06. Measuring light and achieving the correct exposure

How do you measure the power of the light from your studio lighting to ensure perfect results? Do you apply visual, theoretical, histogram or light meter readings to achieve the best results?

Karl discusses the best ways to measure light and achieve the desired exposure as well as the limitations of the above methods and why it’s important to truly understand light if you want complete creative control.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Different methods for measuring light
  • Light meters — what use are they in digital photography
  • Assessing exposure visually
  • Combining aperture and shutter speed to achieve desired exposure
  • Reading histograms
  • Correctly exposing for different textures

NOTE: This photography class is available with English subtitles.

Comments

  1. Hi Mr. Karl first of all thanks for your classes they are amazing. My problem is that as a beginner photographer I’m still using one and very rarely two flashes. And every time after photo shoot when I look at my images on the computer they appear to be a little bit under or over exposed. Sometimes I like to create dramatic portraiture and under exposing background for the purpose and trying to keep the subject in normal exposure as need to be.And in those situation it’s very important to get your exposure right because it’s hard to fix it in post. very often subject become over exposed. you know what I mean. I was told that most of the cameras view winder doesn’t show the full truth and I need to buy light meter. I honestly really don’t like Light meter. And also I never touch LCD brightness on my camera. I would be really appreciate your advice or help because this situation really giving me a hard time in my photography

    1. Hi Walter, check your camera LCD screen they are usually quite accurate. See if you can compare it with someone who has the same. Then also don’t forget about looking at the Histogram as this will tell you the actual exposure and you can compare what it reads compared to what you are seeing on the camera screen. Finally find someone who has a high quality calibrated monitor like an Eizo, NEC or Asus and see how your images look on that (RAW files) and then adjust your camera screen to match.

  2. Just wanted to ask, when you take the photo of the black training shoe, that was underexposed, that was not a light meter result, that was the result of the previous light settings that you manually set with the Broncolor app. The very first light meter reading you took of the dummy was, about a stop over exposed (to my eyes) and I suspect if you’d taken another light meter reading of the training show the light meter would have given that same reading hence the shoe would have been perfectly exposed in the instance of the shoe. Or have I missed something here?

    1. Hi Nigel, a light meter only measures the light falling on it. If the light is falling on a black cat against a black wall then those subjects will absorb a lot of light as that is the nature of most black materials. If the light is falling on a white cat on a white wall then those objects will reflect much more light. The light meter would give you the same reading for both because you are metering the light not the subject. As such and depending on the latitude of your camera one subject may look over exposed and one may look underexposed because light meters make the assumption that your subject is a mid neutral grey (that’s how they are programmed). This becomes further complicated if you are using backlighting where the lighting is meant to reflect of skin as some form of rim lighting. A light meter will have no idea what level of rim lighting you want to achieve. And that is the key takeaway from this in that the photographer should have an initial internal visual in their mind of how they want the picture to look. If they do, then it should be very easy to look at the results and adjust them to then match that pre-visualisation and therefore not become to formulaic in the process.

      1. I understand most of what you say above. I guess I got a tad confused as when you took a photo of the shoe it was based on what you’d dialled in, not a flash meter reading, but everything you say makes perfect scientific sense. On a final note, would the flash readings (for a white cat in the snow or black cat against black background) have not been considerably more accurate if the reading was taken in reflective mode instead of incident – especially ‘spot metering’ in reflective mode on the Minolta?

        I used a light meter many years ago, back in the days of my Hasselblad 500CM and Nikon F3 equipment. Having just got back into photography having been away from it for 20 years I’m now half and half regarding light meters. The Canon 5D MK4 I bought has the histogram etc, and I also tether to my MacBook into Capture One, also with histogram, but I still like to take a quick reading with my flash meter simply because I don’t like to have my CF card riddled with too many test shots, that’s about the only reason at the moment. I guess, like you, I’ll find that I use my flash meter less and less, in time.

        1. Hi Nigel, yes all correct and on the reflective mode instead of incident mode, however the more you do it with a test shot then the faster I find you memorise a starting point. For example I start most of my setups at f11 and the flash on mid power and then it’s up or down on the flash from there. But I do waste a fair bit of time testing one light at a time to see what each one is doing independently when I need to be super critical.

          1. Makes sense, Karl. I’ve been out of photography for many years, just got back into it again a few months ago. I guess once I have a permanent studio I’ll get to the point where I’ll be able to set the power outputs of the lights and camera settings and be within an f-stop (or there abouts) without taking a reading.

