Friday, August 27, 2004

Meter the light

Guest artist Christopher Phong Vo rehearses for TITAS' Command Performance of International Ballet at the Fair Park Music Hall on Friday, March 26, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

There are several milestones in each PJ's journey. The first is to get a proper exposure on film. The second is to learn sharp focus. Then comes an appreciation of light. As long as the PJ lets light control her/him, the journey is still arduous. When the PJ learns to control light, the journey becomes much easier and fruitful.

I don't expect anyone to buy a camera and immediately start working with power packs and luminosity guide numbers. There are reasonable steps to controlling light.

The first step is to understand how to meter light. Yesterday, we discussed how light meters work. Today, I could go into lumens, lux and light theory, but it would scare a lot of folks. So, we'll handle this like a bumper car drivers' manual rather than "how to maintain a Ferrari."

Get a meter
The first step to controlling light is to get accurate light information. A good light meter is probably the best investment a PJ ever makes. Without positively knowing how much light is falling on a subject, the PJ is simply guessing or hoping the camera algorithm is really good.

Light meters range from about $60 to well over $2,000. The lower end of the price spectrum normally is an analog reflective light meter. The top-end meters measure color temperatures in Kelvin degrees, absolute chromaticity values and illuminance of light sources (transmissive) and display areas (reflective).

Each meter has an intended consumer. PJs need to know more than how much light is reflected from a surface. Likewise, PJs don't typically need to know all the minutia of light. Instead, PJs should invest in a good digital flash meter. The meter I use measures ambient light and reflected light from both constant and pulse (flash) light sources. It costs around $180 bucks.

It only gives me the correct metering for the amount of light. I must color correct by aquired knowledge or afterward in Photoshop. Studio shooters and technophiles might want to cough up $600 or more for a digital color flash meter. It's on my wish list, but I can't justify the cost to myself yet.

The meter is typically packaged with a lanyard and carrying case. I strongly suggest looping the lanyard through a photo bag handle or vest ring and attaching it back to the case. The meter can be used and dropped quickly without damaging the meter. It also makes it difficult to lose the meter.

Enough for now,

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