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Your light meter: Ditch that crutch

This article is written by a member of our expert community. It expresses that member’s views only. We welcome other perspectives. Here’s how to contribute to MM EDU.

My relationship with light meters has had more ups and downs than the recent stock market. When I first started shooting, I shot without a light meter. Then, after reading up on how professionals did things, I bought a Sekonic L-308S.

After using it a while, I got the knack of lighting and then lighting without a light meter. I was faster, stronger, and smarter. My eyeballs told me whether or not I was on-point with my lighting.

After teaching a few workshops, I started using my light meter again. Partially because students wanted to learn how to use light meters properly. Hell, it’s actually attached to my belt right now.

But it made me lazy. I’m less situationally aware. I’m less acutely aware of my exposure because I’ve been relying on my light meter.

I’ve decided. Going forward I am going to officially recommend that photographers ditch their light meters.

The problem with the light meter is that it’s often used as a crutch for weak lighting knowledge and lack of situational awareness. When you depend on a device to tell you if you’ve exposed a scene properly, you’re relying on a set of numbers rather than your own vision and judgment. That’s a slippery slope. Next thing you know, you aren’t even thinking anymore. At the end of the day, the light meter is just a machine. It can’t tell you if you’re properly exposed or not. Just spits out a set of numbers. You have to determine how to act on that dataset.

The problem with most photographers is that we “set-and-forget.” We set our lights and then start shooting and neglect the fact that the model is moving, that we’re moving, and that everything is dynamic. We think we can shoot hundreds of frames and the light settings will stay the same. We forget to check our lighting because our light meters told us everything was “dialed-in.”

It’s a crutch. A poor one at that.

With my L-308S, I have been lazy about checking my lighting, checking my exposures, and checking my exposure evenness throughout the set. Sure, I am dialed in at the beginning of the set. But by the end, I’m all over the place. Without my light meter, I’m forced to assess the exposure evenness in the beginning and then also forced to compare that first frame to the subsequent frames much later. Without a light meter I am more vigilant about my exposure. Without a light meter my situational awareness is much sharper.

Yes, there’s a proper way to use your light meter. The problem is I believe most of us don’t use it to our advantage, but rather to our disadvantage. It’s a valuable tool no doubt, but it prevents most of us from developing the proper visual sensitivity to exposure. Hence, it’s a crutch that prevents most photographers from learning how to light properly. Like Forrest, we must ditch the leg braces before we can learn how to run. And then run we shall.

LUCIMA

LUCIMA

Charles Lucima is a photographer/retoucher based in Los Angeles specializing in fashion, editorial, and beauty. His clients include designers, apparel brands, and modeling agencies around the world. http://www.lucima.com/

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89 Responses to “Your light meter: Ditch that crutch”

  1. February 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm, John Skinner said:

    Ah the digital age.. Where histograms and screens tell us everything we’d ever need to be pros….

    HORSE PUCKS.

    Exactly what is it that tells you whether you have made it here in thisw profession?

    In this digital age of flying photos and cut & paste.. It’s not only having great images, you body of work.. But it’s being elevated by your peers to the point where people actually, PAY to listen to you, work your methods, and ultimately have results that people lined up in droves to reproduce-emulate or just plain out try and copy.

    I take this subject quite personally on a few levels. First off, I’m OLD SCHOOL. 4 year degree in Photo Arts from one of Canada’s leading schools for the craft. And been using a camera since I could hold it. Been shooting for over 35 years and at times, actually fed myself with the craft.

    Secondly, I have a friend-mentor (and just all around great guy) who has in point of fact reached that ‘level’ of achievement.. Sought after, well respected, teacher, mentor, innovator and not just in the Netherlands where he’s based. Worldwide.

    You’ll find him selling instructional DVD sets, traveling Europe and the world producing images that have won awards… Needless to say, well respected and he has no point to prove. You can catch him at any Photoshop World event, Kelby Training, Elinchrom event, teaching these metering methods and why they ARE so important.

    I speak of Frank Doorhof. The absolute master of the 1° spot meter. I’m quite sure that a person that has reached a personal and professional level (and has the masses behind him to prove it) isn’t shoveling manure into all of the people he touches..

    Getting it right inside the box has always been the goal of this whole thing. it always has been and always will be. The very idea that this OP, talented as he maybe, gives this advice to just anyone, on any level.. Is just insane.

    Photoshop and the naked eyeball isn’t, nor will it ever be the perfection we all seek from step one. It’s always been just about the light.

    Reply

  2. February 08, 2012 at 8:30 am, Designfactoryebay said:

    When I read this article I could not believe what I was reading. If you are a new photogragher I suggest the first thing you should do is get a good light meter and study ratios. Also the best way to learn to see light is to see it. Look at as many good examples of good lighting that you can find. Fashion mags are a good start. I am glad that a lot of good photographers spoke up so I don’t have to say much. Really, what do you tell a person with two black eyes. You don’t have to tell them nothing else because they have already been told twice. Lol.

    Reply

  3. December 02, 2011 at 7:23 pm, ElegantEye.com said:

    I use a meter. I will often meter 9 to 12 points in a scene. I also use the LCD preview, but when I want to know if an area is exactly the same as another, half a stop darker different, or 2 stops lighter, it’s nice to just have an answer.

    Reply

  4. November 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm, Jahi Sadiq-el said:

    I disagree with you completely. My work has improved greatly since i have purchased my meter.

