A very quick light metering tip

A few days ago I got an email from someone who asked me “where to point the meter outside”.
The main reason he was confused because some people would say :

“Use the histogram and don’t get a meter”
Well I won’t even go into that one.


“Always aim towards to the camera”
This is wrong, I showed this in a video a while ago, and it’s easily explained.
When you aim towards the camera and move the light to the sides (but keep the distance the same to your subject) the meter will show different readings, but the light should stay the same due to the inverse square law, also the model will go up in brightness which is of course not correct, the quality/direction of light should change but not the brightness of your subjects skin.


“Always aim towards the light source”
This is what I teach people.
And in my opinion it’s the best way, by doing it this way you are metering the light hitting your subject and you will have a perfect/proper exposure on the area you meter your subject. HOWEVER having said that now comes the problem…

Imagine a setup where the sun is hitting your model from the back, IF you would always meter towards the lightsource you would now…. indeed meter towards the sun… however the image that you will get is WAY too dark and the models face is not properly lit. Now let’s make clear that this could be the look you’re after, and that’s ok (could be cool), however most of the time you don’t want this. Now throw in a reflector it will bounce light back on the model and fill in the shade, however when metering towards the sun this will still not be right. Now the reflector is the new lightsource, so meter towards the reflector to get a proper exposure on your model.


Now this sounds logical right?
However most of the time when I shoot outside I won’t even use a reflector, so how do I meter?
Very simple, you have to realize that outside there are two lightsources, yeah I know there is only one sun… however although there is only one sun there is also ambient light, and yes I know it’s created by the sun, don’t worry.


Now when you are shooting without any form of reflection from a reflector and the sun is behind the model but you want your model to be lit correctly the solution is very simple. Now the new lightsource is the ambient light, so point your meter towards the camera to meter the angle of THAT ambient light, you are NOT metering towards the camera, but you are in fact metering the ambient light coming from the cameras direction.

If you understand this using the meter outside becomes a breeze.