Tuesday, August 30, 2011
My Official Stance on Light Meters
Screen capture from Forrest Gump. Forrest as a boy wearing leg braces to correct his crooked spine.
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.
And then 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 I've been 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. It'll just spit 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 therefore dynamic. We think we can shoot hundreds of frames and the light settings will stay the same. And then 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 of the set, I'm all over the place. Without my light meter, I'd be forced to assess the exposure evenness in the beginning and then also be forced to compare that first frame to the subsequent frames much later. Without a light meter I would be more vigilant about my exposure. Without a light meter my situational awareness would be much sharper.
Yes there's a proper way to use your light meter. The problem is that 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. And like Forrest, we must ditch the leg braces before we can learn how to run. And then run we shall.