    Reply

  5. November 10, 2011 at 11:20 pm, Carioca said:

    I have a digital camera.
    For some special occasions, I pull out my film camera and shoot a few rolls of film in parallel.
    I would be lost without a lightmeter.
    I have kept it a habit and use it also for my digital shooting, it saves me a lot of wasted time checking the histogram.

    Reply

  6. November 10, 2011 at 10:44 pm, Gwsheppard1 said:

    You simply cannot judge a strobe by “sight”. You may have a good idea due to experience,but not visually. This of course, does not apply to ambient light, where you can guess at the exposure, but again, experience certainly plays a big part.

    Reply

  7. November 03, 2011 at 1:49 am, George R. Horn said:

    Calling it a crutch is just an opinion of yours, and you know the saying about opinions. I use a light meter regularly, especially if I am setting the lighting for a runway show or even a scene in a movie. Light meters have a place, problem is, most don’t learn to use them properly, they rely on the meter in the camera. Very few cameras have accurate meters, thus the need for the + or – feature in cameras. Please think about what you are espousing, it leads beginners down the wrong path.

    Reply

  8. November 03, 2011 at 12:43 am, LIGHT METERS ALL DAY said:

    First part of being able to fine tune anything in Photoshop is to get the RIGHT exposure.

    I usually rely on my light meter as that crutch.

    Just sayin.

    Reply

  9. November 02, 2011 at 6:29 pm, Carlos David said:

    a light meter is a starting point much like a fancy camera, ultimately you need vision to execute the image.

    Reply

    • November 03, 2011 at 1:53 am, LIGHT METERS ALL DAY said:

      Vision? You mean light, right? Light is what makes the camera work.

      Reply

  10. November 01, 2011 at 4:04 pm, David Miller said:

    I read most of these replies, and when I got to the bottom, what do I see? An ad for Sekonic light meters.

    Reply

  11. November 01, 2011 at 2:31 pm, Greg Cobb said:

    I began with a meter and after a while thought I could set 4-5 strobes without one. I tried it for a while and found that knowing exactly what my lights are doing is very necessary. All in all, the article is just someone’s narrow opinion.

    Reply

  12. October 30, 2011 at 1:50 pm, Photo_guy71 said:

    i have no idea what you are talking about.
    you sir are a moron. to say that a light meter isnt an essential part of a photographers bag is preposterous. its the most idiotic thing i have ever heard. you obviously arent a true photographer but a guy with a camera whos barely mediocre photography was saved by the development of the digital age. if you even knew the meaning of photography you would see my point. maybe, if all you shot was landscapes and natural light, but i refuse to believe that you can dial in any strobe light at any speed with any attachment at any distance and get it right. im sure you have never shot film or paid money to shoot polaroids. you have obviously never shot for any real clients, learned true photography, or have an idea what this art is about. if you think for a second a real photographer ever forgets how important light is and how its hitting its subject and that it can change with movement or even time, then you need to sell all your gear and take up painting.
    sorry for the rant, but you just sound ignorant and are teaching young photographers to not understand and study light and go by what the back of their camera is showing them.

    Reply

  13. October 28, 2011 at 12:57 am, Skyestudios said:

    Who are you?
    You are completely wrong about a light meter. If you know anything about lighting there is no way to judge by eye what the exposure is going to be. Digital photography’s display is now the crutch for a lot of bad photography out there.
    Even though I’m shooting RAWS these days, having a perfect reading before shooting is the key to a well exposed image. I work with strobes, continuous lighting, and ambient lighting and use a lightmeter for everything still. Saying to ditch a lightmeter and that it is a crutch is just foolish.

    Those not using a light meter are just lazy. These are the same individuals that have to look at the back of there camera every shot instead of having confidence that the exposure is right ahead of time.
    Just laziness………………………..

    Reply

  14. October 27, 2011 at 4:30 am, Chuckstjohn said:

    I think this is a really ignorant discussion. Situational awareness? Good grief what nonsense.

    Reply

  15. October 27, 2011 at 4:05 am, Fozzybear88 said:

    I would agree with Lucima. Plus those light meters are damn expensive, I saved $400-$600 by not buying one that money was put into buying Alien Bees.

    Reply

  16. October 27, 2011 at 12:51 am, Mark Nelson said:

    I won’t say this article is the most stupid thing I ever read…..But I really want to.

    Reply

  17. October 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm, DontThinkSo said:

    Personally, I think shooting without a light meter is the equivalent of being a carpenter without a hammer. It’s an essential tool that may not be needed 100% of the time, but abandoning it completely is like bringing half your tools to work. If that works for you, great! I know how to use a light meter, and I find it to be an important, time-saving tool that will get my light on point quickly and efficiently. Just my $0.02.

    Reply

  18. October 26, 2011 at 10:18 am, Cyrus said:

    Each to his own, I will not say that Lucima is wrong in what he is saying I mean just take a look at his work. I Think all what he is saying is don’t depend too much on the light meter. In another work if you don’t get in the water you will never know how to swim.

    Reply

  19. October 26, 2011 at 5:06 am, Glen said:

    I think I will right and article and the title will be “Photoshop: Ditch the Crutch”, to be followed by “Digital: Ditch the Crutch”, :).

