Lightmeter issues to think about

It seems to bring out the worst in people.
It seems to set parties in war mode.
It seems almost religious for some people.
It seems that some people think you suck without.
It seems that some people think you suck with it.
It seems that some people think you are old fashioned with it.
It seems that some people think you are trendy when you use it.
It seems that some people think it takes away all your creativity.
It seems that…..


It seems like this blog post is about the new “old spice”, but nothing is further from the truth, it’s about a very simple tool… the light meter.

Do PLEASE remember that the next thing I’m gonna type is in NO WAY intended to put down the person that wrote it to me, in fact he is one of MANY, at least I could explain somethings to him because he asked.


In response to my Boston DVD in which I explain a lot about using a light meter and metering the light I got a response that in short meant “Why would you use a meter when it’s not accurate”…. now some people will now think “what?” a meter is always correct…. well yes and no, let me explain.


When we look at the meter out of the box it’s 100% accurate, however to the standard.
And sorry to tell you, the standard is not YOUR camera and lens.
EVERY camera, and in lesser extend every lens is different.
That’s why I always advise people to calibrate the meter to your set, in other words if you use the Canon 5DMKIII and the 70-200 f2.8 you should check your exposure to that combination. Now of course you have several lenses, and it’s a simple fact of live that not EVERY lens is the same, so I always advise to also check the other lenses. And check them on full zoom and wide if you want to really nitpick.


Soon you will find out that there are slight variations, overall this is not really a problem, often they are way below the point that you would really notice. Unless you shoot the exact same light setup with 2 different lenses. But the solution is easy.


As you calibrate your camera/lens combination to your meter you can have an offset set in your meter, let’s say my 5DMKIII + 70-200 f2.8 gives me an offset of -0.2 f-stops. I program this in the meter and I’m done for that combination. Now let’s say that we also use a sigma/tamron/canon/zeiss or whatever brand lens and this one gives me +.2 in that case the difference is enough to make a new calibration, however that’s where we run into a problem.. not every meter has a memory for 3-4 lenses. The Sekonic 758 for example has 3 memories (called cameras, but you can also use it for lenses of course), now let’s say your meter doesn’t…. how do we solve this?


Now this is actually very easy.
Every lens that differs from your reference set you put a small sticker on with the difference, for example +.2 in which case you know that you have a +.2 difference. On that lens. Now every time you change lenses you can just meter and add to the strobes the difference, in that case you have a VERY accurate set.
Now why did I post this blogpost.
According to the writer of the response (and many more) a meter was not good because it was not accurate for every lens, so you can never have a 100% correct exposure…… to get a 100% correct exposure according to him (and again many others) it’s better to shoot an 18% gray card full screen and make sure the histogram is in the middle and use that exposure…. well this is of course true, however do realize the following.


When you don’t do this on your laptop, in your normal retouch software (which for most people will differ from the tethered software), you are back to square one. On the back of your camera you’re looking at a rendering of a jpeg, meaning it takes into account the settings of your picture styles, but also the color space, and every color space has a different gamma, meaning the middle gray point will shift per colorspace, also the contrast and brightness setting will affect the gamma and therefor the middle point.


Also realize that EVERY time you change your setup you will have to do the same thing…. this REALLY adds up in your shooting time, actually I think that when you’re really really fast it’s still almost impossible to setup the lights within 2 minutes with this technique when you use more than 1 light source. When we add 2-3 strobes more….. I don’t even want to think about it.


Outside the problems grow, the ambient light often changes and we have to do it more often. Now with the light meter we simply meter and we’re done…. less than 4 seconds to get everything perfect. (actually less, one press but I don’t want to brag :D), now people can still say “Pffff, ok but I can do it really quick”…..


Well ok, let’s go one step further.
I have a setup where I have set my main light to f11.
My accent lights are f8.0, and on the background I have an exposure of f5.6.
When I meter this I can repeat this setup time and time again, I can do it with a gray background, a yellow background etc. (If I metered the background reflective of course), in other words I can set this up within a minute. If you are using the gray card method this will take you so much time and it will in fact be very difficult to set the ratios that it would make a grown men cry if a customer will give you 1 hour to do a complete photoshoot.


So let’s be honest.
Why bother with a system that can be flawed, that takes a lot of time, that needs to be done tethered and in the workflow software, that has incredible difficulty with accent lights and repeating setups…….. when we can do it in seconds with a meter, and when you are really perfectionistic you can just add a small sticker to your lens and have the difference handy whenever you take out that lens?


The main problem however in this case is the internet and fora.
There are SO many people out there that buy a meter (or not even that), that play with it for 10 seconds without reading a manual, don’t have a clue what they are doing and draw the conclusion that it doesn’t work and that another method is much better. And trust me I know. Over the years that I’ve taught workshops I’ve talked to at least hundreds of people that CLAIM to have shot with a light meter and that sold it because for them it did not work and slowed them down, or gave them results that were not correct…. and without to brag I have to also tell you that most of them, after seeing how quick I setup lights with the meter, do buy a new meter and 80% of them will never be selling that meter again…….


I always tell people that a light meter is in fact the most simple tool in your bag, you just point it and it gives you the proper setting for your camera, if you know more about light you can use it to calculate backgrounds, shadow areas, highlights etc. but that is only when you want it (or are ready for it).


A few more notes.
I know people with these kind of posts will always try to find the smallest thing, so let’s be as complete as possible.
I have to add that I do not do this because I think it’s a bit ridiculous but let’s just mention it.


1. Every lens CAN vary in extreme wide and extreme tele setting, with Macro this is a bit of a big deal, but with most GOOD lenses this will not be a lot.


2. Most people have problems with 18% gray… well ok let’s call it different…. middle gray. When I shoot an 18% gray card I want in MY workflow to have the spike of the histogram in the middle, that’s how I have been calibrating my meter/camera+lens for many years now and my exposures come out 100% the way I want it.  However this is the end result.


In reality cameras often use 12% gray (reflective) in which case you should indeed open up slightly (also in many manuals), which according to me ends me up with the spike in the middle. Also the 18% gray middle point will vary (as mentioned before) per colorspace, in other words the calculated version will be a different point in sRGB or aRGB. I’ve tried to figure out where it goes wrong and to be 100% honest I don’t know. What I do know is that when I calibrate in the workflow (and this is incredibly important, and probably where the it goes wrong with the other techniques) to a spike in the center my exposures do exactly what I want, when I do it any other way it doesn’t give me constant results, so with all due respect to the other explanations for me this works flawless so I tell this as the “truth” 😀  and when you use this technique I never heard of people not getting “perfect” exposures, so I guess it’s the “best” way to do it.


I hope this blogpost helps a bit, in my opinion a workflow that is QUICK, and EASY is something that we should aim for 😀


Sometimes the new options in cameras (and the switch to digital) brings us a lot of cool stuff that makes life a lot easier, and let us do things quicker. However the histogram was NEVER meant to be an accurate tool for exposure, it’s just the distribution of tones within a scene, nothing more and nothing less (although it does show blown out areas and blocked areas). Also the meters in the camera are reflective meters so not good to get a proper exposure on for example a skin, it will render the metered part as 18/12% gray and that’s it. And you see a lot of forums where people claim to meter people with the spot meter and add 1 stop for faired skin people and close down 1 stop for darker skinned people, this is of course “terrible”, the funny think is that these people are often the same people that sold their meter because it was .2 stops inaccurate depending on the lens 😀