We asked Top Pro Photographer Erik Valind to write a blog on using a light meter. Since we have so many questions about them, we figured we should give one to him, have him use it for a while, and give us his feedback. Here is his response.
I’ve been using a light meter during presentations now for the last few months and this has prompted more questions than I had expected. The most common of which is “I don’t own a light meter… Do I need one?” Lets qualify the question then see if we can answer it for you!
Opinions will certainly vary depending on the photographer you speak to. There seems to be two main camps:
- “New School” – I learned on digital and just check the back of my camera screen until it looks good.
- “Old School” – Meter first & shoot second. I get it right the first time, like we did on film.
In the end it’s up to your needs and preferences. I started as a working photographer at a neat time not too long ago. I had learned to shoot on film, but technology and clients not so quietly pushed me to pick-up digital and to do so quickly. For years I didn’t even own a light meter, let alone know how to use one. I guess the freedom of digital to let you chimp can make you “lazy” or the light meter obsolete in some cases. (Chimping basically means to shoot a photo, check it on your DSLR screen, adjust the lights or settings, then Rinse & Repeat until you get the shot you want.) This was and still is how I shoot most days. With a good working knowledge of your gear you don’t have to do much chimping to get the light right.
So why do I use one now? For a couple of reasons…
- Repeatability – Have a lighting ratio you like? With meter readings you can precisely dial it in, time and time again. (Saves Time)
- You take less test/chimping shots, that you’ll have to delete or edit through after the shoot. (Saves Time)
- High Key or Low Key Lighting – Easier to expose for a perfect white or black point when using a light meter. (And you guessed it… SAVES TIME)
- Also it just looks more professional. (Seriously… appearances mean a lot to clients when they’re shelling out the $$$)
If any or all of the above apply to you, then looking into an affordable light meter might be a good idea. You don’t need the top-of-the-line, flagship, every bell and whistle included light meter either. One with basic functionality is all you need. I personally use a Sekonic L-358, and love it for its ability to trigger my strobes via an additional Pocketwizard adapter. Honestly though it has many more functions on it than I ever hope to use.
You’ll notice the common theme though is saving time, and that’s the main reason it’s popped up on stage with me recently. When you’ve only got a short amount of time to present as much knowledge as possible, every second counts. Same thing goes when working on set or location, with a limited time frame. You don’t NEED a light meter nowadays to make great images but having one in your kit and learning how to use it can’t hurt. Plus when you really dig into them, light meters offer up a bunch of useful technical data that gear heads like myself love.
How to use a Light Meter?
Here is a video that Sekonic has on their website about the L-358 Light Meter.