Where Should You Point Your Light Meter? Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

Where Should You Point Your Light Meter? Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace


Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography right here on AdoramaTV. I’m Mark Wallace, hanging out with Anabel, we’ve seen her before on some of our past episodes and today we’re going to continue learning about photography, specifically by talking about metering, and where to point our light meter. Now you’ve probably seen me pointing the meter at the camera… you’ve probably seen my good friend Gavin Hoey pointing it at the light. In fact when we do things together people ask us… ‘Where do you point the light meter?’ Is it at the camera? or at the light and the answer is it depends… and it really depends on how the lighting setup is used, and what you want to do, but to really understand how our light meter works and where to point our light meter, we need to understand this little dome thingy. Here this little white thing on the front of our meter, it’s called a lumisphere, and to understand where to point our meter we first need to understand what this thing is doing. So let’s jump to that right now. Well before Anabel joins us again, let’s talk a little bit about this little white thing on our light meter. It’s called a lumisphere, and it’s it’s not just by accident that it is shaped like a half of a ball. It’s a sphere and so what it does is, it’s looking at 180 degrees and 360 degrees around this way, just looking at all the light that’s coming in to this sphere, and then it is taking all of that data from over here, over here, over here, it’s taking all of that data, and then it’s averaging everything, and that is going to give us a good reading. If we’re looking for things that are shadows and highlights and everything in our scene, and we can get that by pointing our lumisphere to the camera. And so to really understand how that works, why we would want to point this to the camera, and not the light to get all of that information, I’m going to turn on this little LCD panel here, and I’ve got this little quick demo, so I’ll turn this guy on. It’s going to get a little bit bright, there we go, and now we can zoom in on this and look at it really really closely, and when we look at this really closely, you can see on this side, on the light side, we can see that the information here is really bright on this side of our lumisphere, but on the other side, you can see that it is dark and so taking the light stuff from this side, and the dark from the other side where there is no light, and it’s averaging all of that stuff together, and it’s telling us what a proper value is to make sure that we have detail in the dark side, and in the bright side. So we’re preserving the shadows, so this would be what the the equivalent of pointing our light meter toward our camera, if we had a light to the side now, let’s pretend that we are going to point our light meter to the light, so when I tilt this, now notice we’re only getting the values from the light, we’re not getting any of the shadows from the other side. So that means that our light meter doesn’t know about the shadows, it doesn’t know how to a verge those things, and so what we’re doing essentially is, we’re making sure we get a proper exposure from the light, but we’re ignoring averaging the dark values, so we’re preserving the highlights, and ignoring the shadows, and so that really will help us understand if we should point our light meter to the camera, or to the light, because when we point our light meter to the camera, then the light meter is going to get the values of the light, coming from the light, it’s also going to get the values of the light, that’s coming from nowhere. In other words the shadows, it’s going to average that out, or preserve those shadows, that the highlights are going to be a little bit brighter. If we point our light meter to the light itself, well it’s not going to see those shadows, and so it’s only going to tell us what to do to make sure that we have a proper exposure for the highlights. Now the question is what about this lumisphere up or down? Well when we put this back down here on the table, and so we have that where you can see this light coming across. You can see that because the lumisphere is extended, we can see the values coming in from all different directions. In fact, if I put my hand to the side you can see that it picks up the reflection of the light coming from my hand. If I take that away, it ignores that reflection, so it’s really cool how that works, but what if we really want to make sure that we’re only seeing the light from one specific source, and ignoring everything else. Well if we tell this guy to hide, then what we’re seeing is, we’re just seeing the light that’s hitting directly on top of our light meter, and ignoring everything that’s coming from the sides, and so that’s what that is for. So it’s saying, hey I want to make sure only to see the light coming straight in but ignore everything coming from the sides. If you want to make sure to see everything, you put your lumisphere up. It’s getting the bright side, it’s getting the dark side, it’s getting everything. So it can average all of those values. That little lumisphere is really well designed, and it’s really an amazing thing. Well now that we know what this little guy is doing, what our lumisphere is doing, we can start applying that to a very basic lighting setup. Now for this setup, my camera would normally be right here, but leaving that there.. well I sort of block Anabel’s face, so I’m going to move this to the side, just so you can see what’s going on back here, and then I’ll bring the camera back out, and take some photos, but what we need to do is learn how to decide. We’re going to point this to the camera, or to the light based on what we know about our little lumisphere. So we have a very, very basic, lighting setup. So let me just shoot a camera overhead, so I can show you this. Our Key light is this Profoto softbox right here, this is the 3-foot octa-box that’s just going to be our main source of light. We’re also bouncing some of that light off of this reflector that’s opposite Anabel, so that’s going to fill in some of the shadows on the other side of her face, and then we have a hair light, that big strip box in the back there. That’s just adding a little bit of light to her hair to separate that from the gray background. This is a really simple lighting setup, but we’re not so concerned with the light and the photos. More we’re concerned about how this works, and where we point our light meters. So think about this more than the photos that we’re getting back here. We’re gonna start by only using our key light, our Profoto three foot octabox. Now this could be any key light, it doesn’t really matter. Remember we’re talking about where to point our light meter, that’s what we’re learning today… not a lighting setup, so we’re gonna start by zipping back here and Anabel if I can have this little remote… so now I