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Photography Question 
Christopher M. Massey

Indoor Exposure and Faulty Light Meters

A few days ago, I was attempting to photograph a ceremony at a nearby Benedictine monastery. Not wanting to disrupt the proceedings with a flash, I bought fast film. I was first using a color Fuji 1600 ISO. The inside of the sanctuary was fairly well lit. Now, being fairly new to photography (having acquired my first SLR camera 5 months ago--a Ricoh XR-X 3000) I was using the auto-exposure setting. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I should have had an easy time with exposure (using such a fast film)--yet my through-the-lens metering system kept setting the shutter speed extremely slow (e.g., L32). So, I'm assuming that there is a problem with my light meter. Yet, I don't know enough about these sort of things to calculate the exposure in my head. With this in mind...

1) How does the Sunny f/16 rule translate into indoor photography? I've searched online, but the info I've found only speaks in terms of Sunny, partly cloudy, overcast and the like. How do lighting situations from 'fairly bright indoors' to 'single light from a 60w desk lamp' figure into the sunny f/16 rule?

2) Is there any way to get my through-lens light meter fixed? I found a site that discussed manually entering the ISO to fool the light meter (calibrating it on a sunny day at F/16), but my camera only allows me to do that up to 6400...which apparently isn't enough when dealing with fast films like the 1600 and the 3200 b+w I'm playing with now.

Or am I not correct in thinking that there is no way a 3200 film should be so completely off the scale (on the underexposed side) in a well lit indoor setting?

Thanks in advance for the help! --Chris

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5/14/2001 2:50:21 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   1. Don't worry too much about the Sunny 16 rule. It's nice to know but if you have a meter and know how to use it there's no need to use Sunny 16.

2. You can get your meter fixed but I suspect this has nothing to do with your meter. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that a person who only bought their first SLR 5 months ago may be having a difficult time metering correctly. What exactly did you meter? Or did you meter anything specific at all?

A novice's idea of a well lit interior and an experinced photographer's definition may be mile (f-stops) apart. 1600 speed film sounds fast (and is) but we are only talking about 2 stops of exposure from 400 speed film. I seriously doubt its your meter, unless its a very old camera. I suspect you just need to learn what to meter. Simply pointing your camera at the scene isn't always going to work.

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5/14/2001 3:40:55 PM

Christopher M. Massey   Jeff--

Thanks for the quick response! I'll answer your questions/comments in order.

1) I hadn't been worried about the sunny 16 rule until I began to doubt my meter. In any case, I approach any study with an analytic and systematic eye--and I would like to reach the point of knowing immediately and innately the correct settings for any lighting situation. For me, that means setting up some basic quidelines I can study, then adapt to exceptions which pop up. So, I'm trying to establish a chart based on the sunny 16 rule, but including indoor situations as well.

2) In the sanctuary, I spot metered off a friends gray purse, holding it up and shifting directions to catch the light. I didn't have my gray card with me at the time, but her purse fairly approximated the color. Then, for comparison, I spot metered off the most well lit part of the wall. All the overheads were on (20 large instruments in all), plus a variety of other accent lights thrown on stained glass and various statues. The wall was painted a very light cream, so it reflected well.

I'm fairly certain it's a difficulty with the meter...I've been testing it over the last few days. Right now I have 3200 b+w film in it...I took it outside at about 3 pm, on a bright, barely cloudy day, and metered off a medium/dark gray t-shirt (I can't seem to find my gray card. Grr.). Still the meter read so underexposed it didn't even register on it. And this is with the aperture full open (3.9 on this lens).

Is it possible that the meter only has problems with faster speed film? I haven't had a problem with slower speeds...except for my first couple rolls of film (before I figured out the meter), I've had nothing but fairly well exposed shots, using everything from 100 to 800. It wasn't until I worked with the 1600 and the 3200 that it got screwy.

Again, thanks!

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5/14/2001 4:56:18 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
If I understand your question and what L32 means it sounds about right to me. ISO 1600 is only four stops faster than ISO 100.

There is no direct translation of the "sunny 16" rule for available light at night or indoors, but there are a series of guidlines. As a sanity check on metering I use the Kodak Master Photoguide Existing Light section which covers a range of 12 EV (stops) from skylines just after sunset to fireworks and lightning to dark colored lights on Niagra Falls.

From the Kodak Master Photoguide Existing Light section:
"F. Home interiors at night - areas with average light; school stage and auditorium; church interiors - tungsten light; subjects lighted by campfires and bonfires." [campfires are brighter than most think they are]: For ISO 1600 it shows 1/30th second @ f/4. For brighter areas of a church interior, 1/60th @ f/4 would work.

This also matches what I've used on tripod at the back of several churches during weddings using ISO 400 film: 1/15th @ f/2.8 and sometimes 1/30th @ f/2.8 if the altar area is brightly lit. Translated two stops to your ISO 1600 film gives 1/30th @ f/4 also.

-- John

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5/14/2001 7:00:37 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Oops, I'm showing my age . . . or at least how long I've been into photography. The "Kodak Master Photoguide" is its old title. It is now called the "Kodak Pocket Photoguide" and is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. At less than $15 I keep one of these in _every_ camera bag. Unless you need current film data, which is only a couple pages, the rest (about 95%) is timeless.

There is also a more comprehensive "Kodak Professional Photoguide" which is a little bigger in size, has many more pages (with some truly esoteric info) and a gray card (with white on its reverse side).

-- John

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5/14/2001 7:05:59 PM

Christopher M. Massey   John,

Thank you! Now, lemme I get this wonderful reference at any good camera store or do I have to get it from Kodak directly? Also, I think there's a misunderstanding. The L32 setting is the slowest shutter speed the camera will do (not including 'bulb'). It opens the shutter for 32 seconds, not 1/32 of a second. To me, that seems a little long for the film speed and lighting conditions.... Am I wrong? If so, I guess I'll find out when I get the prints back....

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5/15/2001 12:07:54 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy   Hmmm, well your metering procedure seems sound unless you were using the readings you were taking off of the well lit wall. That could cause underexposed shots. I would definitely take your camera in to a repair shop and have the meter tested so you will know for sure.

As far as exposure guides go you might look for a Black Cat exposure guide (I think that's what its called). I've heard they are very complete and I've seen them at B&H's website.

Good luck.

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5/15/2001 2:15:29 AM

Christopher M. Massey   Thanks. :)

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5/16/2001 12:20:59 AM

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