    Reply

  20. October 26, 2011 at 2:37 am, Jorge said:

    I think the use of a light meter is not something that negates the ability for a photographer to be creative or get the light as intended. Light meters are intended to provide an exact light setting for the camera either. I think the light meter provides a great starting point for the shot, if properly used.
    Whether shooting with one light or many, if you are shooting like a robot and not observing the lighting you are creating or not making any appropriate adjustments as needed then I am sure the results just won’t be that good. I think the use of the light meter is OK and helps to get started quickly especially in complex setups. And as long as the photographer understands the light he’s trying to achieve and makes the proper adjustments to complement the original light meter reading, then the end-result will closer to the goal. A good photographer observes what is happening with the light on every frame and adjusts as needed to get the result sought.

    Reply

  21. October 26, 2011 at 1:28 am, Thomas Toohey Brown said:

    ZZZZZzzzzzzz…

    Reply

  22. October 26, 2011 at 12:11 am, JohnLF said:

    haha yeah right, and no doubt you still use a film camera that doesn’t have any sort of in built meter to tell you when your guesses are completely wrong?

    Maybe we should ditch all our other tools too. Like filters. And Flashguns. And different lenses. Lets all use a 50mm lens because everything else is just a waste of time, right?

    A tool is a tool. You use it if you wish to do a job. To save time. That’s what they are there for.

    “Pity the fool.”

    Reply

  23. October 26, 2011 at 12:07 am, Mike said:

    What’s a light meter? 😉

    Reply

  24. October 25, 2011 at 11:55 pm, Fotoone1 said:

    If i had a fancy light meter i d use it.Even with the digital and you want to make a sweet HDR. Don’t you want to know a more accurate reading of the shadows and highlights. The crutch is the auto metering.

    Reply

  25. October 25, 2011 at 11:20 pm, Steve Hlavac said:

    Sorry Charles, but to me this is a silly rant, and is based on the very flawed logic that most or all pros work the way you describe. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    First of all, a light meter’s value goes far beyond simply determining a scene’s OVERALL exposure. That’s just one aspect. If you are shooting in the studio with more than one light, a much more important purpose is to determine lighting RATIOS, something extremely tricky to do by just winging it without a meter.

    Even if you are shooting tethered and using a pc monitor to evaluate your exposures frame by frame, it is still much quicker to set up your lighting and ratios and backdrop lumination using meter readings first.

    Also, please explain how using a meter to monitor your lighting EVENNESS makes you lazy? If anything, that takes more effort and means a photographer is more methodical about his or her shooting. The human eye is a poor judge of this.

    Most pros continually re-meter their light like this as a shoot progresses. Again, IMO this is the opposite of laziness. And while a model should not be “moving” around in a carefully lit scene, when they do it juts makes sense to RE-METER the light where they move to to adjust your exposure.

    In the digital age of instant and continual image feedback, the only time I’d even consider ditching my meters (yes, I use more than one!) is outdoors with sunlight. THAT I trust to figure out by looking at my histogram…

    Reply

  26. October 25, 2011 at 11:01 pm, Epiphany_media said:

    I agree with what everyone is saying. As a strobist you sometime have several lights, lighting situations, and other factors such as not wanting to waste the models time by trying to “guess”. Any pro can tell you that planning the themes, makeup, clothing, props, and location pre-shoot is just as important as getting it right “in camera” so you’re not sweating out your chair trying to fix it in post only to find out you wasted both your own and the models time. If you set it right by using a lightmeter then setting a custom white balance you can shoot jpeg all day instead of shooting RAW which is a crutch for many although many pro’s like the versatility of adding effects post shoot. I get so sick of shooters using RAW and Kelvin settings and guessing at their lighting. It’s not really a math test either…They should screen these articles before they publish them.

    Reply

  27. October 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm, Scottie Leslie said:

    Being only an amateur photographer, and only very new to shooting models, I really shouldn’t have an opinion yet.
    At the end of the day though, I do love photography, and have been shooting all variety of things since I was 7yrs old, which was 30yrs ago.
    I’ve never used a light meter, never owned one, and maybe some of you will say it shows in my shots. Oh well, I really could care less, because photography is my vice, and I do it in a manner that makes me happy. Professional, or not, I think everyone should just shoot images of any type, in the manner they see fit. Who cares if the photographer next to you likes the finished product. Who cares if you used a light meter or not, so long as you are happy to take the time needed to get the correct exposure. Personally, I enjoy fiddling with the setting on the camera a photoshoots, and trialling a few different lighting effects. As yet, no model has complained about me spending time doing just that. Infact, I think I’ve achieved some reasonable shots by doing this.
    I’m going into a studio for the first time next week, and will take a look at using a light meter for the first time. Maybe I’ll enjoy it, maybe I won’t.
    If I don’t, I won’t use it again, and if I do, I’ll buy one.
    Just enjoy what you do, no matter what the equipment.
    Scott

    Reply

  28. October 25, 2011 at 8:30 pm, Mario said:

    So Mr Lucima is right, and the rest of 90% of pros are wrong. Well, Jack Reznicki uses lightmeters and his photos beat Lucimas’ in every aspect so just because someone doesn’t know how to use it, it doesn’t mean everyone else shouldn’t.