            Totally loving the site and the superb – incredibly educational and entertaining – video tutorials. Great value and well worth the money.

            Keep up the brilliant work.

          2. Thank you Nigel, and of course if you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to leave them in any of the video comments sections.

  3. Just reading the titles of each chapter I’m getting really excited about how many questions are about to be answered!

  4. After watching these and portrait lightning courses I try to replicate a few of them. I find a model, and makeup artist and did portrait shooting. Only for the first test shot, I used a light meter. Then I decided not to. So what happens is that I pay way more attention to creativity and how light falling on the model then I did it with a light meter. It is more freedom in creativity for sure. Thank you for explaining it so well Karl.

  5. Hi,
    Very good videos you make and totally agree with what you say in this video. But Light Meter also has some advantages, I work in periods in schools and kindergarten as a photographer and I take much group photos of up to 100 people and portraits. It’s very rare i work in the same environment, some days I work in big gymsal, the following day in a small room, or the roof is very low. The exposure should be the same every time, so I can not see how this work without a light measuring. Especially with large group images ranging from 10- 100 people.

  6. Hi Carl,

    Great stuff indeed. One question: I see you adjusting either the aperture or the flash power. Why is it that you never talk about adjusting shutter speed to correct under / overexposure?

    Cheers,
    Jorge

    1. Hi Jorge, you either haven’t watch chapter 5 or you need to watch it again! Then you can ask me again if necessary but I suspect you won’t need to 🙂

  7. Thanks Karl. Today I was buy new light meter around 200$, but after this video you change my mind.
    Thanks again the real man.

  8. Hi Karl, the light meter is still useful for natural light especially when you have to grab a shot,if the camera is in the same light as the subject then it depends where you place your exposure for the reflective meter to be of any use,ie a Bride and Groom and the Photographer all in the same light,the lightmeter will read the ambient but if you use the inbuilt meter then you need a neutral tone to meter .Great tuition though really the lightmeter is redundant for studio work but for natural light it still has a place in my bag. Thanks Rob

  9. Good day Karl, please may I know how you use your Minolta light meter to trigger your flash? I know that there’s a place and time for the light meter, you don’t just throw it completely out the window if I understand you.

    So please I’ll like to know how you trigger that flash with the light meter because I do have something like that.

    Thanks.

    1. Hi Sunday, you need to run a coaxial cable from the Minolta light meter to the flash sync cable port on your trigger or on your flash. Alternatively you can have someone else press the trigger button on the flash while the meter ‘waits’ for the flash to fire.

      1. Thanks, Karl, keep up the good work, I know we can never agree on everything but we should on most things. You’re still one of my favourite teachers anyday, anytime.

  10. My first lecture at your website and thanks a lot for clearing something this important. I am not against Light Meters, I think they are an important piece of technology, however I would rather focus on the creative aspect of studio photography and trust my vision and understand light instead. Thank you for clearing this as I was the only one not using a light meter at school because of the exact same reason:).

  11. Hi Karl, love this video, I’m in my second year of a photography course, they teach you to use light meters and we can’t tether either, my problem is that I naturally want to work in the way you have explained in the video, quite often I get into the studio , set up, start taking photos, check them on the mac then adjust where needed, then I remember I have to use the light meter so I can tell the tutor what settings I used, nearly all my portrait photos come out so much better when I don’t used one, the college I attend is very well respected regarding the photography course and the tutors certainly know their stuff, I’m have an amazing time there, just can’t wait to start out doing it my . Thanks. P’s looks like I might just sell my sekonic x

    1. Hi Mandy, I’d question the tutors if they are not open to the idea of ‘vision’ above ‘artificial automation’.

  12. Hi Karl this was a great video. I started a few years using a light meter but I quickly put is away and never used it since.

  13. I bought a light meter a couple years back, i used it for about 2 weeks and stopped using it because i found it took me longer to get setup when using it, and the end photos were not what i wanted if i stuck with the settings the meter provided.

  14. Hi Karl, as an art director I had a few battles with technically oriented photographers who had fixed ideas about exposure and other creative approaches to lighting. As you explained so well, lighting is subjective. Guitar distortion is technically bad, tell that to Jimmy Hendrix!

