Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Meters / Metering

Published : 4th November 2003

I always used to wear a Belt with up to 3 meters on it, I'd spot the highlights, put a domed spectra up for flesh tones and walk around a bit with a candela to get area readings and to double check things. yes, getting thru tight spaces and shutting car doors was a problem. I felt like a grenadier.

But no more. I recently bought a Minolta F spot and now I find myself using nothing else. Gone is the meter belt, and I work faster now. one potential problem is that the buttons are easily bumped and I have caught myself with shutter speeds and ISO's bumped. luckily it hasn’t cost me a shot yet, somehow you tend to notice this and pause for a sec worrying about your last shot - and if its not a flesh tone- moving on and trusting Kodak.

With actors I still like to use my old spectra pro (by far my favourite meter) I don’t like to point and squeeze at peoples faces unless I have to (feels rude) and I’ve noticed that actors sorta like the old spectra, its friendly. otherwise I'll use my hand in their light (back or front depending on their tone) and open a stop, but generally I don’t see why to pull my incident meters out anymore. Am I missing something?

I look in the frame for whatever I want my middle tone (gray zone 5) to be and then measure the brightest and darkest areas and work from there. 3 quick clicks if pressed. personally I’ve been exposing down (under exposing) to increase the black levels and amplify the effect of edge and rim lighting. I don’t get to see my work much these days so I’m dealing in theory- but the directors have been calling me back for more abuse.

I didn’t buy the 508 because it was unavailable, but there was also the problem of grabbing the meter out of the holster all day. those dainty little domes on many digital meters bother me cause I wonder if they'll hold up to being grabbed 200 times a day- and they sit in the pouch such that the dome gets grabbed- and I'm amazed at how thin (and sorry, cheaply) many housings are manufactured- even in the "expensive" meters. (no names) That’s why I like my old Spectra's- its solid. (although the inner mechanism seems made of gossamer and cobweb)

So, I just am curious about the metering habits of this esteemed group. have I got lazy? and by the way- I really hate the 'leatherier' genuine artificial cases that new meters come with. I'm a case freak, leather lover (pure vanity) - I once saw an ad for what looked like nice handmade leather meter cases- anyone have a line on such creature comforts?

Caleb "measure once, cut twice" Crosby

I too love the Minolta Spot F. I cemented a little guard over the buttons that always get bumped to keep that from happening.

One of my favourite features is one I "stumbled" into: Take a spot reading of whatever it is in your scene that you want to be a mid-tone (where you are going to set the lens stop) then push the "A" button in the middle of the top row. Then every reading you take after that is in number of stops and tenths over or under (negative indication) relative to your "base" or mid tone stop. This is *extremely* useful. It is much faster than actually reading stops and then adding and subtracting in your head, something I have trouble doing, especially if I am at an in-between stop for the "base" stop.

This information of how many stops and tenths over or under "base" is what I really want to know anyway.

To get out of that mode, press "clear" and the meter reverts back to normal.

Happy metering.

Bill Bennett

I found it interesting to read your email about light meters. I myself only use a Minolta M spotmeter (the same as the F, but without the flash option and it uses a different harder to find battery). I have often been bugged by others about the fact that I only use a spotmeter but to me it makes perfect sense, I can really get specific about what I want to measure, what I want to blow out, what I want black. on one shoot I had a very obnoxious crane operator (part time Dp) questioning my competency because I only used a spotmeter and I was really annoyed. I felt he had no right to try to put me down in the middle of a shoot in front of other crew members just so he could show off his knowledge (film school learned rules) of cinematography. I was hired on my reel, not on the light meters I choose to use. once you're competent and secure in you ability with a spotmeter I hardly ever see any reason to use anything else. I do always carry an incident light meter in my kit though, mainly as a backup in case my spotmeter conks out but also just to have handy for anyone with any challenges to my light reading ability. as for pointing the meter at actor's and performer's faces, I find that they very quickly they learn to like it, sometime's even act offended when you read the people around them and not them. no offence to "the talent" but often it seems they love to have anything with a lense pointed at them as it validates their "specialness" on the set.

O. Fenech

>on one shoot I had a very obnoxious crane operator (part time Dp) >questioning my competency because I only used a spotmeter and I was >really annoyed. I felt he had no right to try to put me down in the middle >of a shoot in front of other crew members.