have my little remote control, I can turn lights on and off, the first thing you want to do is only meter this key light. Now I want to show you the difference between metering to the light, and metering to the camera. You’re basically standing, you’re looking at me where the camera is going to be when I take the photos. So when I first meter this with a lumisphere up, I’m going to get a reading. I’m gonna point this at this light right here and I’ll hit this, and that is reading 4…. so I’m getting f/4 as my meter reading, now if I step back here I’m going to point this to the camera, so I’m gonna point this to the camera take a reading, and now that’s reading f/3.4… that’s a half stop difference. Now that doesn’t seem significant, but it is, because what this is doing is when I’m pointing it to the key light only, it’s just looking at this light, and it’s ignoring the shadows, because of that, I’m going to make my aperture smaller f/4 which means that the shadows on this side of Annabelle’s face, if I didn’t have a reflector or something kicking that in, those will be darker than the meter reading that I took, when I pointed this to the camera, f/3.4, the aperture is wider, so when I point my light to the camera, remember my lumisphere is looking at this light, just looking at the shadows, it’s looking at the light bouncing from this reflector over here. It’s averaging all of that, and my meter is smart enough to say… hey, when I’m looking this way and getting all these different values, I need a wider aperture to make sure that my shadows aren’t too dark. I’m trying to preserve those shadows, I’m only pointing this to the light this way, it doesn’t see this reflector over here, it doesn’t see these shadows, and so it ignores those, and so let’s just take a look really fast, I’m gonna take some photos and show you f/4 versus f/3.4, and you’ll see that the shadows change slightly, and so do the highlights. Well when we look at these images that I just shot the differences aren’t that significant. First let’s look at the image that I shot metering toward the light, that is preserving our highlights. Now when we meter toward the camera it’s only a half stop difference, so you can see that our shadows are a little bit more preserved. We see a little bit more detail in the shadows, but the highlights are a little bit hotter, it’s not a huge difference in this setup, because we have a really nice soft light. We have a really nice reflector balancing a lot of light in, but in a more contrasting scenario that difference would be much different. Well in that lighting setup everything works pretty well almost every single time, but what happens when
we add more lights, and our lighting setups get a little bit more complicated, that’s where it gets to be specific, and so to show you this, I’m gonna get rid of this reflector really fast, just so you can see what I’m doing back there with our hair light, and so I’ve got this strip light right here, you can see that I’m going to turn that on. So let me grab this, and this, alright so I’m going to turn on this strip light right there, that’s going to add a nice hair light. Now the question is, should we have our lumisphere… this guy right here, should it be up, or should it be down, well I’m going to prefer to put that down, so that I’m only getting light that’s coming directly in to our light meter, not all of the stuff that’s bouncing around off the floor etc, that way I can be really specific about what light I’m metering. So again, I’m gonna put my lumisphere down, I’m going to sit back here, this light is coming this way to Anabel’s head, so I’m going to take this, I’m going to put it right where it’s hitting her hair, and then I’m pointing this right directly at this light, and then I will get a meter reading. Now it’s metering at f/4, I’ve already set that up, that exactly matches what I’m getting from my key light, but the point here is, for this we want to make sure that we’re only metering the light that’s coming from this light, we don’t want to get anything that maybe would be bouncing off this reflector, coming off the floor, coming off the ceiling etc.. so lumisphere down right where the light is landing, point the meter right at the light, and take a reading. So now that we have that, let me just take a quick shot. I’ll put the reflector back, and we’ll show you how it looks. Let’s review. Our lumisphere when it’s up.. it looks all around for all of the different light values, the shadows, the highlights from a single light or multiple sources, and averages that light to give us a proper value. So if you’re metering for multiple sources or if you want to make sure that you’re including shadow values, make sure that luma… the lumisphere is up, and you’re pointing your light meter at your camera. If however you really only care about a single source of light, and that’s all you care about, you don’t care about those other values, then you point your light meter at your single source of light. If you have multiple lights and you want to look at the different values to make sure that those match, or look at ratios, then it’s lumisphere down. Point the meter at each light source and take those readings to make adjustments as necessary, but in the end you’re still going to have to meter to the key light to establish what your overall reading is. So in our instance here, we meter to f/4 and then we dialed everything accordingly, that’s why it’s called a key light. Everything is based off of that key and that is all there is to it. I know it seems complicated, but get into a studio, and practice a little bit. Add one light, make it really contrasty, meter toward the camera, towards the light, and see for yourself what’s going on, and then once you have that dialed in, add a second light, add a hair light, add multiple lights, add lights on the background, play with your light meter, then you’ll be able to see what’s happening by just reading the numbers on your light meter, and it’ll make a world of difference to your photography. Well thanks for joining us for this episode of Exploring Photography. Make sure you check out Anabella on Instagram her Instagram is @anabeldieguezbailen All right we put that right here… and I know in the past a couple episodes the Anabel has been in the Instagram link is incorrect because somebody changed it, it’s our fault but that’s the correct one, and we’ve also included that in the description of this video, also make sure you check out my Instagram feed because I’m always posting behind the scenes footage and things that are happening when we’re filming these episodes, and photo tips from past episodes, and I’m also taking your questions for ideas for new videos so get over to instagram… follow me make sure that you’re doing that so we can interact and have lots of fun. Also make sure you subscribe to AdoramaTV, it’s totally free, I don’t know why you’re not doing it, and if you are click on the bells, then you get notifications. We don’t want you to miss anything. Thanks again for joining us and we will see you again next time.

