Perfect exposure? a light meter will help?
I am looking to know what can help me get the best exposure the first time, or to know how to judge in the histogram whether or not it looks good..

I screwed up a lot of photos a couple of weeks back with over exposure which all looked great in the LCD. In my table top studio I remember most settings to get a great shot through trial and error. I can't do it in real life though. So can anyone recommend a light meter for a beginner? IS the light read from ambient light mostly? Or do I meter the light on the persons face which might make them feel slightly uncomfortable? Can the light meter tell me the light temperature to make WB easy? Does it give a recommendation on iso?.

How do I use a histogram to tell if it is right?..

Comments (12)

A histogram shows the light from the most dark on the left to the most bright on the right..

In a perfect world, you try to get the curve to be at the bottom at both sides and curve up towards the middle. What you want to avoid is to have either side of the curve hit the left or right above the bottom. These are blown shadows or highlights and are not recoverable in post..

Here is a gadient and below that is a simulated histogram of what a good exposure of that gradient would look like..

Now, if you took an image that had unrecoverable blow highlights, it might look like this. Notice the bright side is above the bottom on the right side of the histogram..

Notice that the shadows are ok. Even though they are high, they hit the left side before the bottom. They can be recovered if you wish..

I don't believe you need a hand held light meter. Depending on your camera, you've got a good meter if you learn to use it. Put your camera on manual and meter various objects in a scene. Note the settings. If you understand the zone system at a very basic level, you have everything you need to set exposure. Learn what stops are.

You'll be on your way..

I sometimes enter an area, say a beach or street scene. I spot meter several objects in various lighting conditions. I decide the light my subject, whatever it might be, will probably be in, and preset my camera prior to taking pictures. If the sun fades from a cloud, I've already metered that and I adjust accordingly. If the sun is striking my daugter's face and I want that portrait, I already know the exposure needed for bright sunlight and adjust..

I re-meter every hour or so, or if the light dramatically changes. I keep the histogram on the screen with the image on every shot, so if I chimp, that's what I'm looking at as much as anything else..

Have fun.Cheers, Craig..

Comment #1

I agree with Craig - your camera has a good enough meter built in for almost all needs, but you'll need to do some learning on the various metering modes and histograms. The LCD display is pretty useless for this..

Here are a couple of good articles on understanding histograms


The first website has other tutorials, including metering & exposure, that are helpful..

Best regards,Doug

Comment #2


Just to add to the fun, I'll add that light meters don't always give a straight forward reading and answer to the problem. You have to learn to use them and allow for them being slightly inaccurate; just like cameras. BTW, there's no such thing as perfect exposure but there is what you like and so on....

The meters in cameras are pretty good, once you've learnt how they see things and what they can and can't do. Plus you get the histrogram on screen, although that has to be learnt as it needs a bit of interpretation each time. What used to be called experience..

Mostly it's a question of a bit of trial and error. But once you understand what they can and can't do it should be plain sailing..

Try using the "average" setting and then the "centre weighted" one as well for a lot of shots. It means taking the picture twice and messing around with the menu but it will teach you a lot. Leave "spot" metering for the time being and learn to lock the camera's exposure and why to lock it with the shutter button (usually)..

Landscapes are a good example, take the exposure reading with the camera and/or meter tipped downwards to avoid the extra light from the sky distorting things, then take the picture afterwards by not changing the exposure and re-composing th picture. And so on..

Almost any book written in the last fifty years will tell you all you need to know about metering..

Regards, David..

Comment #3

Hi (again),.

It's just a thought but it might be worth your time to get the manual out and sit down and go through the menu settings..

The reason being that most modern cameras turn out well exposed pictures most of the time. So when they don't the first thing to do it check the settings. It's very easy to change a setting without realising it. Also it does no harm to start with a clean sheet..

Regards, David..

Comment #4

Thanks, I read the manual once, and go back for reference sometimes. My camera uses spot metering or matrix metering II (nikon) and the matrix meter meters the whole frame and heavy weighted on the AF points. Any AF hitting a black shirt was overexposed or blown out, not to mention I accidentally shot the event with +1ev. All was overexposed while the ones where black was near the center blew out the images. The worst thing was they all looked great on the LCD, even zoomed in..

Thank you for the histogram and other tips...

Comment #5

Guidenet wrote:.

... If you understand the zone system at a very basic level,you have everything you need to set exposure....

Zone system link. If there is a better site on the subject I haven't found it.

Comment #6

Other have told you about reading histograms..

Suggestions-put the camera in matrix metering with no EC. then go out and about your house and take pics outside on a sunny day. note what the meter is telling and what scenes it is telling you about. how much bright areas and how much dark areas in the scenes. try to understand what the meter is doing. the camera's meter is plenty accurate for anything you are ever goingb to shoot.

I have been doing slr/dslr shooting for 38yrs and have therefore picked up some knowledge about shooting and getting the right exposure. how many years have you been shooting with a slr/dslr? the knowledge of how to shoot scenes and get consistantly good images is not picked up in a few weeks or months. it takes a lot of shooting to simply shoot under all those situations and light conditions..

