A hand holding a black light meter made by Sekonic.

7 Expert Ways to Use Your Light Meter for STELLAR Photos

Table of Contents

Tips for Consistent Metering

With so many sources of varying information out there, how do you decipher what the best metering technique is? After hundreds of thousands of rolls, we have learned that keeping it simple is your best bet for consistent, accurate exposures. What do we mean by “keeping it simple?” you ask? Here are some key tips on how to use your light meter for nailing the exposure of your shots every single time.

Use a Handheld Meter.

light meter

photo credit: Ashley Faiman Photo

First things first, get yourself a handheld light meter. Handheld light meters allow you to accurately read the amount of incoming light hitting your subject. Contrary to popular believe, these are not memory erasers as Will Smith in Men in Black would have you believe. In reality, this tool tells you exactly what you need to know in order to plan your shot and get your camera settings grounded and ready.

*Beginners Tip: Most smart phone have light meter apps available to download. While we don’t recommend this for professional work, it’s definitely useful when learning and for those times when you’re in a pinch. (Let’s be honest, sometimes we forget things!) This one is free and even estimates Kelvin!

Bulb + Placement.

Where you place your light meter in relation to your subject is important. Place your meter directly in front of your subject, bulb out, facing directly toward where you will be standing when you shoot. Essentially, you’ll want to point the bulb of your light meter towards the lens of your camera. That’s what your camera sees so that’s what you need to read light wise.

Some folks like to meter for highlights, shadows, etc. and if that’s your preference, that’s great! Just be sure to meter the same way EVERY TIME. Switching between your metering maneuvers can cause confusion in your readings and the chances of a strong, consistent image starts to waver.

Stretch Out Your Arm.

Stand to the side of your meter to avoid bouncing any reflective light off of yourself, which would affect the meter reading. It may seem obvious but when we’re rushing, we can sometimes make the mistake of standing in front of the light meter and inevitably casting a shadow, causing the light meter to read darker than what’s present. While film is fairly forgiving with overexposure, you’ll still get color shifts and it is still possible to achieve an overexposure if your light contrast is severe enough.

Meter Frequently.

light meter

photo credit: Amanda K Photography

Light changes constantly. Clouds move over the sun, clients change locations–there are a lot of change in the midst of a photo session. Make sure to meter frequently to ensure consistent exposures. In the beginning especially, when you’re getting used to your light meter, getting a new reading every time you move, or the light changes is a good way to stay consistent. Consistent exposures lead to consistent scans—and help your film move through the lab more quickly!

Can’t Meter Your Subject Directly?

Is your subject too far away? Not a problem, as long as you and your subject are in the same light, simply reach your meter high above your head pointed bulb out away from your subject and *boop* take a meter reading. Remember, the key phrase here is “same light.” If your subject is in the shade and you’re in full sun, this tactic won’t work, but if you’re all in an open space with the same lighting throughout, taking a light meter reading from afar will work just as well as a few feet forward in your subject’s immediate area.

*Beginner’s Tip: You don’t need to hold a meter directly in front of your subject’s face. If you’re doing it for a laugh from your clients, well done, but otherwise, it’s wholly unnecessary and can be a bit jarring to your subject.

Test Your Meter.

light meter

photo credit: Meredith Jane Photo

Did you know most light meters aren’t perfectly calibrated? In fact, it’s common for them to be off slightly, and you may need to compensate accordingly!

Here’s an easy way to test your light meter:

    • Set the ISO to 200.
    • On a clear day in the mid- to late afternoon, take a reading bulb out in open shade.
    • Your meter should read f/4 at 125.
    • If it doesn’t, calculate the difference and compensate accordingly for future shoots!

          There are lots of great choices when it comes to handheld light meter options. We, personally, like the Sekonic L-358 or Gossen DigiPro F2. Both have served extremely reliably and are easy to maintain and carry.

          Do you use your light meter when you’re shooting film? We’d love to know!