Using a Light Meter – The Short Story

Basics of Metering – The Simple Truth

I just received an email from a reader who is experiencing some confusion about how to use her light meter to calculate a lighting setup.

I have written several lighting tutorials, like this one on Low Key Lighting, but this seemed like a good opportunity to do a little refresher course for everyone. To set the stage, here is the email from my reader, Sharon:

Hi Deborah,

Please can you help me with metering in the studio.

See below, totally confused and getting orange skin tones?

Incident light meter reading, from the subject point the meter at each individual light (all lights on), main, fill, rim, back lights ?  Please can you give example, of each lights aperture and what I would put in my camera, aperture to use?

Or from the subject, point the incident meter towards the camera with all lights on?

Many thanks,

What Are We Trying to Light?

Using a Light Meter

I am going to break it down into very simple terms. If I can wrap my mind around the basic physics of a thing, I can understand that thing.

When we are setting up and metering lighting, what are we trying to do? Measure the light falling on the SUBJECT.

Therefore, the light meter should be placed in the same position as your subject, with the light sphere/dome aimed towards your CAMERA position. Check out the lighting diagram in my High Key Lighting Tutorial.

Why? Because you want to light the SUBJECT and you want the subject to look best through the lens of the CAMERA.

But HOW Do You Meter From the Position of the Subject?

Well, you could wait until the subject shows up and ask them to sit/stand/lay where ever it is you intend to photograph them. Then you could ask them to hold the light meter very near their face, aimed towards the camera.

However, if you’re not very experienced yet, that method could be a little nerve wracking. Or maybe your subject doesn’t have opposable  thumbs. What then?

I like to set my studio up for a shoot the night before. I use a very tall bar stool with a big box stacked on top, high enough to approximate the height of my subject. I lay my light meter on top of the box, with the sphere aimed at my camera, then I fire my lights and take meter readings.[…]

How to Photograph and Light a Large Group Outside – Tutorial

Great Lighting Questions From Readers

I often get really great emails from many of my readers.

Occasionally I think an email deserves a more detailed response because it could benefit many more people than just the individual asking the question. Such is the recent email from one of my readers, Val Patel.

Val says,

“Hello Deborah,
I enjoyed reading your studio tutorials.  They have wealth of information.

The question I have is you said you used two lights for the photography large group, what was the placement of these lights?

Also, another question I have is how do you set up lights when there is no backdrop (or a wall) but a natural background of plants, flowers and trees?

I will be photographing large groups in a pre-wedding party this week-end.  So, your reply will help me tremendously.

Thanks and regards,

Val Patel”

Hello Val (and everyone!)

In the post being referred to, How to Photograph Large Groups in the Studio I did use only two lights. I wanted to keep that vivid orange background super saturated, therefore I did not light it directly. Instead, I only lit the subjects and allowed their lighting to spill over and  slightly illuminate the background.

Lighting a Large Group Outside With Nature as a Backdrop


Studio Lighting With One Light – Tutorial

Or, You Can Cook Small in a Big Wok, but You Can’t Cook Big in a Small Wok

Photography is a very expensive hobby and an even more expensive career path. Sticker shock can be severe when you’re first learning the craft, and nowhere will prices bite you in the bum more so than lighting equipment. It ain’t cheap to set up a fully functioning photography studio. Especially not if you endeavor to do it right and care about creating beautifully crafted and fabulously lit images.

You don’t have to have multiple studio strobe heads and their accompanying modifiers to produce lovely, nuanced photographs. You don’t actually have to have ANY lights, other than that big ball of nuclear energy in the sky. However, if you want to add a little extra dimension to your images, or you’d like to shoot somewhere other than a fully sun struck spot, adding some supplemental lighting could be just the ticket.

You can achieve a lot of different effects with a single light source. Let’s take a look at them one by one, shall we?[…]

Best Light Modifiers for High Key Lighting

How to Create High Key Studio Lighting for Any Space Without Hot Spots

First, a definition. Basically, high key lighting is shot on a white background, typically seamless paper or a cyc (cyclorama) wall, but can also be against a simple white wall or other similar white background.

Now the set up. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll assume you are using 9 foot white seamless background paper and a three or four light setup. See the illustration below.[…]

Fetish Photography with Low Key Lighting

Recently I arranged a shoot just for fun.  To quote one of my favorite perfomers (Eddie Izzard) – who can live at that speed???  I have become a member of an online community called Model Mayhem.  This community allows photographers, models, designers, makeup artists, hairstylists and others to connect.

A word about ANY online forum/community – BUYER BEWARE.  There are many fine, upstanding citizens out there using these forums, with no harm, no foul.  However, flip that rock over and out will crawl lesser mortals and lower creatures….and you can get slimed.  Use your common sense and listen to the little bells and whistles sounding off in your own wee noggin.

Fetish photography with low key lighting tutorial


Black & White Conversions Using Lightroom and Photoshop – Tutorial

In the digital age, getting really stunning black & white images is often a struggle for many people.  Like anything involving either digital photography or various software applications, the field of possibilities is endless.[…]

Camera RAW vs JPG

Or, How Someone Else Explains Things Better Than I Do

A lot of people want to better understand the differences or potential benefits between shooting in camera RAW as opposed to JPG.  There are a great many people who put their foot down firmly on one side or the other of this debate.  I’ve seen arguments get heated in certain forums, with each side claiming the high ground.

rawvsjpegJennifer Leigh, Karyn Christner, Robert Wallace

Me?  I shoot RAW.  Why?  Because I like to endlessly tweak things.  I come from a background of printing ‘old school’ and really like to get my hands in it and mess it around a bit.  Then maybe change my mind, erase it all and start again….and again.  RAW allows that freedom.  I also find JPGs to be more ‘contrasty’, both tending to blow out my highlights and block up my shadows.  Dude, if anyone is gonna block my shadows, it better be me.[…]