I would have pulled him to the side, quietly so no other crew members heard, and asked him if he wanted to leave! You are the DP, you have the right to do as you will on the set [as long as it is your job and not chasing the script girl...]. If this fellow could not understand his one and only warning...then fire him on the spot [but first mention your intentions to the UPM so a few phone calls could me made first!]. A good crane op is wonderful, a loud mouthed crew member is not. It sounds like this guy is sore because you got the gig and all he got was an opportunity to push you through the air....well that's reality! I would not trust the fellow to hit his marks correctly after his outburst, and that makes you look really bad to everyone [if you were also the camera op]. You, as the DP, have every right to use whatever tools you see fit to calculate the correct exposure, if that means you wish to stand on your head and gargle a mouth full of water as you read your meter, then so be it!!! Cross that fellows name off your list [and secretly e-mail it to me so I never run across this jerk too!].

Good luck,

Jeff Barklage

Caleb, You are not lazy.

I haven't used an incident meter in over ten years (Wait a moment, maybe I'm lazy too. You raise an ugly point). I have an incident meter in my case. But I've never found a reason to bring it out.

Bill's trick is really useful. I not only use that but I have to admit that I sometimes take a Highlight reading and memorize it. Then take a Shadow reading and memorize that. Then I press the "A" button. I check that against a Grey Card and find that "A" always gives me a value within a tenth or two of my own calculations. Uncanny...

And speaking of Grey Cards... There is a great little tool that I use. It is called "The Last Grey Card" and it comes in 4x5 and 8x10 (inches). The 4x5 fits perfectly into a Tiffen Panavision size filter pouch. It sits in my back pocket ready to use. And it is washable. They are grey on one side and white on the other. I buy them by the dozen because I end up giving them away. They are a product for the still market made by Unicolor. You can call them at 800-521-4042 extn 322 and ask for Susan. Or you can write to: 7200 Huron River Drive, Dexter, Michigan 48130-1099 USA Or ask your local photo supply house to stock them.

It's the best $5 you'll spend in a while.

Steven Poster ASC

I still rely on my Minolta Spotmeter F - it came with a little plastic piece to glue next to those pesky, easily pushed buttons. I used to use the old Spectra Pro, but have damaged enough movements in my career that I finally switched to the new Spectra, which is great. I was sceptical of the new Sekonic (is the 508 the one I'm about to describe....) until I actually saw one on a set. It can memorize two ISO settings (great for polaroids), a zoom spot meter, the collecting dome can adjust from flat disk level to sphere by turning a little bezel around the edge of it and it uses a thumbwheel to adjust the film/shutter speed from 300fps down to 3 or so. I've owned a Sekonic before just for the flash meter capability, and disliked it's collecting dome, but this meter really impressed me. Usually, the all purpose tool does nothing well, but I think I could make an exception here.

As far as metering habits, I know of many who use the spot meter exclusively. Me, I use my incident meter usually at the beginning of a setup to make sure that I'm in the ballpark of where I want my key light to be - and then light by eye, and check with the spot as we get close to being "there". Perhaps a final check with the incident meter, and we're rolling......(oh, is the stop on?)

Ted Hayash

>on one shoot I had a very obnoxious crane operator (part time Dp) >questioning my competency because I only used a spotmeter and I was >really annoyed. I felt he had no right to try to put me down in the middle >of a shoot in front of other crew members just so he could show off his >knowledge (film school learned rules) of cinematography.

:::blink, blink, blink:::

I'm going to try to be somewhat moderate in my response, though my first instinct would have been to fire off a colourful, "Bronx Style" string of expletives at this crane operator that involved fornication and rolling doughnuts...

More likely I would have responded with something along the lines of :

"Really? You should spend more time working with one of these meters, they are really slick. They are much handier and more accurate than anything you learned in school, but only for those have the patience to learn how to make proper use of one. Many people screw up exposure by assuming they know how these things work."

As most all here know, I'm am advertising still photographer but it strikes me that there are similarities in the talents called upon in my work and a DP's. As such, I don't think it is a stretch to assume that we all have a moderate amount of anxiety when it comes to choosing an exposure that never leaves us, no matter how experienced we become. On the other hand, each of us has come up with their own methods of calculating exposure that reduces this anxiety to a minimum.

I can't imagine questioning anyone else’s "correctness" in metering methodology any more than anyone questioning mine. Your post is not about meters but about a crane op who's set etiquette is in dire need of a "tune-up" (firing).

Years ago I used to trade out assisting services with other beginning photographers I knew helping each other working on photographs for our portfolios. We had a very clear understanding that whatever the other wanted do, got done. To this day I'm sure in my heart that one of these photographers I traded services with must be at least partially blind, what he wanted to accomplish on the shots I helped him with were truly terrible. Even then, though my instincts were screaming inside me to "fix" things, that's where they stayed, inside.

Before this gets to become a rambling, let me finish this quick by stating the obvious...

It's the film that counts, not the genus and species of cat who's eyes you use for a meter.

