How To Use A Light Meter In Photography

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Exercise y’all desire to know
how to use a light meter
for beautifully exposed images?

That’south what this article is all about.

Dedicated lite meters were popular in photography for decades. Merely in recent years, cameras have included built-in meters, so fewer and fewer photographers actually turn to handheld lite meters for determining their exposures.

Which begs the question:

Are handheld lite meters even useful in this day and historic period? Or can our camera’south calorie-free meter do the job for us? Do we really need to know how to use a low-cal meter for photography?

Read on to find out.

What is a Lite Meter?

First things get-go:

A light meter is a tool for measuring low-cal. Every light meter includes a lite-measuring sensor, which returns an exposure reading.

This is of import for 1 big reason:

Without a meter reading, y’all won’t be able to produce well-exposed photos. You’ll basically be shooting blind; yous won’t have any guidelines for choosing shutter speed, aperture, and ISO values. And this will consequence in a series of dark (underexposed) and bright (overexposed) photos.

Just when using a light meter, yous can dial in the meter’s suggested exposure. And you can create well-exposed photos, consistently!

Now, in that location are several types of calorie-free meters. Information technology’s to these that we now turn:

In-Photographic camera Meters vs Defended Light Meters

As I mentioned above, pretty much every photographic camera features a congenital-in light meter. Decades ago, photographers carried with them dedicated light meters – but these have become far less common.

Dedicated Light Meter
I had a similar model when I was in high school

Just is a key divergence between in-camera meters and defended light meters:

In-camera meters measure
reflected light, whereas dedicated light meters generally measure incident light.

In other words, a congenital-in photographic camera meter views a scene and measures the lite that reflects off of it. A dedicated lite meter, on the other hand, points away from the subject you’re trying to photograph – and measures the light as information technology falls on the scene.

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This may seem a flake confusing, simply merely think of information technology in terms of the direction you bespeak the meter: The built-in camera meter points at the scene to measure reflected lite, the dedicated meter points away from the scene to measure incident light.

(Note that some dedicated meters also offer a reflected low-cal meter setting.)

Why does this matter?

Because incident light metering is, generally speaking, more than authentic. When you use an incident light meter, it measures the light as information technology actually falls on the scene. But when you use a reflected light meter, it only measures the reflected light–which varies depending on the objects included in the scene.

How to Use a Light Meter for Photography & Do We Really Need It Today 1

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When you utilize a reflected lite meter on a scene that’s fairly average in its tones–for instance, a ho-hum, gray landscape – you’ll get a adept meter reading. But when you use a reflected calorie-free meter on a scene with light or nighttime tones, such as an all-white bird against a cloudy sky, or a black stone in a nighttime forest, the light meter will measure a loftier or low intensity of light.

And information technology will incorrectly expose your shot.

An incident light meter, even so, will perform but fine when measuring scenes with extreme tones. You can shoot scenes that are very dark, very light, or anywhere in between. The light that falls on an incident meter doesn’t vary, no matter your subject type.

So your shots will turn out beautifully exposed.

How to Utilise a Calorie-free Meter for Landscape Photography

When it comes to shooting landscapes, you can choose to use your camera’south built-in low-cal meter. In this example, you tin can use spot metering, and meter off a neutral office of your scene. You tin also use evaluative metering and let the camera handle the metering mode.

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Using your camera’s built-in reflected light meter is a good choice in situations when the calorie-free that falls on you is different from the light falling on the scene.

Low tide photo of the Hopewell Rocks state park in New Brunswick in Canada
When you have a very dark foreground and very brilliant background, the dedicated light meter would exist helpful

However, y’all can likewise use a dedicated incident light meter. An incident light meter works well when both yous and the scene are evenly lit.

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Offset, set up your desired discontinuity into the incident low-cal meter. Next, dial in your chosen ISO. Finally, hold your light meter in front of the camera and point it abroad from the scene. Press to accept a reading.

Then dial in the suggested exposure and striking the shutter button!

How to Use a Light Meter for Portrait Photography

Portrait photography is a bang-up time to bring out your defended incident calorie-free meter.


Because portrait subjects are ofttimes very night or very calorie-free. Y’all have to contend with habiliment variations ( thousand., tuxedos and suits vs wedding dresses), as well equally peel color variations. All of this makes it difficult to find a neutral point to meter off of and will cause your exposures to be off the mark.

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Then instead of using your congenital-in reflective light meter, pull out your defended incident light meter. Dial-in your desired aperture and ISO.

So concur the meter in front end of your portrait subject, parallel to the photographic camera. If your field of study isn’t evenly lit, and then hold the meter in front end of the part of your subject that you’d similar to exist well-exposed.

How to Use a Light Meter for Photography & Do We Really Need It Today 2
Without the lightmeter, the black background would fool the in-camera meter

Accept a reading. Then dial in the suggested settings, and take a gorgeous photograph!

How to Use a Lite Meter: Final Thoughts

Near photographers never think to use a defended light meter. All the same they can be incredibly useful pieces of kit, especially when yous’re shooting subjects that stray from tonal averages.

For some situations, your built-in camera meter is perfectly adequate. And if you lot know how to compensate for dark tones and light tones, information technology’s possible to make mental adjustments to your camera’s meter reading in society to capture perfect exposures.

But if you ofttimes photograph difficult scenes, and you don’t want to deal with learning how to compensate for bright and night situations, why non use a dedicated light meter?

That style, you can ensure gorgeous exposures every unmarried time you lot take a shot.

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