    Reply

  29. October 25, 2011 at 7:27 pm, Ken Yee said:

    Problem is the back of your LCD and histogram can lie to you…I’ve had instances when the rim light looked ok but when viewing it on the computer, the area was completely blown out. Histograms are useless if you do high or low key.
    Only way I can see not needing a light meter is to shoot tethered all the time…

    Reply

  30. October 25, 2011 at 6:08 pm, Danny Griffin said:

    Light meters are extremely useful for many lighting scenarios. I don’t use one every time but there are times (multiple light setups, for example) where it is valuable. I do not view the light meter as a crutch that makes me less aware of my lighting. Instead, I view it as a tool that helps me accurately configure my lighting to the ratios I desire quickly.

    Reply

  31. October 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm, Eddnunes said:

    I use a light meter all the time. You really can’t depend on the lcd screen on the camera. Histograms are good but can be misleading in the scene is on the dark side (dark backgrounds). If model is moving all over the place then adjust the position of the light. If the model is moving so much then start controlling the model to get some light consistency.

    Reply

  32. October 25, 2011 at 4:29 pm, Thom said:

    I wonder how the “great” photographers were able to use their cameras without knowing something about light. Let’s face it.. what we are doing now can’t hold a candle to some of the great works of the past. We are auto this and that and still make mistakes. Ah yes, there is photoshop so we have a crutch. How about helping ourselves a little bit by insuring a correct exposure with a LIGHT METER!!! If the model moves just take another reading and possibly may have to move the lights. It’s not hard to do.

    I learned photography many years ago before automation. Learn to do things manually and you will better understand what the camera “computer” is doing.

    Reply

  33. October 25, 2011 at 4:16 pm, Joshua Best said:

    What I take from this article is this: Be more flexible and don’t get locked into the numbers. They are just a guide, parameters to lead you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to push beyond the numbers and experiment.

    Reply

  34. October 25, 2011 at 4:00 pm, Gdykstra said:

    I think this rant about a light meter being a crutch is a crock of poop, to put it nicely. I use a light meter to get precise lighting quickly, instead of wasting everyone’s time taking multiple shots and then fine tuning.

    Before I release the shutter I already know what how I want my exposure to look, using a light meter I am able to accomplish this on my first shot 99% of the time.

    To me photographers who do not use a light meter are lazy because now they can shoot twenty shots until they get one that “works”, or have the “oh that’s OK I can fix it later in Photoshop” attitude. Go back to shooting film and see how fast you pick your light meter back up.

    If distances change or lighting conditions change, guess what, the light meter comes out again, I don’t believe the “spray and pray” bullshit.

    Reply

    • October 25, 2011 at 11:30 pm, Steve Hlavac said:

      Exactly. He’s talking about two very separate things and implying most shooters do them simultaneously. You should be planning out a shot and the lighting ahead of time, and a meter has absolutely NOTHING to do with the artistic creativity and style of the shot. You use your meter to establish ratios, making sure stray light isn’t going into areas where it shouldn’t, checking detail in shadow areas, and of course overall exposure. Once you’re set up you THEN concentrate on working with the model and getting the poses and expressions you want…

      Reply

    • October 25, 2011 at 11:38 pm, Dewie Barnes said:

      Wow. Talking about rants…

      Different people, different work flows. To say not using a light meter makes you lazy is akin to saying that using one makes you a hack.

      Reply

    • November 03, 2011 at 12:41 am, LIGHT METERS ALL DAY said:

      I lol’d at the “spray and pray.”

      Also, if you are not using a light meter you are doing it wrong. Way, way wrong.

      Reply

  35. October 25, 2011 at 3:57 pm, Sputnick3k said:

    If you ever decide to use film (yes film is still around) then you are practically blind unless you learn how to see your subject with your eyes AND lightmeter.

    Reply

  36. October 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm, FASHMOUR said:

    I completely agree with Lucima. Ok, I submit that when using film a meter is a great tool to have some comfort that your going to get what you want from your shoot after you process your film. On the other hand I’ll make the assumption that we’re all using digital cameras and strobes and have been for a long time. I know for me, I have a meter, but I don’t use it!

    Regardless where I am be it in my studio, on location or some seedy tiny motel I’ve never been to before, I rely on my knowledge of my equipment that I know well and I know what to expect when I set up and set my camera to manual. It takes a single click of the shutter button to know exactly where I’m at.

    That’s just my 2 cents.

    Reply

  37. October 25, 2011 at 1:29 pm, PhillipM said:

    I’d say, more like, “learn to see and use light, and shoot it right in camera than to trash images by dumping PS all over it, for poor photography”. What a novel approach.

    Reply

  38. October 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm, PhillipM said:

    I started out using one. I still use mine 10 years later, and pretty much have a grasp on Photography. 😉

    Reply

  39. October 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm, Ron said:

    It’s really great that Lucima can set up his lighting: main, fill, back, rim, etc; plus reflectors scrims, scrams, or whatever….and then get behind his camera machine and know instinctively what aperture/shutter speed combination will produce the perfect exposure, since he has turned off the exposure meter in his camera. Just think of the time saved in only having to take ONE exposure of each pose.

    Of course, it goes without saying that he manually focuses each shot as well, otherwise he would be using that other crutch that us mediocre photogs use: autofocus. Come to think of it, aren’t all those lights crutches too? Shouldn’t we all only use whatever available light is at our disposal? And I’m sure his strobes or whatever he uses always shoot full power all the time, since having any type of “dial down” of power is yet another crutch. It is simple enough to just move the lights closer or further away to adjust lighting ratios without having to fool with all those dials…not to mention modeling lights…what a crutch THAT is! I mean, like, seeing how the light falls BEFORE you click the shutter! What a crutch.