Cliff Hancuff

I think that spot metering is the opposite of lazy. It requires slightly more work to find your own average by "zoning" highlights and shadow areas to get a more accurate exposure. I also think that the use of incident meters for flesh tones is overrated, since all the dome does is average all of the light. Doesn't help you much if you're shooting dark-skinned talent or lighting someone by using their natural sheen, or certain high-key situations. I swear I've photographed some actors with 55% reflectancy !

I'm also a leather freak, but I like it because it lasts forever (OK, they also look better). And yet my meters are still in nylon padded cases (it's the only thing I've found to put my Spectra Pro-4 in the "lumishpere down" position since I don't want to yank it out by the dome. Also have developed a cool flip-draw-out-of-the-holster technique that impresses clients.

I've always zoned the frame with my spot meter, but I still find my incident meter handy in "lighting air" sometimes...I don't always have stand-ins there, so it's a good way to paint some broad strokes. I also find it useful when I'm really rushed on a shot that I'm grabbing "docu-style". Perhaps I'm slower at spotting and zoning my frame, or too thorough, but it's faster for me to get an incident reading to key or camera than to miss a shot. I also check it against my own spot calculations.

Always loved the photograph of Maysle with the incident meter attached to the mattebox.

I'm still looking into that Sekonic monster spot meter (not the 508 combo). But it's listing at $750-$800 ! And it's been difficult to get feedback on this meter's accuracy & reliability.

Mark Doering-Powell

Mark Weingartner wrote :

>If you can guess the correct exposure by squinting and looking at the >keylight, so be it!

Indeed, I am reminded of an article in American Cinematographer where Doug Slocombe (who shot several, if not all, of the Indiana Jones films) described how he came to use no meter at all. He said that he used to light by eye, and then use the meter to check after the setup. He finally realized that he didn't need the meter at all after finding himself turning and/or covering the meter to adjust it to the stop that he wanted it to read, not simply reading and accepting the meters findings.

Ted Hayash

If the monster Sekonic that Mark is referring to is the L778, and I don't know of a bigger meter , then it's the one I use as my main meter.

I love it, the ease of adjusting Highlight & Shadow limits, the 5 exposure reading memory and display, the way that it forces up the value of my Everex & Duracell shares......

The only limitation that I've found with it is measuring blue screen and TV screens, but then only my Pentax spot seems to manage those. I carry a couple of Minolta Incidents, a Spectra Candela, a Minolta CT meter and a B&S frequency meter, I used to carry a Minolta spot as well but I gave that to my operator.

Try the big Sekonic, if you like spot meters then it's for you.


Geoff Boyle

If I can be suffered the bandwidth for a little tutorial, maybe someone out there can benefit :

I believe we are beneficiaries of the marvellous exposure range of negative stocks. Even though we may erroneously select a midtone that isn't really as close to 18% as it should be, the neg bails us out with its range.

Perhaps Cliff, as a commercial still photog., will agree that shooting for reproduction on color reversal film presents stiffer requirements than shooting neg. The necessity for really precise exposure and careful control of lighting ratio is considerably greater and the incident meter, used properly, of course, makes it relatively easy.

With reversal (for those who may not have experience with it) the danger is overexposure. If the highlights are washed out there is no redemption. When your most important area is a light tone, say a pale caucasian face or a product that is a pale pastel, +1/2 stop will probably be disaster. On the other hand, underexposure must be used judiciously, since there isn't a lot of range that direction either. Keeping the scene within the narrower limits of the film by spot reading the highlights and shadows will not necessarily zone that important flesh tone where it ought to be. Everything has to be carefully read.

While a spot meter can be used with great success on reversal, I don't think you can be quite so quick and casual about it as you can with neg. On the other hand, when shooting darker flesh subjects the incident meter won't provide the comfort level it does on light flesh!

Someone criticized the incident meter because the dome just averages all the light it receives. I've noticed that a lot of photographers seem not to be aware of the reason for, and proper handling of, the domed meter (and it is very irritating to see them produce excellent results despite their ignorance! OTOH, I haven't seen many do well with reversal film if they don't really know how to handle it.)

A true incident meter has a flat receptor, because "incident" light, technically speaking, is light that is incident to a flat surface. The flat receptor causes the meter to read illumination that mirrors the cosine effect of light falling on a flat surface from angles other than normal. But most of our subjects are 3- dimensional and there are often multiple sources of illumination.

The purpose of the 3-dimensional receptor, or dome, is to make it possible with one reading to achieve the best exposure on reversal of 3-dimensional subjects lighted with multiple sources. The meter is held at the subject and pointed toward the lens and the dome averages the sources to split the difference. But this is for uncontrolled lighting, where you have to make the best of what is there. The secret to its correct use is to realize that if you are controlling the lighting you need to defeat or change out the dome. If you are controlling the lighting ratio you don't want the meter to compromise what you've done.

