Monday, August 6, 2012

Best Tool for Correct Exposure

Soon, I'm going to start using one of the most important tools in the field for a photographer, The light meter. It's used to tell you how to make the correct exposure for whatever scene you are shooting. It comes in several shapes and forms and has been included in most, if not all, 35mm cameras since the 70s and several medium format cameras from the 60s and 70s.

An older version of Matrix Metering

The main types of meters used this day are spot, incident, center weighted and matrix. Several current DSLRs include spot, center and matrix, and most common and inexpensive meters have incident and center weighted. Each type has their own use and the right time when they should be used and hopefully I can explain these uses well.

This one has all 3 meter types

The most common metering, these days are center weighted and matrix metering. They come on all current DSLRs and are fairly simple to use. Center weighted is used when you are in manual focusing mode.It takes a reading of the light reflected off of the object that is in the center square of the viewfinder and judges the aperature and shutter speed needed to make the correct exposure. Matrix metering is the same but it uses one of the several boxes around the viewfinder, set by either the photographer or selected automatically and judges the exposure of the picture based on that box. Its very useful if you want to zone in on your subject as opposed to the other way where its the object in the center. Sometimes the center weighted gives either over or underexposed shots for the whole frame instead of just certain objects.

Incident meters are useful in the studio or if you are trying to go for a certain look in the field. These meters judge light based on the light hitting the actual subject as opposed to the light reflected off of the subject as with the two previous. In order to find the exposure in the studio, you want to plug the flash sync cable from your power pack into the flash (PC Sync) terminal on your meter and hit the exposure button. From my experience, this is a much easier way to set the exposure because it can see the flash easier than the reflected meter. Out in the field, you can use the incident meter if you are trying to get some different types of lighting effects. a great example would be like a sun shaft or if you are trying to get a certain type of lighting in a portrait or even a building.

Standard reflective and incident meter

The last type of meter is the spot meter. This is probably for the more advanced photographer. Many people use these meters for Large Format landscape photography or any type of subject that has more drastic light shifts. The field of view of the spot meter is very narrow. You basically have to meter several spots and kind of take the average so you can get an all around reading of your subject. I think its mainly used with landscapes. You would use it with the advanced type of metering system called the Zone System, which you can read about *here*.

Spot Meter made by Pentax
There are some other tips and tricks that you just pick up over time. Many photographers can just eyeball a situation and can tell right away which exposure to use. some other tricks are the sunny 16 rule and using the 18% grey card. The sunny 16 rule is to set the shutter speed to whichever is closest to the ISO number and set the aperture to f16 if the sky is perfectly sunny and you should get a decent exposure. The 18% grey card is to meter the card so you can expose for the whites and blacks without going way over or underexposed for either color.

If you are looking to hit the next level with your photography, buying a meter is the way to go. It is one of the many ways to slow you down and to think about what you are shooting as opposed to a pay and spray method that people use way too much these days.

If anybody has any questions, as always, drop a comment and I'll get back to you with an answer. Also, check out my most recent set of pictures I took on my short trip to Las Vegas.