Luminous Landscape Forum

Equipment & Techniques => Cameras, Lenses and Shooting gear => Topic started by: u2jimbo on August 30, 2012, 12:51:38 pm

Title: All other things being equal...
Post by: u2jimbo on August 30, 2012, 12:51:38 pm
would my landscape photography be improved by using a handheld light meter that allows 1 degree spot readings and incident readings vs relying solely on the metering capabilities of my 5DmkII?

I shoot Raw mostly in manual mode and use the histogram preview to help me find the ETTL setting that goes with the DoF I am trying to achieve.  Having read numerous references to the fact that the histogram is representative of a jpeg of the image I am composing, I am wondering if a material benefit to my exposures could result from using a light meter (such as the Sekonic 758).

On top of that, I find stooping over (I'm retired) and previewing the LCD with my Hoodman gets tiring and imagine a light meter allowing a more upright and comfortable process of setting up my shots.

If your opinion is in the affirmative, then any other light meter recommendations providing these capabilities would also be appreciated.

I will be spending 4 weeks in October / November on a photo safari of the American Southwest - I would like to ensure I maximize my odds for memorable, well exposed images.

Thanks for your help!

Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: TMARK on August 30, 2012, 01:11:46 pm
If you want to learn about light and how it behaves, a light meter is key.  For ambient I use the camera's meter along with educated guesses of teh brightness range of the scene.  For studio work I always start with the meter, adjust lights.  Meter again.  Do some grip work.  Meter again.  Set the camera, shoot tethered and make adjustments from there.
Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: MatthewCromer on August 30, 2012, 02:45:43 pm
Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: Petrus on August 30, 2012, 03:24:31 pm
The easiest and cheapest method, if you are unsure about the exact exposure, is to bracket your shots. But, with a decent histogram, you seldom need even that. As a matter of fact, after starting to use digital cameras in 2002 (Canon EOS-1D), I have never used my light meter (Minolta Autometer 4F), or Polaroid backs. Just shoot a picture (guess the f-stop if using studio flash) and check what it looks like, and check the histogram, redo if necessary. Faster and more accurate than spot meters and costs nothing.
Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: Tony Jay on August 30, 2012, 06:32:43 pm
Jim for your purposes you shouldn't need a standalone lightmeter.

You are correct in your post that the preview may not accurately reflect either what the RAW file has captured or what highlights are recoverable in ACR, Lr or whatever you use for RAW conversion.

Practice is the key here. Use the preview histogram as a guide to an adequate ETTR and then bracket around that exposure. Then go home and play in the RAW converter and see what ends up being recoverable. Do this a few times before your trip and you will rapidly figure out how many stops it is possible to push exposure past what the preview histogram tells you is the limit for an ETTR. This is not purely a numbers game - settle for what you feel gives you the best result aesthetically in RAW conversion.

I am currently in the process of doing this with my 5D III and as yet I have not shot enough with the camera to be fully sure of its capabilities.

BTW I use the camera's own spot metering ability to spot meter the brightest and darkest parts of my scene sometimes to help in the process described above.


Tony Jay
Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: u2jimbo on August 30, 2012, 09:06:30 pm
Thanks for each of your responses.  In my desire to maximize the number of quality images I am able to create on our trip, I have been reviewing my equipment and processes.  I somehow got sucked into watching an interesting webinar describing the benefits of light meters (its amazing how quickly I can find myself off-task when researching stuff on the web...).  Clearly it was a promo, but it was also informative.  Since I have never used a light meter outside of my camera and I have some insecurity regarding the robustness of my exposure set-up process, I wondered if a light meter might be part of a 'best practices' track.  Given the webinar was essentially an advertisement, I felt I needed some non-commercial validation.

I am going to pass on the light meter.

My current practice does include bracketing - and it does work for me.  I wasn't sure if it would be considered 'best practice', either.  I'm happy it seems to be.  With regard to your comment, Tony, regarding using the in-camera spot meter to measure the highs and lows - this was a central feature / benefit of the handheld light meter using its 1 degree spot (my 5DmkII has a 3.5 degree spot).  I tried to perform this in-camera function today for practice, since it seemed like a good way to fit the image into the dynamic range of the camera.  I found I was uncertain about how to lock-in the highlight reading, then recompose the shot.  I think, from reading the manual, I press the * button, but I have no confidence I am doing this correctly.  I will keep trying.

So, at the end of the day, I am left richer and wiser!  Pretty good day.  Thanks

Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: JeanMichel on August 31, 2012, 09:43:42 am
It is true that a handheld light meter is no longer a required piece of equipment -- I still have my first light meter on a display shelf, a Sekonic selenium meter from the late 50's, no batteries needed! In-camera meters are very convenient and very accurate in their own 'minds'. My first in-camera meter was the one in the Leica M6, it is accurate enough when measuring the roughly centre of the view. That was convenient but not as informative as the scale on the dial of my Lunasix: it is like the difference between a digital and analog watch, one gives you a single precise number, the other offers you a wider visual array of information to help make a decision. A glance at the dial told me all the combinations of f/stop and shutter time for a given reading, letting me decide which one I wanted to use this time.