So cup your hand around the dome and point the dome at the source to read the key, then the fill, etc., to determine ratios. You can look at the dome to see what sources are actually reaching it by looking for their spectral reflections on the dome surface. Or you can use the flat receptor in place of the dome. To determine exposure, shield any backlight off the dome and point the dome between the key and fill to achieve the maximum reading, and as has been mentioned, the incident meter is the quickest way to "light air!"

All of this is critical for reversal. For negative, not nearly so much precision is needed. Crack the aperture open a bit for safety! But if you follow the above procedure for negative as well, you'll achieve great consistency.

Thanks for reading!

Wade Ramsey

A word of warning :

Perhaps because do few people use their flat photoreceptor disc, many manufacturers calibrate the meters with the photosphere and the flat disc may not match. In the case of my Spectra Pro IV, we ended up adding a very slight ND behind the flat disc so it would match the dome...with one of my Sekonic's a dab of dirt effected the same change. Granted, a 2/10 discrepancy is virtually meaningless in the world of neg., but I shoot a lot of slides (for therapy) and more importantly, I would rather correct the discrepancy than try to remember which way it goes each time. As a gaffer, I think meter calibration was more of an issue for me than for my DP clients...it was attendant on me to match their meters, and in some cases I would have to change my ASA by a third of a stop so that I would call out numbers that would agree with their meters.

When you are the DP, other people have to conform to YOU

Mark H. Weingartner

That is very curious!

I have used--and still do--dozens of Sekonic Studio meters, from the days when it was the original Norwood Director through all models to the current L-398M; Spectra Professional and Professional II; and Spectra Combi 500 and Combi II. In every single case, the flat disc receptor reads LOWER than the dome, by about 1/3 stop. Putting ND behind it would make it read even lower. And this is when reading a source perpendicular to the disc surface, so cosine effect isn't involved. (Although we have several Minolta and Sekonic digital meters, we don't have flat receptors for them, so I haven't tried them.)

I've always attributed this to the greater surface area of the dome collecting a bit more light, even though the source is perpendicular to the meter front.

Back in the days of shooting titles on B&W reversal, i.e., Plus-X Reversal, the lack of the excellent Rem-Jet anti-halo backing on B&W made the use of the disc a disadvantage, although theoretically, it should be used. But the best results were by using the dome and then stopping down one stop, to reduce flare from the whites.

Wade Ramsey

I remember reading those stories about Slocombe. Later I realized that he must tell his gaffer to light a scene to given number of footcandles (let's say, 150) especially being the old-time DP that he is - and his gaffer must have had a meter on him so that he knew when he was at the correct footcandle level.

So in a sense, SOMEONE on the set is metering the light - it's just not Slocombe...

David Mullen

I've got a Minolta Auto III - had it for -- Six years? That sounds about right... Just now running into dome problems -- and that's more because I switch from dome to flat disc to reflected disc quite often. I carry the meter in a soft nylon case -- and it's held up great. I don't own a spot meter -- but I've used them on many different occasions. I like the F very much (my favourite function is the average setting. I take a reading at "key" (iris setting) and switch into average. Then hold down the button and quickly sweep through the shot -- instantly knowing my stops over and under... Very great for precise control...). However, I'm very much a to-the-source incident guy (which is why the flat disc comes out so often) I find that it gives me a greater deal of control over where I want to put the whole scene's ratio on the film. I absolutely HATE metering to camera with a dome as it feels very much like the lowest common dominator setting...

Jay Holben

Wonder what this guy would say working with someone like Doug Slocombe who is reputed to use no meter whatsoever... Now! How incompetent is that? I only wish I could be so incompetent with three Oscar nominations...

Jay Holben

Works fine for me. I did most of my own feature (on 'no latitude' Tri X) using it, extensive night ints and night exts with lots of pyrotechnics etc - justified its cost I'd say.

I have not done green or bluescreen work with it, however. (re Geoff's comments)...but, I did do a project with large areas of red & red/orange walls - a major element of the scenes. Densities were what I expected.

Then again, I think the camera film is the final 'light meter' !

Sam Wells

Addicted to spot meters, but it has problems with blue screen and TV screens? What good is it? But seriously, could you elaborate? Are the bluescreen readings off by a constant value, or erratically different? And it cannot meter TV screens either?

Sounds like a blue sensitivity problem.

Were you getting overexposures of blue layer on tungsten film with the Sekonic Spot ?

Thanks for the feedback on the monster.

On occasion, I will do the same to my incident meter when shooting 2nd unit...depending upon the DP. Some feel more comfortable like that, other's don't care how you arrive at an image as long as it matches.
Great thing about meters is, they always read what you want them to read!