  15. I’ve never really understood the concept of a ‘correct exposure’ as it all depends on what image you want to create and for that reason I never bothered with a light meter. This fab video has confirmed this view. The only problem i have noticed is the image preview on the back of my camera is generally brighter than the raw image once in Lightroom. So I think shooting tethered is the way to go when possible.

    1. Hi Peter, I’m glad you see things in the same ‘light’ as for the image on your camera screen you can manually adjust the brightness of your screen on most DSLRs but yes in a studio environment tethered is the way to go.

  16. Really impressed with the content so far Karl – the clarity of your tutorials is excellent. I’m just curious to know why you haven’t included ISO as a way of adjusting exposure alongside the other 3 approaches you mentioned. Or am I missing something?

    1. Hi David, thank you for your kind comments and I’m glad you are enjoying our content. Our courses are designed to carry people through in a logical learning process and ISO is covered in an earlier module in the ‘Essentials’ section. In studio photography when you generally have all the light that you need then it makes more sense to work at the lowest or default ISO to reproduce the best quality image and simply adjust the power of the lights accordingly. When I wrote the script for this course I considered the level that people would be at given that they had moved to studio lighting and had to make the assumption that those using studio lights already understood ISO, depth of field and shutter speeds. Cheers Karl.

  17. I shoot a lot of film and use a meter continuously as my old Mamiya’s have no built in meter. I find myself using the meter even with digital when the lighting is such that it could fool my camera’s built in meter (which looks at reflected light if I understand it correctly). I make adjustments after the initial shot if needed (as you mention – doesn’t cost anything with digital), but find a few seconds with the meter gets me very close most of the time and I generally don’t adjust much.
    So the question for me is – wouldn’t using the meter in a reflected light mode fix many of the issues called out? Wouldn’t changing the position of the meter on the subject also help with quickly getting exposure correct?
    Thanks for the great content. I am really enjoying the site and picking up a lot of useful information.

    1. Hi Douglas, Of course there is nothing wrong with using a meter to get in the ‘ballpark’ and as you have experience shooting film you will of course need it that situation as I did. The purpose of this chapter though was to demonstrate how with a good screen tethered and looking at the histogram you don’t actually need one and in some cases they can set you off on the wrong path. The key thing is establishing in your mind what you want the shot to look like so that you arrive at that result and not one that a computer told you you should shoot.

  18. Hello Karl. Thank you so much.!! You just saved me some $$$ a light meter was on my wish list. I totally get what you mean. Your approach is perfect for creating different looks using light. This is exactly what I need. I need to incorporate this type of thinking in my work for portraiture.

  19. Yes, I agree. I was trying to see if this was yet another reason why light meters are no longer a necessity, or even reliable for the intended purpose.

  20. That’s a nice and interesting clarification Karl! I wasn’t expecting the difference to be so significantly different, but it makes total sense what you said.

    So, here is a question that relates this lesson with the previous one: can a light meter correctly measure the light output taking into consideration the possibility of a shutter speed that’s fast than t0.1? I mean, in the previous lesson we discussed that if the shutter speed is faster than the flash’s ability to output all its light, the flash could get cut off by the shutter speed, resulting in an under exposed image. Does a light meter use shutter speed settings as part of the measurement?

    1. Hi Kryn, as far as I’m aware no. The light meter isn’t aware of each flash manufacturers flash durations long or short. Although I haven’t used a light meter for 12 years so they may have added this feature but I doubt it as flashes change all the time. The simple fact remains though, that if you experimented with different shutter speeds you’d see the resulting change on screen so you could figure out what was going in and make a note at which speed the full flash burst was captured.

  21. Hi Karl,

    I just spend quite a lot of money upgrading my gear, a seconic light meter was on my list, but I opted for a awesome lens instead, boy am I glad I did not buy it. I am really starting to understand light now a lot better than I thought I did. You are making me think like pro! I have spend a fortune on a diploma in photography, now I wonder why I bothered, I should have just found you a lot sooner. I am glad I am here 🙂

  22. The amount of money I just saved on the light meter I wanted just paid for 28.57 months of Karl Taylor Education…nice!

  23. Hi Karl

    I have a lot of your DVDs and very nearly didn’t bother signing up.
    This video alone is worth it to me.

    I’ve just bought a couple of Godox AD200’s and soft boxes and I am looking forward to trying some of what you have shown in this video.

    Onwards and upwards
    Cheers
    Malcolm

    1. Hi Malcom, thanks for signing up there is a lot more stuff to come and with our live shows, competitions and gear discounts we believe it really does make membership a bargain! Good like with your Godox and softbox tests. Cheers Karl.