48 thoughts on “Where Should You Point Your Light Meter? Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. hey mark . nice video
    i have question ?
    is that Sekonic lightmeters work in high speed with godox flash ?
    i mean can i meters the godox flashes like ad600 or ad600 pro in highspeed with Sekonic lightmeters ?

  2. Mark, I use Flashpoint. Do I fire by shooting a picture? Or, can I just hit the test flash on my trigger? AND, what ISO and SS did you have dialed into your flash meter? Last, if your key was at f/4 and you shot at 3.?, wouldn’t you be blowing out your highlights? Thanks bunches.

  3. Solid advice Mark. Point to the camera or point to the light, whatever works for you is the right way but always be consistent… BTW, I'm still right 😜

  4. How would you use the same light meter if it’s outdoors and only using natural light (and when would you use a gray card to get a reading?). Thank you.

  5. Great explanation. About time someone went into more (accurate) detail. It is important to emphasize that it all comes down to a personal decision as to how we want to expose our image. And to that end, I would only point out the importance of "protecting" the highlights, especially in the digital age of capture. Which, in turn, leads me, personally, to lean more towards aiming the "open" dome at the light source rather than the camera. If more shadow detail is desired, that's where the importance of reflectors and/or secondary lights come in. Also, you did a great job of explaining the "flat" dome. Particularly when wanting to know the value of multiple lights and/or reflectors in a given scenario. Well done, sir.

  6. you are a born teacher! grate info. question…where can i purchase the hooks that i see your softboxes are hanging on?

  7. Since apparently you have taken over the land of my grand parents for good, have Anabel take you to Sevilla and do a lttle video at El Parque de Maria Luisa; its unique. Hope this time of the year you can make La Feria de Sevilla. Ask her; she'll understand.

  8. Hi Mark, Could you explain how you started your photography journey? I have been photographing for over 20 years and my journey started funny. The short story is I brought a very cheap film camera for a friend and used that camera to make sure it worked. Needless to say that friend received a different gift. Be bless bro!!

  9. you point to the light source on each side you want to measure…be it the key light, the fill etc that way you get the perfect ratio you want. Pointing to the camera and getting an "average" makes no sense. Gavin wins…

  10. Excellent info, as usual, Marky-Mark. Thank you. Anabel appeared to be staring at me. I may have to fly up to NYC and marry her; and while I'm there, I'll buy a Sekonic LightMaster Pro.

  11. noob here, how can i use the light meter to improve my photography? after all, cameras have their own light meter dont they?

  12. light meter is nice because it puts you in the right "Ballpark" more quickly and helps you to reduce the amount of trial and error. Also useful as a learning tool for ambient light too.
    cheers👍👍

  13. 10:05 Sorry lumisphere down in this case is just wrong. That stray light from secondary lights, the reflector, the walls etc is real and is falling on the subject and thus needs to be added to the lightmeter reading by having the lumisphere up.