    Isn’t using any type of mechanical/electronic tool just another crutch use to shore up our lack of skill?

    Wait, I’m sure he only shoots outdoors, since any building is just a crutch to avoid being rained on, shined on, over heated, chilled to the bone and all that sort of thing. I even hate to mention the tripod….the biggest crutch that only us bottom-rung photogs use; I’m sure he tossed that out years ago. Come to think of it, he must be using a camera obscura, since anything BEYOND that has a plethora of crutches built in.

    Reply

    • October 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm, Dod said:

      You miss his point entirely. He’s not stating that photogs shouldn’t be using any tool, but rather that using light meters to focus on numbers and ratios can restrain your creativity.

      Reply

      • October 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm, Ron said:

        I knew SOMEONE had to say I “missed the point.” Obviously, YOU missed mine.

        Reply

      • November 01, 2011 at 2:32 pm, Greg Cobb said:

        Or they can help someone be creative.

        Reply

  40. October 25, 2011 at 7:57 am, Nick said:

    You mean you don’t have assistants to meter for you?

    Reply

  41. October 25, 2011 at 6:39 am, Joseph Graf said:

    If you shoot with one light, the histogram will tell you where you need to be. But, what if I shoot with three or four or five lights? What if I want a 2:1 or a 3:1 ratio between my main and my fill.

    Sure one can dick around for 5 or 10 minutes talking a test shot, make an adjustment, rinse and repeat. Or one can meter it and be done and dead accurate in less than a minute.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Charles work and respect his opinions, but I will have to respectfully disagree on this one.

    Reply

  42. October 25, 2011 at 6:12 am, Ron said:

    I respect that Lucima took the time to share his opinion, even though I don’t even remotely agree with him. I’m a fairly intuitive photographer, and I shoot primarily on-location work. I’ve been shooting professionally for over 25 years, so I’m not a neophyte to lighting. With that said, unless one is shooting under conditions that can be replicated consistently, where you know your foundation lighting and exposure settings, going without a light meter makes no sense.

    I shoot in a world where light is constantly changing. The sun begins to set… clouds momentarily shade the sun, etc. I’m always adjusting my lighting with a meter as conditions change. Even though I can get a good sense of things from the histogram, I want to know where I am with each of my lights on a relative basis, and that my exposures are as true as I can get them in the camera.

    Unlike many on this site, I learned the foundation of my photographic knowledge in the film days, where it was very important to try and get exposures as close to perfect as possible because Photoshop wasn’t around to salvage an image in post processing. I still believe that is the best approach to photography, however I know many excellent “photographers” whose real skill is in their digital graphics abilities in Photoshop, not in the initial image capture. Regardless, I believe the use of a meter is a critical imperative to the best images.

    Reply

    • October 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm, Ron said:

      Amen! During the first 15 years of my photographic experience (medium format, 12 exposures per roll), my cameras had no built in meter and no autofocus. I used a Sekonic hand held incident meter then and still do (http://blog.sekonic.com/2009/11/16/35-years-and-counting/). While the thrust of my work was B&W, my color work was with transparencies. As all you veterans out there know, there IS no forgiveness for poorly exposed images: get it right, or get out of Dodge.

      Reply

  43. October 25, 2011 at 4:44 am, Kgphoto said:

    With all due respect, blaiming a meter for poor workmanship is sad. Whether you use your eyes or a meter, you still need situational awareness. A properly used meter just speeds up the process and insures repeatable, consistent results. And if you want to try out something wacky, it can verify that you aren’t too far out to make a printable image.

    Meters are a great tool to learn to use properly.

    Reply

  44. October 25, 2011 at 4:29 am, Moving Pictures on MM said:

    Lucima is 100% correct.

    In the bygone (nearly) era of film, you needed a light meter in order to predict what will happen to your emulsion. These days cameras have LCD displays, or you tether to computer, or you can look at on on-camera histogram, light meters are not needed. In fact, light meters are worse, because compared to the wealth of info a histogram or tethered software displays, light meters a kludge.

    Some opine that they need this light to be 1-stop great then that light and 3 stops less than a third light. That’s too mechanical for me. I look at a test shot to see what “feels” right. Photography, the old cliche goes, is painting with light; it’s art; not paint-by-numbers.

    Before anybody jumps down my throat that histograms and tethered software are a form of light metering… yes they are. Technically. But that’s not the spirit of what Lucima wrote about. His focus is on independent light meters and lighting-by-numbers.

    As for Photoshop being a crutch. Yup. So was the darkroom. Fashion photography – as that’s MM’s topic – is about perfection and reality isn’t perfection. So one way or another, you’ll be spending time in retouching. Everyone in professional fashion photography (that I know of ) does. Everyone.

    As for my work flow: I dial in the basic exposure setting, then fire off a test shot, then tweak the lights. Then shoot, then polish exposures with curves in photoshop.

    Reply

  45. October 25, 2011 at 3:18 am, Lvproimaging said:

    I too agree completely. I was shooting with an agency model yesterday and she was very surprised that I did not use one myself. I simply stated, I adjust the lighting to what looks right to me. It is positioned at 45 degrees and if the model goes up so do the lights. If I move then I adjust settings accordingly. I then referred to back to older techniques of using a string. This I do know is NOT the best situation for lighting but it works for ME. For anyone who may care to argue…see my AVI MM#1257825

    Reply

  46. October 25, 2011 at 2:17 am, Naplespho said:

    Question: If you don’t want to use the light meter and if you are not using strobes should you shoot using the camera’s light meter or manual? And if so which setting: center weighted, spot or program? I am assuming that the skin tones in the face are the most important lighting issue though this will not always be the case.

