January 11, 2016

metering, irl

Properly metered and perfectly exposed 
Over exposure caused by in-camera 'reflected' metering
Cleaning out some hard drives I keep finding stuff I  had intended to blog about and just haven't yet.

Buckle up because I'm going to get caught up!

Several semesters ago, I got to teach our intro 101 class and I gotta tell you, I love teaching the very first class in the program.  The excitement and enthusiasm is second to none and putting the foundation of photography into action never gets old for me.

I had great students who were hungry for information so we got to cover a lot of ground.  More often then not, we end up in the studio or outside. We were talking about metering and discussing the pros and cons of in-camera vs. an incident or hand meter. Both have their place, both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Under exposure caused by in-camera metering
So here is the elevator pitch: Modern in-camera meters are good but limited in function.  It can look at a scene, a portion, or an average of a scene and can do only one thing, make it grey. Smack dab in the middle of black and white, it will make grey.

Just like in grade school art class, when you mix all your paint together you get mud, the in-camera meter can only see a scene and tell you to set the camera in the middle of black and white. It is known as middle grey or 18% grey. The in-camera meter can't tell if a shirt is white, grey or black, it only sees tonality.

If you need to create exacting color reproduction or you have specific ideas and expectations from your own work, using an incident meter will be the single fastest way to improve your work.

In film days, the wide exposure latitude of amateur color negative films allowed for fantastic results so long as you were within a stop or two of the proper exposure.

Professional photographers were required to shoot color transparencies, or slide film, in order for their images to be properly scanned, separated into CMYK plates and reproduced on a high speed four color press.

Properly metered, perfectly exposed 
This is what drew the line between professional and amateur photographers 20 years ago. The printing industry needed sharp, well exposed transparencies to make the photography pop off the page so professional photographers needed to carry a light meter and numerous color filters to insure the image that was created in camera would look its best by the time it made it to the printed page.

But whats different today? Nothing, well kinda.  Digital cameras are like more like transparency film then color negative film. The better quality your initial capture, the better your image will be on screen, in an ink-jet print or professionally (four color printed) printed in a book or magazine.

An incident meter, or hand meter isn't fooled by the color and tonality of the subject.


An incident meter is held in front of the subject and measures only the amount of light falling on the subject, NOT the light bouncing off your subject.

Think about these two scenes as an example:

Your subject is a polar bear, eating a vanilla ice cream cone while sitting on the hood of a white BMW...OK now a similar scene only this time you are photographing a black bear, eating chocolate ice cream cone while sitting on the hood of a black BMW.

Crazy right?? I thought bears were like dogs and had trouble digesting chocolate...anyway,  if you photograph each scene using only your in-camera meter (which makes everything middle gray, because that all it knows) then each picture you make will be muddy and grey because that all the camera knows.  If you photograph the same scene but measure how much light is falling on the subject instead of bouncing off of your subject (using your incident meter), the tonality will be perfect for each situation. The polar bear scene will be predominately white, white with detail and lighter greys while the black bear scene will be mostly dark greys and black...as they both should.
Properly metered, perfectly exposed 

My class looked at me a bit puzzle and while they kinda understood what I was saying, it really didn't make click.

So we took a break and met back in the studio and here is what we did:  We took the palest student in class and wrapped her in a roll of white toilet paper that was 'retrieved' from the bathroom put her on a white sweep. She was photographed using both the in-camera meter and an Sekonic incident meter.

Then we took the a student with the darkest complexion, put him in a dark jacket and put him on a black sweep and photographed both way as well.

Both situations and both metering examples are included and while each one of the shots are labeled so you know which is which, the results are so obvious they really don't need labels, its that clear.

in camera metering histograms, both too close to middle grey

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