Wade Ramsey wrote :

>The purpose of the 3-dimensional receptor, or dome, is to make it >possible with one reading to achieve the best exposure on reversal of 3->dimensional subjects lighted with multiple sources. The meter is held at >the subject and pointed toward the lens and the dome averages the >sources to split the difference…

If only I could have read this back in the early 80's when I was still figuring out how to use an incident meter accurately !

While it is true that a domed incident meter is meant to average or split the key/fill lights to give you a fairly accurate reading for normal lighting situations, I think that almost nobody lights this way anymore (or rarely does so). Sometimes I'm shooting a 3/4 XCU of an actor and the keylight is a 3/4 soft backlight barely wrapping to the closest eye. And there's little fill. Point the dome to the camera and take a reading to get a really overexposed negative!

Normally, I would shield the dome and aim at key, fill, key+fill, that sort of thing. The final lens stop then is still our own interpretation.

But I have gotten into the habit of metering some of my Day/Ext's with my incident meter to lens...as a final check. Again, this is usually when I'm rushed, and haven't taken some spot readings. Sometimes I've taken a reading to a side fill from a 12x12 griff, and put that 2 stops down, and then the sunlight I let go hotter if it's a backlight perhaps. But once I thought I was all set, and I took a final average to lens as I walked back to the camera. Youza, my meter was almost at "E"! ASA & fps ok...so what gives ? Ah, yes, behind the camera was a grove of 60 ft. spruces chewing up all of the sky fill. That's what I get for lighting air!

Of course, if you just stand by the camera, and eye the scene, take a couple of spot readings if you have stand-ins, or off of the setting, then you can arrive at the same good f-stop.

Mark "am I the only one who lights & spots their fist ?" Doering-Powell

I worked with a premier Hollywood DP that prided himself in setting the stop without a meter, stopping down until the density on the ground glass looked right.

The editor on a movie we were doing told me that she had never seen dailies so all over the place exposure-wise.

Mako Koiwa

Doering-Powell wrote :

>Mark "am I the only one who lights & spots their fist ?"

No, you're not alone. Being Indian the back of my hand is almost 18% reflectance too so that's like carrying a grey card without having to pay as Steve does - the downside is you can't pass it around! I suppose the next best thing is to live in LA and pick up a nice suntan!

I frequently spot the back of my hand. I take my hat off to anyone who can light with just a spot meter, though. I find the innumerable readings confusing. I use the incident (shielding as needed) and then use my Pentax spot to read the dodgy areas for reassurance.

Shangara Singh
London Based DoP/Lighting Cameraman

The blue readings are inconsistent in the same way that Minolta spot readings are.

The only meter I've found that's consistent with these is the Pentax.


Geoff Boyle

Having been a gaffer in the US for years on both coasts and in all types of shoots (doc, IMAX, feature, commercial, TV, corporate industrial, etc) I had always been expected to carry and use incident and reflected light meters. I was a bit surprised on crossing the pond for a UK based, UK crewed film to discover that gaffers do not carry meters on set. The miniatures unit that we set up was gaffed by Ron Shane, and Dave Stewart, our DP, openly and aggressively encouraged Ron to take readings and make lighting decisions. Ron did quite well in this respect. A few months after the miniature unit started up I was charged with heading up miniature Pyro and misc. elements unit for the same show. Ron asked his father, Laurie Shane, if he would be willing to come and gaff for me for a few weeks. For those of you who do not know of Laurie, his credits as gaffer span 30 years and include The Empire Strikes Back, Reds, Mission Impossible, Under Milkwood etc etc etc.

Even though we were just blowing up spaceships and such on green screen, Laurie agreed to come and work with us which was an absolute pleasure for me. He owns and uses meters, but even he was very conscious of the political difference between his carrying meters on an American set and on a Continental one. He echoed Ron's statement that it would be considered inappropriate for him to be metering a set unless he were pre-lighting or there were other extenuating circumstances preventing the DOP from getting his own readings.

I have to report that though our few weeks of greenscreen work was nothing compared to the sort of work Laurie normally does, he and his crew attacked the job with outright enthusiasm and took wonderful care of me.

By the way, when lighting the air around a 15' long exploding spaceship in front of an 80x25 green with a 40x25 return you really end up using an incident meter a lot.

Mark Weingartner

Geoff Boyle wrote :

>The blue readings are inconsistent in the same way that Minolta spot >readings are.

Point of clarification :

Do you find the blue readings to be inconsistent with each other or inconsistent with respect to white light readings on the same set? I have found most meters, spot and incident, to be inaccurate in the monochromatic blue world (where they were never meant to be) but consistent once the "exposure offset" has been determined. I've been using a Minolta Spotmeter M for blue, green, and red screens for years with no problems...once I knew what those offsets were for my meter.