Using a handheld light meter -- especially a reflective one rather than incident -- will teach you a lot about light values. You learn, after a while, that "for this scene, at this ISO I will use this f/stop at this shutter speed" based on readings you have done just a while ago, or for a typical lighting situation. Even today, with wonderful in-camera meters, instinctively knowing what exposure ought to be acts as a verification of the camera's reading.

In my studio I rely on a flashmeter every time. In my exhibition documentation work I use an incident meter both to meter the exposure but also to gauge what supplementary lighting to the gallery lighting may be needed.

So, you do not need a hand held meter, nor do you always need a tripod. But using one will teach you an awful lot. A final piece of advice: find a copy of Adam's The Negative, or Minor White's The Zone System, not to use for digital, but as a foundation to recognizing exposure values.


Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: u2jimbo on August 31, 2012, 02:06:46 pm
Thank-you for your very insightful response.  I don't have Adam's book.  I will make a point of acquiring it.  I did just acquire Michael Frye's book: Digital Landscape Photography.  He discusses Adam's Zone System as applied to color landscape photography.  I was very attracted to the concept he tried to convey about fitting the scene to the dynamic range of the camera and how the zone system could be a valuable tool in that pursuit.

In fact, it was one of those "Ah Ha" moments when a previously abstract set of concepts I have been struggling to internalize clicked into conceptual understanding.  I think the zone system may be my key to learning how to translate the available light into the range that can be recorded by my camera.  It was a thrilling moment.  I will need a lot of practice, but yesterday when I went out to tune my hyperfocal technique, I found myself trying to pick out the lightest and darkest spots in the image.  This had another benefit, it focused my attention more precisely on my composition so that I knew what lights and darks were in or out.
Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: bretedge on September 01, 2012, 11:02:12 pm
I used a handheld spotmeter when I shot film and it was an invaluable piece of equipment.  I moved to digital in 2005 and am currently using the Canon 5D Mk II - without a handheld light meter.  I now rely solely on the histogram to determine proper exposure.  I do subscribe to the ETTR theory of photography.  Relying on the histogram while exposing to the right results in the optimal exposure about 99% of the time, in my experience.  And, it's one less piece of gear to carry around in the field!

Have a great time on your southwest trip.  I live in Moab, Utah.  Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you when you're in the area.
Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: Steve Weldon on September 02, 2012, 02:23:47 am
Yes.  No.

Jim -  The differences in light measuring ability between your 5d2, a light meter, or even your iPhone.. for the purposes of landscape photography.. are so close that what really matters is you:

1.  Choose one
2.  Learn HOW it works
3.  Understand HOW different  light scenarios produce different readings
4.  Practice with it.   Practice with it.  Practice with it. 

Consistency is key and 1-4 above results in consistency.  Especially #4.

A histogram, spot metering, etc.. help you become consistent, to the margins of error inherent in that device, faster.    But if you don't learn how it works, how it produces different readings for your style of photography, and if you don't practice with it over and over and over again.. then you won't reach that next level of consistency.

After holding many photography workshops I've come to realize the most common question a student wants the answer to.  It's not about equipment, or focal lengths, or anything to do with what you'd think.  The number one question is how to achieve great results without putting in the hours of practice.  And most of the time they don't realize they're asking this question.

There is a tendency to think that because anyone can "turn on" a camera and make captures with it.. that it must be easy.  This is one reason we have so many self-taught bargain-rate wedding and portrait photographers out there.  Virtually anyone can pick up a modern camera and with enough captured frames can come up with something resembling a wedding.   So to earn extra bucks or whatever they become instant wedding photographers.. they think it's the easiest type of photography accomplished by anyone with a green box on their program mode dial.  I might take some flak for this, but I personally think weddings are the most difficult type of photography I know of.   Wedding are when all your exposure skills come into play ( you can never tell what light/direction/etc you'll get), your lighting skills (again, you can never tell what you'll need so you'd better be prepared and accomplished with many types/styles), focusing (often fast moving), low light (often many low light elements), portrait skills (oodles of portraits with all the factors above), timing, organization, and of course people skills.. The better you are at all these things, the better your weddings will be overall.  But the way to get better at all these skills?  Practice them.  And then practice some more.  Then do it again.

You're already on the right track.  You're scheduled to go out and shoot.  You're putting yourself behind the camera aiming at landscapes.  And you're learning your gear.

Have a great time on your trip.
Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: Tony Jay on September 03, 2012, 01:06:55 am
All excellent advice!


Tony Jay
Title: Re: All other things being equal...
Post by: u2jimbo on September 04, 2012, 12:59:22 am

Thanks for your comments and your offer of assistance.
This trip will be keeping us south of the Moab area.  We will be coming to your neck of the woods on a future trip, however.

Out loop is Mono Lake, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce, Page, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Sedona, South Rim GC, Home - exhausted but with months of pixel peeping to keep me remembering!