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Photography Question 
Karen Lewis-Gunn
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/2/2003

Hand Held Light Meters

Can someone enlighten me as to how a hand held light meter works? Is it use independantley of the camera? Do you point it at the subject that you want exposed correctly or is it more general?
I use a pentax K1000 camera. What price would I expect to pay for one of these? I'm on a tight budget. Thanks.

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6/17/2003 8:48:55 PM

Maynard  McKillen   Dear Karen:
Big subject, broad guidelines follow: Light meters range from under $100.00 to over $800.00. Handheld meters are designed to measure either incident light, reflected light (More expensive models measure both.) or the color temperature of light. My guess is you're not yet concerned with measuring that last property.

Reflective meters are pointed at the subject, and measure the amount of light REFLECTED from same. The meter built into your K1000 is a reflective light meter. Often people eager to purchase a hand held meter are looking for one that measures incident light.

To use an incident meter, you stand where the subject is and point the meter back toward the camera. You are measuring the amount of light falling on the subject, rather than the amount of light reflected from the subject. One distinctive feature of the incident meter is the white translucent dome that attaches or slides over the meter's photocell.

Why use one or the other?
Reflective meters, especially if they have a spot metering function, which allows them to read the brightness of specific areas of an image, can be used to measure the range of brightness in a subject. (How much difference, often measured in f/stops, is there between the brightest and darkest areas of a subject?) Photographers who use the Zone System typically use reflective meters for just this reason. Your K1000 does not have the spot metering function, just a center-weighted averaging meter, which is, frequently, accurate enough.

If reflective meters have a drawback, or at least something to be wary of, it is that they can be fooled by subjects that are predominantly dark or light. (Reflective meters tend to recommend settings that overexpose dark subjects, and settings that underexpose light subjects.)

Incident meters, since they do not measure reflected light, will not be affected by such subjects. If incident meters have a drawback, it is that you do not always have the luxury of being able to stand where the subject is to take an incident meter reading. (Imagine photographing a gymnastics meet or a rodeo. Chances are slim that you'll be allowed to stand where the action is...)

If a tight budget is muscling in on your creative freedom, and your K1000 meter is working correctly, you might try using the camera meter along with an 18% gray card. The card is touted as having "average" reflectance, so you put it where the subject is, move in close to your subject, point your camera at the card and take a meter reading. If the card takes up the majority of the image as you look through the viewfinder, you will get an accurate meter reading and correct exposures of the subject after you remove the card, even if the subject is very dark or very light.

Sites to visit for more info:

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6/18/2003 7:37:37 PM

Karen Lewis-Gunn
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/2/2003
  Maynard, THANK YOU !!!
Your response was extremely detailed and very helpful. You have answered all of my questions! Thank you!

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6/19/2003 2:05:05 AM

Karen Lewis-Gunn
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/2/2003
  Maynard, THANK YOU !!!
Your response was extremely detailed and very helpful. You have answered all of my questions! Thankyou!

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6/19/2003 2:05:08 AM

Sreedevi Swaminathan   Another little tip.
Usually, the best type of shots for wanting to take a reflective reading would be broad shots, like landscapes, scenics. It will give you an average reading since it's impossible to get all the shades and highlights of that situation. For dramatic shots, like a sunset where the foreground may be considerably darker than the skyline, I find it works best also, because it'll basically meter for the highlights, and they won't get washed out. You can always dodge the foreground in printing.

Incident meters I find work best when you have a very specific subject, or object, like for portraiture or still life- especially if you're using more dramatic lighting so you can try setting your highlight and shadow areas so there maybe a stop apart- which allows for better printing. But after setting up lighting, I'll generally take a reflected reading as well as incident readings all around the subject and just average those.

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6/29/2003 3:00:13 PM

Larry T. Miller   Karen;
If you're on a tight budget, you may consider purchasing a Weston Master series meter. Myabe one of the later meters. (Master V, Euromasters). Their accurate regarding incident readings.

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9/29/2003 9:39:10 AM

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