The offsets are relatively easy to determine, so if that is the only reason not to use the Sekonic Super Meter, I could provide instructions for determining that offset. If, on the other hand, the readings at the blue end of the spectrum are inconsistent because of large sensitivity differences over small wavelength shifts , the meter would not be a good candidate for anyone who shoots blue screens.

Mark Weingartner

David Mullen wrote :

>I remember reading those stories about Slocombe. Later I realized that >he must tell his gaffer to light a scene to given number of footcandles >(let's say, 150)

I've worked a number of times and I don't recall seeing a meter anywhere. He just looked at the back of his hand in the set. Mind you, it was almost always 5.6!

Martin Shepherd

There seems no question that Slocombe is good at it. But has anyone ever read his neg densities? The eye is a fabulous comparator but auto adjusts too much to be a good objective gauge of quantity (we see normal exposure under any illumination from about 7 fc up to bright sunlight.) But we can learn to make good judgments of exposure from our memory of what worked in previous settings with similar lighting fixture set-ups, etc.

I wonder what would happen if someone lighted a set in such a way that when he was brought in (blindfolded) and allowed to look at the lighting without any reference to the fixtures and working distances, whether he would be able to make a very accurate objective estimate, especially if it were lighted a stop or so hotter than he normally does.

Don't suppose we'll ever have a chance to test that!

Wade Ramsey

I work often on Commercials from and in South Korea. I still have problems working in that system. The Gaffer doesn't use a meter, the Dp doesn't use a meter. The first a/c meters the scene, sets the stop then tells the Dp what he will be shooting at. When doing exteriors, I often caught the ac grabbing an incident from arms length from the lens....after that I instructed the griptricians that there would be no courtesy flags set up next to camera....I made the mistake of trying to reconfigure job responsibilities to a more familiar one for me. It caused a half day work stoppage, as everyone was training on "new" positions.

As the only Korean speaking, American DP registered with the Korean Film Commission, I have had to learn to adjust to this different working environment. This includes taking each "new" 1st ac I work with aside and explaining to them that my use of a light meter, in no way shows that I don't trust him, but is a "cultural" thing. I also spend the first day showing them where I want them to meter from (always at the action, not at the end of the lens). After awhile, I mention to them how busy they are, and ask if they would mind me taking the meter readings while they are changing the lens. Pretty soon I have the ac trained not to worry about those pesky f-stops. On one show I even got the ac to borrow his meter to the gaffer so he could "take care of it for him".

I was called to shoot a Korean pilot, but a friend warned me away from it, because "They do things really different for TV". Call me a glutton for punishment, I'm interviewing for it next week.

Clark "but I'm huge in Korea" Jackson

I was just making a GUESS - if everyone in the UK says that no one takes a meter reading on a Slocombe set, I believe them - really! Thanks to everyone for the correction.

I guess when you shoot enough films - especially in the days when Kodak had only one color negative stock - you pretty much know what a 5K at 15 feet is going to give you...I didn't intend to slight Douglas Slocombe, whose work I have admired for a long time. In the UK, does the DP (lighting cameraman) call out all the units to be used (as in "10K goes over there, 2K here, arm a tweenie over the top, etc.)? My gaffers complain when I do that, so I was wondering.

David Mullen

Clark Jackson wrote :

>The first a/c meters the scene, sets the stop then tells the Dp what he will >be shooting at.

I would like to public notice that I would be happy to perform this small service for any DP. A small charge is levied, approximately half his or her fee.

Justin Pentecost

The Korean system can be baffling. I once shot some 2nd Unit / Car Chase & crashes for a Korean film called "Mix" (don't know whatever happened to it). The crew was almost entirely Korean, complete with 3 translators and the largest camera department I have ever seen. The DP had no interest in lining-up any action shots. He did operate "B-Camera" on some of them. A very reserved, quiet man.

The AC did most of the metering. That was all fine and good, but they were probably wondering what the hell I was doing out there metering for my camera. AC's kept drilling me about what I thought of their Moviecam Compact (it was a prized possession), and they could not understand that my camera (which they had ordered from Clairmont) was cantered for Academy, and not Super-35. Oh well, I tried to explain it ad nauseum, but they did not seem to mind !

Also : the AC did not reload/thread the camera, nor move it. 2-3 other fellows did that. 1st AC simply metered and pulled focus (all eye focus) and turned the camera on/off.