    Reply

  47. October 25, 2011 at 1:12 am, Guest said:

    It’s an aid. The same as the meter in your camera, the histogram in your camera, the histogram in PS etc.

    Use whatever you need to get it closest to perfect in camera. That’s not a crutch, that a smart photographer using his tools.

    Reply

  48. October 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm, aHUMANad said:

    I have never used a light meter, even when I was shooting 35 mm film for 20 years

    Reply

  49. October 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm, Jay Kay said:

    Completely disagree with the author. I use 4 and sometimes 5 strobes and rely on the meter to make sure my kicker and hair lights are a stop higher than my key and my fill a stop or 2 less than that. Maybe he’s exceptional with knowing exactly what power to put each one on where they relate to each other but for me and 99% of others out there, that’s impossible. I use my meter to set up a standard light scene and from there, shoot adjust the light accordingly by hand. In the studio, i’m tethered and check my exposures at that point and in the field, i check my histograms. That meter lets me set a reference from where i can go from there.

    And again, maybe the author might forget to adjust his lights as the subject or scene changes, but i am always aware of where my model is in relation to my strobes and constantly adjust. Saying a light meter is a crutch is just plain silly. What’s even sillier is seeing a photo run from strobe to strobe chimping each for 20 or 30 minutes and looking unprofessional in front of a client.

    Amateurs might rely on what Lucima is talking about but i hardly think the folks here are that unaware when they shoot.

    Reply

    • October 25, 2011 at 2:14 am, Kenneth Aston Jr said:

      Same here! I guess they let anyone post in EDU section on MM

      Reply

      • October 25, 2011 at 4:54 am, mKunert said:

        ” I guess they let anyone post in EDU section on MM”

        From such a comment, I presume you consider your photos are better than Lucima’s. I checked out both your sites. He blows you away.

        Reply

        • October 25, 2011 at 7:37 am, David Lee said:

          granted not everyone might not agree with what lucima wrote, but based on his images, he knows what he is talking about. i think Kenneth needs to maybe take one of his classes

          Reply

          • October 25, 2011 at 12:08 pm, Justin K said:

            I disagree, looking at Lucima’s portfolio only tells me that he knows how to use photoshop, and compose. But his lighting is not that special. The lighting on my portfolio is not that special either, but I don’t look at Lucima’s pictures and say wow that was amazing lighting so as far as I care Kenneth is correct, and he doesn’t have to have the most amazingly photoshoped pictures to say that.

          • October 25, 2011 at 4:45 pm, guest said:

            Mert and Marcus, the reigning fashion photographers currently, are known for their extrodinary skills at composition and photoshop, not so for their lighting.

            In either case…. One can agree or disagree with Lucima, but to make a snide, condescending remark like Kenneth did, especially when you view Kenneth’s work, is just foolish. Kennth could learn alot from Lucima.

  50. October 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm, Fred Gerhart said:

    How can a light meter be a crutch and how can you measure light changes with your eyes to within one stop?

    Reply

  51. October 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm, Albino Unicorn said:

    If I know that my light produces Light at a certain temp for a certain amount of time, why do I need to meter it?… Its going to create the lit side of my image and the shadows will produce the opposite of the light…. Putting my subject out in a sunny field will produce a huge scope of images that all read different values… the camera tells me if I am high or low while looking thru the lens… Snapping a picture lets me see the capture…. A meter wont tell me about flair, quality of rim bounce, or any other factor. The meter will only get me in the zone of the meter!

    The creative work you see doesn’t come from a meter, it comes from not trusting a meter…. Packaged lighting rules are simply packaged lighting…. Once you know them and how to create them its very easy to repeat! If you are shooting commercial products that all have to fall in spec, then yes you want to balance your work flow a little more. I do not like packaged lighting.

    What if you have four bronco’s and four profoto’s and two alien bee’s all mixed on set? Is your meter gonna get those color differences in check?

    I understand if you want a specific light to give you a specific reading, then you will tune it… if you shoot stuff that needs to keep moving, you probably wont have time for tiny lil details….

    If your intent is to shoot separate details anyway why not shoot them and then composite? That seems like a waste of time when if the image is all in the zone anyway, then dodge and burn will get you most anywhere you want to be!

    Reply

    • October 25, 2011 at 1:45 am, RiverGrizzly said:

      “If I know that my light produces Light at a certain temp for a certain amount of time, why do I need to meter it?…”

      You don’t if you never change a modifier, never change the distance of your light from the subject, don’t worry about strobes degrading with use, never have any other light sources to worry about and never change the lighting pattern

      Reply

    • October 25, 2011 at 2:28 am, Jay Kay said:

      I think you’re getting light meters confused with colorimeters. Meters measure the brightness of light whereas Colorimeters, i.e densitometers and photometers which measure color along the spectrum wavelength emitted from strobes.

      If you have broncos, profotos and ab’s, you’re going to white balance the scene to fix the color, not use your meter.

