Monday, August 15, 2011

To Meter or Not to Meter . . .

Oh, how I love Facebook groups. They have become a great place to share, network and socialize with other people who have similar interests. They can certainly be a source of entertainment. On occasion, they also become the source of material for debates.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good back-and-forth as much as anyone. I don't enjoy, however, when these take place in an environment where someone is soliciting advice and the people giving said advice are leading in the wrong direction.

A recent example is a discussion surrounding the use of a light meter; a number of folks felt that it is a necessary piece of equipment, while others deemed it outdated and not relevant. One commenter even went as far as suggesting that "there are loads of awesome photographers . . . that don't use a light meter." Really? I suppose if you want to get out your calculators and determine your exposure based on a guide number and distance, that's up to you. If you're one of those who just "guess and go", so be it. To me, however, the light meter is an essential tool in my everyday work; one that I'd feel very uncomfortable without. I'm also guessing that even though many of the other "awesome photographers" know their setup and equipment well enough and could probably get by without one, most of them still use a meter to determine their initial exposures and settings.

Am I just old-fashioned? Maybe it's the fact that I date back to the Collodion Wet Plate Process (okay, back to film days, anyway) and I constantly had a Gossen Luna Pro around my neck for ambient light and another flash meter in the studio. I just never photographed without checking exposure.

I realize that today's cameras have a lot of this "built-in", but until I find a system that's 100% infallible, I'm gonna keep my trusty Sekonic L-358 strapped to my hip. It takes seconds for me to pull it out, check exposure and photograph a target for WB purposes, allowing me to concentrate on my subject rather than hope I'm not in a position where the in-camera metering gets fooled. (But that never happens, does it?)

Besides, I honestly believe it gives me a more professional appearance than someone who's just happy-snapping with their DSLR. (Don't believe me? A few weeks ago I had a client who was coming to me after an unsuccessful visit with a "faux-tographer" who gave them disappointing results from a senior portrait session. The mom and girl both commented that "the other photographer never used one of these." I explained that it's just a part of the set of tools I need to do the job well and create awesome images. During the viewing as they were oooohing and ahhhhing over the finished images, mom asked "Why don't all photographers own the right equipment to do the job?"

A necessary tool? I think so.
- David Grupa 

(Check out for some great tutorial videos on creating better portraits and why a light meter is crucial to the process!)


  1. Interesting that you post this, but do not discuss WHY a light meter is so important, and more importantly, the proper way to use it? Perhaps in a future post, yes? If we can help change even one fauxtographers mindset, we are moving in the right direction. Thanks for the post!

    You date back to the wet-plate process? I LOVE the wet-plate process. Can't do it, but love it nonetheless.

  2. I saw the thread on FB ... I don't know why I don't speak up David. Seems so futile to express facts as to why getting right in-camera in the first place is far superior than the spray and pray method. Having forgotten my meter once on a remote shoot outside the studio a sense of panic set in. In combination with my meter I use a DCT and color checker ... but felt like a complete unprofessional as I guessed at a place to start and proceeded to the fine tuning from there. Got the job done - and the clients were probably non-the-wiser ... but I was.