7.01.2013

Metering is a wonderful thing.


I have two lazy habits that sometimes sabotage my best intentions when making photographs. I've gotten used to using cameras in automatic settings when shooting quickly, outside. I let the cameras set the white balance and the basic exposure. It make sense in a lot of situations but when you get into the studio and you are inventing the light it pays to do two things on every shoot. The first is to use a light meter. In my opinion an incident light meter is the only metering tool that works every time. The second thing I always do, if I am being mindful of quality in the studio, is to make a custom white balance. Here's the tricky thing: White balance affects exposure. Exposure affects white balance. I always meter first and then I do my custom white balance.

When I do a custom white balance I use the exposure I've gotten from metering instead of relying on the camera to compensate.

You may be able to make adjustments in raw to your exposures and your overall color balance but they will be compromises and you'll see it in non-linear color casts in shadow areas and you'll regret not metering when you find that the histogram in your camera convinces you to underexpose in nearly every situation. That under exposure robs you of detail in your shadows (if you want it) and adds color noise to the overall file as you "lift" exposure to get where you should have been all along.

We (collectively; not royally) tend to use RAW as a 24/7 crutch and a convenient excuse not to practice our craft with the diligence and mindfulness that we could. We've come to believe in an industry wide mantra which states that RAW is always better than a Jpeg file. I've done some technical digging and I'm here to tell you that a Jpeg file that is accurately metered and color balanced at the time of capture spanks the heck out of an underexposed RAW files that's brought back under control in post. And part of the problem is color shifts due to exposure differences.

I don't care what the web says on this. Every studio photographer and videographer needs to own and know how to use an incident light meter to work at a high quality level. And every photographer and videographer looking for consistency and quality should know how all their cameras make custom white balances. Over time it will save one much time and energy. Once you practice mindfully using your meter you'll walk off your shooting sets knowing that you've nailed the technical stuff. Getting the emotion right is a different beast. Don't let the technical get in the way of the wonderful....

And, yes, I get the irony of using a black and white image as the illustration for the top of the article. For all the literal folks, here's a color version:





















15 comments:

Brad Burnham said...

I have that same model light meter. I like it a lot. I use it when I shoot film mostly. But, I also use it for digital "in my studio," which is really just my back room, when photographing people or items. I admit that when shooting digital I get lazy and just look at the screen.

lsumners said...

I need a generic link to Amazon that is linked to your account so that regardless of what is ordered you can get credit.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi, Lsumners, click any of those ads just above and go anywhere on Amazon and we'll get credit for whatever you buy. If you leave before you buy you'll have to click through one of the those ads again to make it work. thanks! clicking through with any of the ads gets you there. You need not buy what is shown in the ad for VSL to get the credit.

Joe Gilbert said...

I'm a meter man for two reasons; yours' stated, and to get the model involved in the process. It takes very little time to explain "what and why", and letting the model make the measurement is a fantastic way to give them useful knowledge that will benefit them in the future and engage them in conversation about lighting style, goals, for session, etc..

Craig Yuill said...

Last summer, when I was reacquainting myself with an old "flame" of mine - a medium format film TLR - I found it necessary to also renew a relationship with my old light meter, a Gossen Lunasix F/Lunapro F. Although that light meter is a reflective meter at heart, I have used it almost exclusively as an incident light meter over the years (thanks to that little dome that slides over the sensor window). Using the Lunasix F as an incident light meter is clumsy, to say the least. I got accurate exposure readings, but had I known better at the time I would have bought one of those Sekonics, or perhaps a Minolta incident light meter. Their ergonomics are much better than the Gossens. Just my $0.02 for those who might take the plunge.

lsumners said...

Thanks, I will setup on my home page so that whenever I go to Amazon you should get credit.

Joe Gilbert said...

Craig, The Gossen Digi-Pro F is one of the easiest meters in the world to use. For instance, it can be operated with one hand to change ISO. Any meter is better than no meter.. ;)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog: the perspective, the writing, the photos. But it's because I like it so much that the occasional grammatical errors bother me all the more: it's when you mean its, or in this post, effects when you mean affects. I know I'm in the minority on this, and I'll continue to read it even if there's no change; but since we're all trying to learn (or at least consider) something new each day, I offer up my thoughts in that spirit.

Craig Yuill said...

Joe, my comments apply to the Lunasix/Lunapro meters. The Digipro F you mentioned appears to be an incident light meter from the ground up, with swivelly dome head and all. This is the kind of meter I would now look for. My Lunasix F has a stationary sensor window that points forward for reflective metering, which is its forte. To do incident metering I slide a little dome over the sensor window. I often have to adopt the "seppuku" hold where I hold the meter so that I point the dome straight towards me. It can be somewhat awkward to bring the meter back to a position where I can read the dial and needle and do an analysis of the exposure before the needle goes back to its default position. Thanks for the heads up on the newer Gossen models.

Kirk Tuck said...

I appreciate the attention to the grammatical errors. I've taken the correction in the spirit offered and have changed the offending words. Thanks.

Ron Nabity said...

"...a Jpeg file that is accurately metered and color balanced at the time of capture spanks the heck out of an underexposed RAW files that's brought back under control in post..."

Well said, and I think I felt a vibration in The Force when you said it.

So many opinions based on theory, but one test is worth a thousand opinions. It amazes me how many people categorically trash jpeg files as "crap," yet they have never taken the time to get it right in the first place. Especially in studio under a controlled shoot. Thanks for saying it out loud.

Joe Gilbert said...

:)

Michael said...

INCIDENT METERS > NEW CAMERAS

Learning to properly use a meter has made me a way better photographer. Metering throughout a scene really helps previsualize what the picture's going to look like, and now when I see things, I have a much better idea of where tonalities sit against each other - this has been a huge help in nailing exposures, even when I'm doing street photography.

I find that handheld metering is also a huge time saver, because you can nail your exposure so quickly and easily, especially with multiple lights. It also looks way more professional than shooting and chimping and shooting and chimping.

Plus, post-processing is way easier because my exposure and contrast levels are usually dead-on.

In fact, in many cases, I find an incident meter is way more accurate that what my eye sees on the camera's LCD screen.

Anonymous said...

Usefull article for the non-metering.
Beautiful natural skin on the model, good representation of a human being.
You happen to own an F/0 lense?

Dwight Parker said...

Good catch...that puzzles me too since I don't have a light meter (yet)....