One curious thing did occur apropo metering: at sunrise I was operating B-Camera for one of their normal scenes. I occasionally took a surreptitious spot meter reading to make certain that a language barrier would not give me the wrong stop. Well, on that one shot we were about 5 stops different in opinion. I kindly asked the AC if he had calculated for the ND's and Pola's. He just kept saying: "eight" and then using his hands to hold up 8 fingers. OK, no problem...didn't even attempt to compare ASA on our meters. DP just stood by, quiet and reserved as ever. My American AC and I could barely see through our filter pack.

I think that shot would have been black, or close to it.

P.S. At lunch, the entire Korean contingent disappeared. Gone. The few local Americans were left with a few boxes of MickyD's or some other type of fast food. Minutes later I found them all, crouched behind a series of parked vans eating Chinese food! Kept thinking how they must've thought we liked the slop they provided us. I would've much rather had their meal!

Mark Doering-Powell

Steven Poster ASC wrote :

>At one point I was thinking of having tee shirts made to the perfect >18(deg) Gray and then making the whole crew wear them.

Steven: I could set up a little side business for the lab: a hot-water laundry (well it's what we do). Get white shirts and send them to my laundry: they'll come back exactly 18% gray. (Using the bleach bypass process of course).

Dominic Case

Until we sneak in a bright red shirt...and they come back 18% pink...perhaps a silk-screened patch of 18% gray would be better and less likely to fade? The shirt could have NTSC colorbars on the back, for those crew members who, er, go both ways...

No starch, Dominic...

Jeff "Clorox bypass?" Kreines

The problem that I have with the Sekonic, and the Minolta for that matter, with blue screens is that although I know I can work out an offset for that meter I'm not confident that that offset will be consistent from shoot to shoot.

Sometimes I light a Blue Screen with white light, sometimes I light it with Rosco Moonlight Blue gel, sometimes I use superblue tubes.

Sometimes it's a cloth backing, sometimes paint etc etc.
I just don't trust either the Sekonic or the Minolta in those circumstances.

As an example :

Vision 200

Mnlta FG Pntx FG Mnlta BG Pntx BG Clr

4.3 9 1.4 8* KinoBlue
4.3 9 1.02 7** Nd3
4.3 9 6** Nd6

Vision 200

Mnlta FG Pntx FG Mnlta BG Pntx BG Clr

4.3 9 4 8* KinoGrn
4.3 9 2.8 7* Nd3
4.3 9 2 6* Nd6

Part of the series of tests that I shot recently.


Geoff Boyle

The big important grossly obvious missing point in all this is that measuring by itself doesn't make the lighting look any better. It's the changes you make based on your measurements that take time and make you worth your salary. If we were to do a Gantt chart on a typical day's shoot, I doubt there'd be much time spent measuring light on the critical path.

Whether you use the broad brush of the incident meter or the narrow brush of the spot meter, it's still where you put the paint that counts.

John Sprung

I have no intention of taking away anything from those great Cinematographers who did indeed have the ability to judge relative exposure without the use of any instrumentation. In fact there was a great shooter at Wilding studios in Chicago who's eye's were going toward the end of his career. He had the ability to stick out his hand in front of a light and tell what the exposure was from the heat he felt from the lamp. His name was Jake LaFloure I believe. Jeff Krines might be able to verify this. I was always amazed at this talent.

But there is one thing to consider in today's modern world. When working at 200 Foot Candles it takes 100FC difference to be one stop underexposed and 200 FC to be one stop over exposed. When working at 10 FC it takes 5 FC to be one stop underexposed and 10FC difference to be one stop over exposed. These differences are much more subtle with today's lenses and emulsions. Can anybody guess a 2 or 3 FC difference by eye? Of course we can. Because your eye adjusts to relative levels. But can we call exposure on those 2 or 3 FC? I doubt it.

Today, meters are important and accurate meters are incredibly important.

Steven Poster ASC

Steven raises an interesting point: Does a stop up or down around 10 FC seem to human perception subjectively as big as a stop up or down around 200 FC? The human visual system isn't quite exactly logarithmic, but it's much closer to log than linear. (If it were linear, the distance from 195 FC to 210 FC would look as big to us as the difference from 5 FC to 20 FC).

If you have some time on your hands, and your hands on some lights, you might try a Just Noticeable Difference (JND) experiment. Set a pair of 5k's side by side aimed straight at the same wall. Flag them out of each other's areas. Adjust one to exactly 200 FC. Adjust the other until you can just barely see that it's brighter. Measure and record what that level is. Then adjust it to be just barely dimmer. Then try for an exact match. Swap the 5k's for Inkies, and do it all again around 10 FC. You'll find it also matters a lot how big the dark band between the areas is.

A much easier thing to try is simply guessing what your meter's going to say just before you read it. Get good at that, and it may save you some grief if your meter ever gets seriously out of whack. You'll know to check against another meter.

