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
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.
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.
>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!].
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?)
>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
It's the film that counts, not the genus and species of cat who's eyes
you use for a meter.
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
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 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.
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.
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
Thanks for reading!
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
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.
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
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...
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...
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' !
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
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 ?"
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
The editor on a movie we were doing told me that she had never seen dailies
so all over the place exposure-wise.
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.
London Based DoP/Lighting Cameraman
The blue readings are inconsistent in the same way that Minolta spot readings
The only meter I've found that's consistent with these is the Pentax.
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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.
Clark Jackson wrote :
>The first a/c meters the scene,
sets the stop then tells the Dp what he will >be shooting
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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.