See the next reply for info about a handheld lightmeter. it is, by the way, harder use the the one builtin to the camera. please note the last paragraph...

Comment #7

Thurnau wrote:.

Thanks, I read the manual once, and go back for reference sometimes.My camera uses spot metering or matrix metering II (nikon) and thematrix meter meters the whole frame and heavy weighted on the AFpoints. Any AF hitting a black shirt was overexposed or blown out,not to mention I accidentally shot the event with +1ev. All wasoverexposed while the ones where black was near the center blew outthe images. The worst thing was they all looked great on the LCD,even zoomed in..

Thank you for the histogram and other tips..

Been there and done that. We all probably have. I shot some beautiful bald eagles only to find that I'd set my camera on manual accidently, at a terrible setting. I'd been doing birds in flight in shutter priority. I've no idea how I got to manual..

The very reason you didn't like matrix is the same reason I don't. It weighs too much on the focus point. I like spot and I choose the focus point. In other modes where you pick the focus point, you have to be careful, because the spot will change, yet not light the focus point it selected. Focus single, spot and spot focus point locks it all in.Cheers, Craig..

Comment #8

You are going to need some more info. check google on using a light meter..

I do not know about the specific light meters. You have to know what your meter is. such as is it a incident ir reflective meter. a reflective is what the cameras have. it measures the light reflecting off of the subject. you aim it at the subject and read it.

You have to select what will work and you want to use..

The incident meter works by putting some kind of off white or white cover(dome?) over the meter. this sometimes makes the meter a reflective or incident if the dome can be slide to the side. it is used by aiming the meter back at the camera from the same direction as the subject. you can when standing with your camera simply aim the meter behind you in the exact opposite direction as the subject to camera line. it works by measuring the light falling on the subject. the incident meters advantage is that it is not affected by the subject's color or the condition outside(beach, snow, front of house, etc)..

All handheld meters have one item that has to be accounted for. that is any items that affected the light going through the lens. I am speaking of any filter or extension tube or converters or bellows or anything else. these all affect the amount of light going through the lens and the meter does not know they are there. so you the user must add the difference in stops to any readings you get from the meter to arrive at a proper exposure. one other item that may have to be acounted for is the Tstop of the lens, not the fstop that you dial in.

This is the light transmission factor of the lens. the Tstop is another way of saying how effecient the lens is at passing light through it. do not assume the Tstop and Fstop of a lens(when a certain fstop is dialed in) is the same number. it very likely is not. you can find out the Tstop by simply shooing a scene, your backyard from a tripod, with a known shutter speed and fstop at what the camera says is the corect mid histogram setting then taking the pic and comparing it to the same shot using the the same shutter speed but the fstop from the handheld meter.

Use csx or pex. if the histograms are the same then the T and Fstop are the same. but if they are not then for every shot based on the handheld meter you will have to add/subtract a fudge factor to the handheld meter reading..

Taking a handheld metered shot is not a super easy task. it does have some advantages over the camera's meter especially if using a incident meter. but it is still not simple excercise. my advice is not to do it unless youneed to pass some time playing with it. like a lot of things it is going to take some time to be any good at using a handheld meter. and if you forget to do any of the conversion steps between a handheld and camera meter your shot is junk for exposure..

I have a handheld gossen incident/reflective meter and I seldom use it. the camera meter is fine if you know how to use properly. for any light meter handheld or camera the following is far more important. the user must know what the meter is doing how it is doing it why it makes certain decisions how it is processing the info and how it is presenting the info to the user. unless the preceding known by the user with confidence in all lighting conditions any consistant exposures will be difficult to come by...

Comment #9

MaryGierth wrote:.

Guidenet wrote:.

... If you understand the zone system at a very basic level,you have everything you need to set exposure....

Zone system link. If there is a better site on the subject I haven'tfound it.

Wow. Great resourse, Mary. Thank you. It's added to favorites.Cheers, Craig..

Comment #10

I'll go along with what the others have said and add that, in the real world, I leave the thing on matrix and use the EV adjustment. After a while you get to know what to use and then it's far quicker. F'instance, photographing a black camera on my workbench mans just the matrix mode and a silver and black one means -0.33 of an EV and so on. Backlit at -1 EV etc..

Hope this helps..

Regards, David.

PS If looking for a meter on ebay: there's lots of Westons about and they are good and don't need batteries but are getting a bit old. Gossens plus "digital" are modern and great and the super bargain is the FSU "Leningrad" range, provided you get on that works. Check them against the camera with a variety of shots and a notebook...

Comment #11

Others have covered the basics but also FWIW.

The 'perfect' exposure is the one you like best. It may not coincide with the meter reading..

Although it's only a guide, setting your screen brightness setting at a level that you feel gives you a reasonably accurate representation of the pic you took. A suprising number of people leave thie screen brightness at the default setting which may not be what youb want. Also try not to judge what's on the screen indirect sunlight..

Shay son of Che.

Do androids photograph electronic sheep?..

Comment #12

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This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.


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