Incident or camera meter

7 Building Blocks of Photography 2

What is the best way to get your exposure right? Is a hand held incident meter better than the camera meter? I’ve made a couple of videos about light meters, but now let’s compare them on a real photoshoot.

So what’s the difference? An incident meter measures the light falling onto the place you meter from and is therefore very accurate indeed. You measure the light and copy the settings from the hand held incident meter onto your camera in manual mode.

This is obviously rather a faff and not a quick way to work. Also if the light changes between metering and setting the camera, you have to begin again.

A camera’s light meter measures the light that’s reflected by whatever you have in your composition or viewfinder and sets an exposure according to the shooting mode you are in, or tells you when it thinks the exposure is correct as you adjust the aperture, shutter and ISO yourself manually.

The camera meter has three ways of measuring this reflected light, spot, centre weighted and evaluative metering modes.

Spot metering measured light reflected by a single spot in the frame. Where you place the spot is where it’ll read from. Centre weighted measures around the middle or centre of the frame and evaluative measures the entire reflected light value from everything in the frame or composition.

The problem is, dark things reflect less light than bright or reflective things. So to get around this, camera makers tell their cameras that they must meter everything to be half way between full black and bright white. So if you spot meter from something white, the camera will force it to be grey in your photo. Though the camera says that's a correct exposure, it sure as hell doesn't look right!

Anyone who’s tried photographing snow will probably had it turn out dull and nowhere near bright white. This is why. I prefer to think of a camera’s light reading as a guide, a place to begin. It’s often fine, but I know there’ll be times when it get’s it wrong and I’ll have to step in and change things.

Both incident and camera meters have their own costs and benefits so in my opinion, neither are ‘better’ than the other. You just have to figure which you prefer. And there’s only one way to do that and that’s to try it for yourself and get some experience.

I hardly ever use my incident light meter anymore because the cameras meter is a great starting point. Provided you’re awake and thinking your photography through, the camera’s in built meter is all you usually need.

In this video I thought I’d show you the difference between incident cameras’ meters and what the effect of different metering modes has on exposure if your not using your 1st building block of photography, your Brilliant Brain!

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