Down in the 5-10 FC range, you also get into some other issues, as our color sensitivity drops out around there.

For more of the science of this stuff, check Charles Poynton's web site:


John Sprung

It's pretty logarithmic over the middle range. The commonly accepted wisdom is that humans can just perceive a 1 per cent difference in brightness when using a comparator (i.e. a surface emitting 202FC would appear just different to one emitting 200FC, but at 20FC we could detect a change to 20.2FC. It's also commonly accepted that the human eye is a more sensitive comparator than almost any machine yet built.

At low levels (my references refuse to give numbers I can make sense of, one says "moonlight"), the just-perceivable difference increases (i.e. the discrimination is less), and the response goes non-logarithmic.

Either way, the large-scale, absolute calibration of the eye is a different issue. Can we tell the difference between a T4 and a T5.6 set without a reference? I guess it's similar to musicians with "perfect pitch" who can absolutely identify a middle C or any other note. A few can, but many more can hit a note -say- a fifth higher than a given note, more so with practice. Similarly, are there a few individuals out there with the ability to recognise an absolute value of brightness? With many more of us able, with practice, to pick that one tone is -say- 3 stops down from another?

Opinions? Authoritative research? References? Anecdotal evidence? Anyone?.

Dominic Case

I have met some of these individuals with perfect pitch. Mostly they have broken the strings on my musical instrument by trying to tune it without a reference. The mechanics of the ear are such that the muscles react to certain frequencies. Closing down to prevent certain frequencies from getting through, and opening up to allow others. Amazing what you can learn from shooting documentaries. I don't think that has an analog to your question. I'm not sure if someone could tell the exact decibel level of sounds, without reference, which seems to be more inline with determining footcandles. However, I do know that with practice one can determine different colors lurking within others. Just ask graphic artists, Or motion Graphics shooters. That seems more in line picking out frequencies of sound.

Steve ( there is a lot of blue in those red traffic lights) Gladstone

To put it briefly, the research I'm familiar with indicates that to use the eye as a comparator, it needs some sort of a reference, even when gauging absolute black. Also, cultural differences and personality may also influence this ability.

Jessica Gallant

I looked at the meters My Sekonic L-328 has some ND on the dome to make it match the flat disc My Spectra IV has a very light ND on the flat disc My Spectra Pro with the modern West German movement has a very slight ND on the flat disc My Spectra Pro with the Weston movement has no ND on either photosphere or flat disc My Sekonic studio meter is in Pittsburgh and won't answer the phone.

Most of my meter work has been done by Marty Satloff in NY but several of my meters have been re-calibrated or at least checked by Quality Light in Hollywood and all the Spectra’s were checked at Spectra while I was playing with their ftLambert meter. Both analog pro's had Marty's low light conversions done to them.

There's more info than anyone wanted to know.



Marshall Macluen (of "the media is the message" fame) wrote extensively about this in The Gutenberg Galaxy. his terminology involved "hot" and "cool" technologies and I forget how he applied these, but I do remember his basic discussion on the ear and the eye.

Marshall studied how technologies effected the social environment: moveable type (the Gutenberg bible was the first mechanically printed volume) Marconi's radio waves, and the film camera and TV. one contention involved the "differentiation of the ear and eye".

He maintains that the ear is capable of thousands of times more differentiation than the eye. It is a more sophisticated instrument capable of more range and more subtle detections within the expanded range. (I think this made the ear a hot technology and the eye a cool one- anyone?) I cant recall his case studies, but the eye was fractional compared to the ear.

The book is valuable for anyone interested in the relationship between media and society. he traces print technology as paving the road to nationalism, and the breaking down of strong top down Gov’t to radio- but Its been years and I can no longer do him justice. He includes fascinating studies of showing films to aboriginals in Africa and citing how they react to the image and the editing (they couldn’t "read the film" so he linked in the amount of conditioning it takes to read a visual story and that it is heavily cultural and trained- as opposed to music which is far more cross cultural).

I guess it was 13 years ago I read Marshall (college) and I was just beginning to shoot 16mm. the one thing I took away from the book was that 1/2 the time an audience views a film in a theatre - they are in absolute darkness. he likened it to the tribal flickering fire and believed it was one of our last tribal experiences.

No doubt. but he left out the bar room and rock & roll.

Caleb Crosby

Although I don't remember the terms, in physiological psychology the ear is thought of as a sensory organ that takes it's input and breaks it down into it's component parts. This is why if we concentrate we can pick out and focus on one conversation in a crowded room, for example.

They eye, on the other hand, is a sensory organ that takes it's input and constructs the complete image out of separate components. That is why we can view incomplete images, optical illusions, "inkblot tests", etc. and see complete images.

Jessica Gallant