How To Use A Light Meter For Photography

Last Updated on March 21, 2021

Are you looking for an easy to follow explanation for using a light meter?

Whether you shoot landscape, portrait, or still life photography, in this article you will learn how to use your light meter for the best image quality possible.

How to Use A Handheld Light Meter for Landscape Photography

Incident Light Meter Reading

When shooting landscape photography all that is needed to achieve perfect exposure is an incident light meter. When using your meter, simply hold it out in front of your camera. This will allow the same light to of your intended scene to hit the lumisphere. Once held in place just press the meter button. The reading displayed on your light meter is what you set your aperture and shutter speed to. This will ensure accurate exposure for your landscape photography.

When using a light meter for landscape shots you must ensure that the sun is not shining directly into the lumisphere. This can lead to underexposure due to too much light being taken in by the meter.

If shooting into the sun, underexposure can be avoided by pointing the white dome of the meter partially in your shadow.

Landscape photography allows more latitude in meter placement, therefore moving the meter around within the scene and out of the direct sunlight will ensure proper exposure. This will help you capture more detail in your images.

man on hiking trail in mountains taking a picture

Reflective Spot Light Meter Reading

Multiple readings will need to be taken when using a reflective spot meter in landscape photography. These readings should be taken at different points within your scene and should include the most important areas such as where the dark shadows are present. Also take readings on the brightest areas and the areas with lighting in the middle of these two points.

Once each of these readings are captured you will hit the average button and your meter will provide you with the best exposure settings for the scene. This is an excellent technique to know as it will help you quickly get your settings properly adjusted for those challenging lighting situations.

When first learning this technique you should complete the entire process multiple times capturing the same scene while using different meter captures. This will help you quickly learn to identify the areas of your scene most important to read for proper exposure.

mountain in  background of tree lined foreground

How to Use a Hand Held Light Meter for Portrait Photography

Incident Light Meter Reading

As a portrait photographer there are few tools more important than the incident light meter. They will allow you to capture accurate light readings quickly and consistently. To get an accurate reading, simply hold your meter just in front of your subject oriented so the lumisphere is pointing toward your camera. Then press the measure button and you have a reading of exactly how the light is falling on your subjects face.

Many portrait photographers prefer a slightly overexposed image and to do this simply overexpose your settings by a single step.

smiling woman

Reflective Spot Light Meter Reading

When using a reflective spot light for portrait photography you will need to take multiple readings from the most important points of your portrait scene.

You will first want to capture readings of your subjects face. Take readings at their hair, clothing and any shadows within the scene. These readings should all be saved within your meter’s memory. Do this by hitting the memory button after taking each reading. Once all key points in your scene have been captured and saved to memory you will hit the average button. This will provide you with the best settings for optimal exposure.

short haired woman

How to Use a Hand Held Light Meter for Still Life and Product Photography

Incident Light Meter Reading

When shooting product and still life photography an incident light meter is a must. This will allow you to accurately and quickly capture the ideal exposure settings for your scene. To get accurate readings you will hold your meter directly in front of your subject with the lumisphere oriented so it is facing toward your camera. Then press the measaure button to capture your reading.

No matter how your lighting is setup, this will offer the exact exposure settings you need to capture professional quality images. If you find though that you wish for a lighter or darker exposure for a particular subject just adjust the exposure settings one step up or down.

closeup of eggs, toast and coffee

Reflective Spot Light Meter Reading

When taking still life or product photography images with a reflective spot light meter, you will need to take multiple readings of your scene. You will need to capture readings of the most important areas of the scene, which includes the darkest, brightest and middle lighting areas. After each reading is captured you will save the reading to your meter’s memory by hitting the memory button. Once all of your readings have been captured and saved you will hit the average button to get your exposure reading. Adjust your aperture and shutter speed to these values and your are ready to take your images.

closeup of guitar

While many cameras have built in light meters, there is no comparison with the performance you will get with a dedicated external light meter. They will offer you the best information and quick and consistent readings. Handheld meters are indispensable for the landscape, portrait, and product and still life photographers. They are relatively low cost investments and not difficult to use so there is no reason not to use one. Your exposure will be on the money and you will achieve higher image quality with a handheld meter.

Do You Need A Light Meter For Photography?

While most modern DSLR cameras offer built in metering, they do not perform as well as a modern external light meter. A handheld meter will provide highly accurate readings consistently and quickly allowing you to capture higher quality images more consistently. A meter will also help you set your exposure settings faster meaning you will spend less time fiddling with your shutter speed and aperture.

Why Do Photographers Use A Light Meter?

Photographers who are serious about their image quality will use a light meter. They allow them to set their camera’s exposure settings to the optimal settings for the lighting in their scene. This will improve image quality and allow them to shoot more shots in less time while spending significantly less time adjusting settings.

How Does a Light Meter Work in Photography?

When using a incident light meter, a reading of medium tone will be captured as a medium tone. When using a reflected light meter, all recorded readings will be read as a medium tone. These readings are performed by making calculations based on the information captured by the light meter. Light meters are calibrated and these calculations are based on that calibration in addition to digital image conversion. The light meters calibration is what establishes the subject lighting and camera settings relationship.

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