  14. There is a reason cameras still have SPOT metering available to do fine tuning of exposure, in addition to all of those sorry, desperate variations of the "Average the Entire Scene" modes. ("Hey, we know AVERAGES suck, but keep cycling through all of these metering modes and maybe one will stick!")

    Effectively, you just took an instrument used for: (1) protecting the highlight details from the brightest light source (by pointing the meter at it, getting the reading, and then THINKING about what you want to do with it on the exposure), and (2) measuring various light sources independently and setting deliberate ratios between them, and dumbed it down into a hand-held, incident version of an average TTL reading.

    I still like the video, though. Meters rock! 🙂

  15. Dude! I miss you and your photography teachings. You were the one I started learning basic photography rules. It's great to see you again. 😊

  16. Fine-tuning the exposure parameters and lighting ratios should be guided by artistic decisions, not by slavishly complying to crude measurements. Getting into the right ball park is easy with some experience and very few test shots. A light meter can be useful to establish ratios for multiple light sources that are know to work well, but again, if one knows one's equipment it is not hard to get there without a light meter and different reflectivity properties of hair/garments, etc. will require adjustments anyhow.

  17. The Gavin way is better !
    Two reasons:
    1 We LIKE you, but we LOVE Gavin !
    2. In Gavins method we measure the maximum light so there is no risk of over exposure. Shadows can be revealed in post.
    In your method, we measure average light, so the there is a risk that there is overexposure in the lightest part and as we all know, that detailed information in overexposure is lost 4ever.
    In your examples it doesn't matter that much and your explanation is very good, especially the separation with the dome down .

  18. But you are using a fill light!…
    And at the end you also say "measuring towards the key". So now i'm even more confused.
    I'd say: measure towards the light in a multiple light setup (to the front side of the model), and measure towards the camera if you only use 1 light. Makes sense? (please help 😉 ).

  19. Coming from a commercial film (transparency) background, and a student, and dear friend of the late Dean Collins, I'll argue to point at the main light source. "Preserving Highlights". Is that not what you are suppose to do with digital? I could end my argument there. But, Dean would say, The "diffused highlight" is what our "objective" is when it comes to exposure. Shadows are "subjective". Meaning basically when metering, that your area if critical exposure (diffused highlight) will stay put but your shadows will change from shoot to shoot. Some shadows could be dark, medium or light. So if they are ever changing, then your meter reading will change if including the shadow side if pointed at camera. And so will your diffused highlight. Meaning the area you DO want exposed perfectly will change because of different shadow values. That is not what we want. We want a constant. So aiming AT the main light source gives us that constant then we decide how much fill we want without changing the value of the diffused highlight. Now if you add a fill light and have it near camera, yes, that light will "add" to the overall exposure and you will need to aim it so you do pick up that fill light. But only if it adds to the diffused highlight's value. Reflector cards usually do not.

  20. I did that with L-858D , than I measure F8, shoot frame was overexposed . I take another shoot with F11 same set up that was perfect. I could not find any explanation. Have any advice?

  21. Hi Mark, I have calibrated my Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 24 – 70 lens to a Sekonic L 758 DR Light Meter. If I am using the same camera do I have to calibrate separately for every lens I have. Thanks.

  22. Always great videos, thanks for posting this one, it's been something I haven't been super confident of for some time.

  23. Good to see two lines of thought on the way to use a light meter, but i am on the side of always point in the direction of the light source. It's far better practice to protect the highlights than the shadows. Once you overexpose and blow your highlights that's it, no way of coming back i would rather have a little grain in my shadows anytime.

  24. All the newbs and rookies rely on their camera to make guesses and sometimes rely on the stupid histogram. If they cared about the most accurate colors, they'd ditch those practices ASAP.

  25. Great video! Have not used a light meter before and plan to get one (always used the reflective in the camera) Understand much more about incident light meters. Now, if you get F4 as your key light entry and set your camera to F4 and you get a different F stop reading from your hair or back light, what do you need to do to get a proper exposure of everything (camera setting, light adjustment, etc both continuous and flash setups) maybe i missed something, but can someone explain in more detail regarding this?

  26. Ok, but what do I do with that info? No one actually ever gets to that part. The light is spewing out a number 4.0 brightness… so what? I just don't understand what that means and every youtube video I watch never actually explains why that number matters or what to do with it.

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