      Confused by your post…

      Reply

      • October 25, 2011 at 5:16 pm, Albino Unicorn said:

        I’m not confusing the issue… each light source produces a different color… all a light meter will do is tell you if the light falling on a subject is in a range for a particular spot within an image…. it wont tell you which creative range though!
        My point is …. photography is more than just what a meter tells you at any given point in an entire image…. .. if all you shoot is ratios then your images are just that.. ratios…!
        Nothing creative about it and you will still need to figure out how to add a blue gel or a warming gel to balance colors in an image. A statement like “getting it right in camera” makes it sound as if Your done?

        Reply

  52. October 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm, Hoff said:

    In the digital age, I think light meters are secondary in way. Every photographer has their own crutches…whether it is a pose, a special makeup artist, a style of lighting…every shoot can’t always start from complete scratch. You make decisions every step of the way. And if you are shooting digital, why not consider the post processing. This was true in the days of film, and it is true today. You shot knowing what chemicals you were going to use, or whether you were going to push or pull a film.

    I personally use a meter as a starting point, especially when I am shooting with strobes. That brightness of light is almost impossible to read with the eye. When I am shooting outside, or with hot lights, I still start with a meter to find the neighborhood I am am, and then go from there. I change setups on the fly, and let the creativity flow from there.

    No matter how you get there, a good picture is a good picture.

    Reply

  53. October 24, 2011 at 9:00 pm, 1066filmproductions said:

    Reading this I find that the writer contradicts themselves. First there is a recommendation to “ditch” the light meter. Then in the last paragraph it is stated that there is “a proper way to use your light meter”. Instead of ditching the meter would it not be an advantage to learn or be taught to use it properly.
    The article appears to be based on the use of digital imaging. What if one is engaged in large format shooting with film, as I do often on 5″x4″ or 10″x8″, without proper metering of my lighting I would be wasting a lot of very expensive film not to mention time with the result that my profit margin would be less than it is. There are many times when getting it right in camera saves time and therefore money.
    If some use it as a “crutch” then they may not have mastered to proper use of light anyway. It is a tool nothing more, all tools when used in the proper manner is what all craftsmen do.
    I have personally come across photographers who did not know how to use a meter to assess exposure or balance lighting and rely on Photoshop to correct their exposure mistakes. Therefore I consider their extensive use of Photoshop to be their “crutch”.

    Reply

  54. October 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm, Alex Lim said:

    ha, lots of anti-Anti-metering comments…

    personally, i’m inclined to agree, it’s generally a useless and possibly even inhibiting tool. most the best natural shooters i’ve ever met don’t even know how to use the things.

    i think the bottom line is doing what works best for you, instead of listening to others either way.

    there is merit in getting every fraction of a stop right, in camera. but for some individuals, it does become a crutch, or a waste of time, for something you can learn to gauge from knowing your camera, lights, and judging conditions. this idea that you can’t judge a flash? it’s not about ‘seeing’ the flash and knowing how bright it is, it’s about knowing what’s going to happen when it does flash from experience & know-how.

    further, i don’t think it’s a bad thing to adjust and tweak your values from the raw file. personally, i use elements from the raw to create an image that you wouldn’t have even been able to capture naturally in camera. luckily the technology has allowed for that post-creative freedom. of course this applies to situations where you have the time, and will, to do that kind of work, not some repetitious product shots or wedding photos, obviously.

    any case, i agree with both sides 🙂

    lucima you can give me your meter instead of putting it in the trash though, i’ll sell that sucker for some sweeeet cashola!

    Reply

    • October 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm, David said:

      “luckily the technology has allowed for that post-creative freedom. of course this applies to situations where you have the time, and will, to do that kind of work, not some repetitious product shots or wedding photos, obviously.”

      That also proves my point that some people use post-processing as their crutch, “if they have the time and will.” Just learn to meter and get it right in the camera, as opposed to having to have “the time and will” to sit on the computer for hours upon end.

      Reply

      • October 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm, Alex Lim said:

        nah you missed my point. the freedom to tweak while keeping quality isn’t a crutch, it’s a tool and asset. you say get it ‘right’, but that’s a subjective thing, based on the vision of the creator. there are images where i’ve pulled different exposures from dozens of different image elements. some might have been able to be lit that way from the get-go, some definitely could not have been. sometimes it’s the different between eyes versus face, versus hair, versus dress, when you want it all lit with the same single directional light source, for things that are mere inches apart. i think it’s a bit easier to choose from the raw, then spend a half hour setting up scrims and flags and a dozen lights (which i don’t have) to create something i can easily do in a fraction of the time, at a fraction of the cost, all while analyzing WHAT exactly what i want to do, in the comfort of my chair, on a giant vivid screen, while i have time, to generate better ideas. but that’s just ME. my point was to do whatever works best for you.

        excuse typos! 🙂

        Reply

  55. October 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm, Ted said:

    “….We think we can shoot hundreds of frames and the light settings will stay the same….” I am by no means a lighting guru. I shot exactly as you spelled out in the article. I flooded my studio with light and shot for two hours non-stop. all my work looked the same. I have never used a light meter. I had a friend introduce me to photography. He used a meter part of the time, most of the time he did not. His work is exceptional–I met him at an art gallery where his work was displayed and sold.

    Reply

  56. October 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm, deaftoneimaging.net said:

    I prefer metering when opportune. There are times when not able, and such. As for it being a crutch…. not so sure. Someone sticking to certain adapters like beauty dishes may also be viewed as a crutch considering how much light it throws out. But that would be another post….

