I decided to run a little test.  Five film stocks all shot the with the same light, same backdrop and same subject.


Here's a bit of what I got!  (And yes, I know my doll is super creepy... sorry!)

Okay... this first set was shot with a Contax 645, a 7 foot OctoDome set at 45 degrees to my subject, a dark (Thunder Grey) back drop and metered for the shadows.

Film Comparison by Sandra Coan

And here is the same set up, but with a cream backdrop and again, metered for the shadows.

Film comparison by Sandra Coan

Isn't it fascinating?!

I'll be sharing more film comparisons soon!

And for those of you who want more information on using strobes with film sign up for my newsletter here (you’ll be among the first to know when my new guide on studio lighting is released!)

Have a great day!


P.S. Fuji 400h is still my favorite when shooting with strobes!

Sandra Coan Fuji400h with Strobes

Contax 645, Fuji 400h, Strobes, Richard Photo Lab

Studio Lighting with Sandra Coan: What about my brand?

If you follow me on Instagram or are on the Little Bellows Film Forum then chances are you know how obsessed I've been with strobes lately.  Obsessed!! I love having the tools to create beautiful, perfectly exposed film images even when there is not enough natural light to do so.  It rules!

But I also know that the idea of working with strobes raises red flags for some.  One of the most common concerns I hear is this:

"I love the idea of using strobes because I really struggle with not having enough light, especially in the winter.  But I'm known for soft, luminous images.  I'm afraid that strobes will look too "flashy" and not fit my brand."

Boy howdy, do I understand!! This was my fear too!

I think for many photographers, when we think of  "studio lights" we imagine the days of Sears family photos.  These sessions were often overly lit and jarringly sharp.  They looked like they were shot with strobes, and nobody wants that!

When used properly however,  strobes can give you a "northern light" look that is absolutely gorgeous.  That light combined with the magic of film is an unbeatable combo!

I believe that strobes have the ability to strengthen your brand.  Once you learn to use them, you can give your clients that soft, luminous look at every. single. session.  All year long!



Contax 645, Fuji 400H, Strobes, Richard Photo Lab

Before the holidays I made a series of videos on using strobes with film cameras that can help you get started.  You can see those here, here, here and here.

And for those of you who want more information on using strobes sign up for my newsletter here (you'll be among the first to know when my new guide on studio lighting is released!)

Happy Shooting!


Studio Lighting with Sandra Coan: My Favorite Light Modifier

The truth is studio lighting used to totally scare me. My lights sat in the storeroom of my studio for years because I was convinced I didn't know how to use them.  Now I know that light is just light, and most of what I needed to know about studio lighting, I already knew from working with natural light.

If you can think of our softbox and strobe as just a portable window, studio lighting gets much less scary.  Light is light.  If you can work with it coming from the sun and through a window,  you can work with it coming from a bulb and through a softbox too!

The only thing you really need to know is what equipment to get and how to set it up properly to create that "natural light" look.

So today I want to show you my favorite light modifier and tell you a little about why I like it so much! (spoiler alert!!... it's the catch lights!)

Take a moment to look at the two photos bellow.  The top one what shot with window light.  The second with my softbox.  See how similar the catch lights look?!  Love it!!

Remember, the shape of your light modifier will effect the shape of your catch lights.  Round modifier, round catch lights.  Square modifier, square catch lights.  Easy peasy!


Contax 645, fuji 400h, natural window light


Contax 645,  Acros,  Westcott Apollo 50x50 soft box

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And if you really want to learn everything there is to know about shooting film inside (in a client’s home or in studio) join us for our workshop Film for the Studio Photographer!

Joyce's Quick Tip: The Zone System - The Basics

"The Zone System is a framework for understanding exposure and development and visualizing their effect in advance. Areas of different luminance in the subject are related to exposure zones, and these in turn to appropriate values of gray in the final print. Thus careful exposure and development procedures permit the photographer to control the negative densities and corresponding print values that will represent specific areas, in accordance with the visualized final image." ~ Ansel Adams, The Negative

After the light meter became readily available in the 1930's, Ansel Adams began to experiment ways to control the images captured on the negative to the end product, the print.  The Zone System was developed using shades of gray to control his visualized images through tones and exposure, using the medium gray (standard gray card) as the anchoring point. As a film photographer, The Zone System is one of the first things we need to learn besides the exposure triangle.  The combination of using a handheld light meter and the knowledge of The Zone System enable us to create the film image we have visualized when we click the shutter button.  The very first thing I teach in my Embrace The Grain Workshop (an Intro to Film Photography) is The Zone System.

I will be talking briefly about how we can use The Zone System for our vision and style a little more in the next few weeks.  So I think it would be helpful to show you how each zone of The Zone System is defined using printable tones by Ansel Adam.  I am sharing one of the PDFs I have created for my workshop for you all to download. You can print it out and laminate it as a handy reference when you are out and about with your film camera.  The Zone System is useful for all types of lighting and perfect for every skin tone.  To download your copy, click on the image below.

The Zone System is referenced from Basic Techniques of Photography by John P. Shaefer

Blog Contributor and Writer:  Joyce Kang

Joyce Kang is a fine art lifestyle children & family photographer in Austin Texas.  She is also a mentor and a film workshop instructor for Embrace The Grain.  She is married to her best friend and enjoys outdoors with her family.  She loves to curl up with a good book and has a terrible addiction to any thing that tops with a heaping scoop of ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge!

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