  24. This is so great! as a beginner i always wonder, what if i want another aperture? or if always going to use the same aperture just because the light meter say so?. A friend told me to buy one because it help to improve the depth of field or to reach a better subject in focus, is this true or it has nothing to do about it?

    Your videos are amazing and makes me understand a lot of things.

    1. Hi Daniel, no please don’t waste you money on a lightmeter. Just keep following this course as you are doing and practise what is being shown and it will all start to come together. Cheers Karl.

  25. This is the best investment I have ever made. Without a doubt. Thanks for the special offer. This is more addictive than any TV programme.

  26. I started watching this chapter as someone who uses a lightmeter in the studio, due to lack of confidence, and by the end of the video I wanted to stand up and applaud. I’m self (YouTube) taught prior to this course and thought I had some understanding of light, it’s incredible how many things I was getting wrong and I’m feeling much more confident about using my lights.

  27. Amazing! This is really useful course that teaching people the true things.
    Thanks a lot! And I want to learn more and further from you.

  28. Thanks! For me this was definitely one of those “aha!” moments and has made me rethink my own reliance on a light meter. I absolutely get the logic of this and can’t fathom why so many high-level professional trainers are still demonstrating using them. Can you please explain how you work this way when you’re not shooting tethered (experience, or using the LCD display?) – I noticed that the histogram for the first “correctly exposed” image of the dummy showed most of the tones were off to the left, so trying to gauge the exposure through interpretation of the camera’s histogram alone could be difficult, and personally I don’t find the LCD a particularly accurate guide to what the camera is recording.

    1. Hi Alistair, if it looks reasonable on the LCD screen and i’m shooting RAW then I know it’s in the ballpark enough that it will be OK, I keep an eye on the histogram just to be sure nothing is out of range.

  29. I thought myself how to use flash without a light meter and then bought a meter and my lighting was all screwed up . The only time i use the meter now is if someone ask me for a picture and there press for time,
    But totally agree with Karl. Your eyes are the best light meter.

  30. Outstanding video. I’ve never used a light meter yet myself and always felt like I was cheating somehow or breaking the rules, so to speak. I totally agree with the complexities of how light interacts with surfaces, especially with multi-light/reflector setups. The artist must have creative control over the image, not the gear. Technology cant replace individual judgement and knowledge. Thats why we learn to turn all auto features off in the camera and shoot manual in the first place.

  31. Karl,
    You just made me save around 600$ and change my mind to not to buy the light meter I was going to…

  32. Well two Sekonic light meters now for sale lol, well one, I’ll keep one for outdoors.
    Really found that informative I think as new photographers we may use a light meter as a “Comfort Blanket” believing it will give us all the answers when it is evident it won’t and will sometimes actually try and deceive us.

    Keep them coming Karl, I’m loving being part of this little clique.

    Richie

  33. Really good lesson Karl. It forces me to keep my creative juices flowing, and I love your explanation….it is the lighting that you wanted, not what you were told to do. Really simple but profound way of thinking. Thanks!!

  34. This is the most enlightening lesson I have seen on light meters and how they can ruin our own creative input. You are a great teacher, Karl!

  35. Having a calibrated monitor tethered into your camera in a studio is surely a great way to get the shot. A couple of points in favor of using a light meter could be in order I think. If we calibrate our meter to give us the look we want at f/11, then firing a couple of pops and adjusting the power using the remote is very easy and fast. The final verdict using a calibrated monitor is always right.

    1. Hi Chick, yes a light meter will always get you in the ballpark but calibrating it for one subject doesn’t mean it will be correct for the next as shown in the video based on each subjects individual qualities such as diffusion, reflection, colour etc. I’d say put the camera at f11 (if that’s the depth of field you wanted) and set the light to it’s mid power and then take a test and simply decide to go up or down based on what you are seeing.

  36. I mainly use my meter when I need to create repeatable results, like head shots for a team program, but this is a great point of view for creative portraiture.

  37. Love the way you explain…Your understanding of light is phenomenol..:)..I am glad I am here..:)..I made a right choice to improve my understanding..

  38. That is it, I am not going to use a light meter as often. After watching this video I took a photo of a flower in a cup where I decided an f-stop of 2.8 and adjusted the light power and created an awesome photo.
    You explain it in such a way that it was easy to understand.

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