    Reply

  57. October 24, 2011 at 8:39 pm, Timothy said:

    With hots lights, I totally agree. But with strobes, you can’t see the light long enough to judge it, so I just don’t understand how you’re supposed eyeball strobes (modelling lamps don’t really help for exposure). The little camera LCD can help a little I guess, but given its small size and the jpeg/curve that’s applied by the camera, is that accurate enough?

    Reply

    • October 24, 2011 at 9:11 pm, Albino Unicorn said:

      Its not about eyeballing the light its about know what your light is capable of doing at a certain distance from the subject…. Turn it on and fire a shot… look at the histogram.. If you are tethered you should be able to see if a light is to hot or cold and bright or dim.. Numbers are just another way of following someones chart… the best light is not charted but crafted! Its much harder for others to mimic exact falloff!

      Reply

  58. October 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm, Tensilverdollars said:

    I have always used some type of meter. No matter how complex or simple the lighting may be. But, I still shoot a test shot to see if it is exactly what I wanted.

    Reply

  59. October 24, 2011 at 6:47 pm, Anonymous said:

    Strobes, tungsten, and CFL all diminish on output over time. Not metering and checking the health of your lighting is asking for disaster. Not to mention working outside which is always changing.

    Reply

    • October 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm, Raw and the cooked said:

      Back in the day,shooting tranny, we used to meter,polaroid, and clip test, and push or pull in development,Of course retouching was someone elses job! Meters are only a starting point.But a good one!

      Reply

  60. October 24, 2011 at 6:40 pm, Ajscalzitti said:

    Seriously, I understand your point about seeing the light but our eyes are not are cameras and unless people become very well versed in it we will continue to see incorrect exposure run rampant if they read this nonsense.

    Reply

  61. October 24, 2011 at 6:21 pm, Albino Unicorn said:

    Light meters are a great tool but painting with light doesn’t require that it be metered. i find that it is useful for commercial spec and tech work… everything else gets wasted once the flashes start recycling anyway. Intuitively getting into the zone creates a much stronger and more natural environment.

    Metering bounced light outdoors is awkward but gives your staff something to do while waiting to shoot!

    Reply

    • October 25, 2011 at 3:20 pm, Dave said:

      I use a complex studio lighting system…searching for that exciting studio shot, and I have considered whether I should establish the exposures with a light meter or adjust by trial and error (as digital affords us). I can’t yet decide. But, setting desired exposure for the accent, edge strip or kicker lights and then adding main and fills seems to have some merit. In other words, one can use visual confirmation for exposure…but add the lights one at a time. If there is a better way WITHOUT using a light meter I’m all ears.

      Reply

    • November 03, 2011 at 12:46 am, LIGHT METERS ALL DAY said:

      “Light meters are a great tool but painting with light doesn’t require that it be metered. ”

      What are you talking about? Everything that has a photon of light omitting from it can be metered, especially things you are able to hold in your hand like a flashlight. If I paint with light, with gels, you better BET I am going to meter my reading. Why do I want to waste film or put more clicks on to my camera for NO good reason?

      Reply

  62. October 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm, David said:

    People don’t use a light meter because they use Photo Shop as a crutch. I think using a light meter is the only accurate way to measure light. You can’t measure light with your eyeballs. You can’t get an exact exposure without some form (a meter) of measuring light.

    Without a meter you’re guessing, and you’re using Photo Shop as your crutch to fix the exposure.

    Use a meter and get the lighting right IN the camera, and stay OFF the computer longer!

    Reply

    • October 24, 2011 at 6:14 pm, John said:

      Well put David. Obviously there are times when you can’t meter a scene (i.e. the other side of the Grand Canyon and have a Sekonic L-500 series with laser), but nothing beats a balanced exposure and knowing you got it right in camera.

      Reply

      • October 24, 2011 at 11:07 pm, Fred Gerhart said:

        John, you are 100% spot on with your assessment and your advice of getting the shot right in camera and ignoring the computer. It would be very interesting to see all the “great” work without the benefit of being able to correct mistakes in photoshop.

        Reply

      • October 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm, Sdwphoto said:

        Actualy,you can meter the other side of the Grand Canyon.The same sunlight that falls on your side falls on the other side,just have to know how to use the meter to do it.
        I think the author is confusing knowing how to use a meter with being able to interpert and manipulate those pesky numbers it gives you.Adams Zone system was great at teaching that ,it also taught how to use your creative side instead of being a slave to the meter,it’s just a tool and like any tool you have to know how it works to get the best results.
        I would not recommend giveing up using a meter to anyone who wants tobe serious about photography.

        Reply

    • November 02, 2011 at 6:58 am, Facebook User said:

      @David

      You indeed can measure light with your eyeballs. My photography teacher at the university was a “walking lightmeter”… he was able to tell you exactly the light value of any point in the scene just by looking at it. At first we thought he was joking, but when we saw him measuring with a lightmeter and missing his eye measures (very few occasions by f/0,2-0,1), we understood that he was an incredibly experienced photographer and really could eyeball measure any given light. Maybe Lucima has also reached this point?

      Reply

      • November 03, 2011 at 12:48 am, LIGHT METERS ALL DAY said:

        If Lucima has reached this point it is really bad advice to be giving to novice users. I had a professor the same way (maybe we have the same one?) and I have seen him pick one up on a few occasions – especially with gels, at sunset and with mixed lighting.

        Reply

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