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Introduction to Film Photography

Lesson 6 of 20

Metering for Color Film

Sandra Coan

Introduction to Film Photography

Sandra Coan

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Lesson Info

6. Metering for Color Film


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:11:53
2 Why Film Duration:10:59
4 Importance of Metering Duration:04:08
6 Metering for Color Film Duration:14:31
9 Metering for Indoor Shooting Duration:18:39
10 The Differences in Film Sizes Duration:11:05
11 Purchasing Film & Care Duration:05:04
12 Professional Color Film Duration:16:39
14 Consumer Grade Film Stocks Duration:06:31
15 Pushing Film Duration:18:44
16 Know Your Lab Duration:03:41
17 What To Look For In A Lab Duration:25:35
18 How To Find The Right Lab Duration:13:10
19 How To Safely Ship Film Duration:16:46
20 Get Started Using Film Duration:06:47

Lesson Info

Metering for Color Film

We've been talking about how is it that you find that perfect amount of overexposure, right? So that you get that really good dense negative, but that you're not overexposing so much that you're introducing color shifts or increased grain. And like I said, I control that with my metering. And so we're gonna get into metering, everything you ever wanted to know about metering is about to happen. So okay, so we talked about how there is reflective metering, which again, just to recap is when you were taking a reading off of the light that is bouncing off your subject or reflecting off your subject, and incident metering, which means you're reading the light that is falling on your subject, right? And so let's start with just talking about how to meter for color film because there are some differences between metering for color film and metering for black and white film. So let's just start with color. So I have found that for me, the most reliable way to meter my color film, to make sure...

I'm getting that perfect amount of overexposure, is to take an instant reading, so again, reading the light that's falling on my subject, and I read it in the shadows. So let me just show you what that looks like, first of all, 'cause I know that this gets really confusing and there's so many different ways, if you ask on a film forum where people are gonna tell you how to meter. I'm gonna show you how I do it really quick right now. So remember when we set our meter, we're setting two of the three data points that you need for an exposure triangle. Your meter's gonna help you find middle gray. So I always start by setting my ISO, making sure my meter, oh, gotta turn it on, is in the right mode. So I use a Sekonic meter. There's a ton of different meters out there. They all basically work the same. So I have mine set on ambient light, which is little sunshine, and I always start by setting my ISO here. And again, the ISO is just the box speed of whatever film you're shooting. So if you're shooting 400, like a Fuji 400H, that number 400, that's your box speed. If you're shooting, you know, an Ilford Pan F 50, that 50 is your box speed. Whatever that box speed is with your film, you put that in here. So let's just put on a ISO number. So you push your ISO button, and then you toggle (imitates sad trombone) 'til you get down to 400. Then I always set my aperture rating, 'cause I like to control that when I'm shooting with ambient light and I'm usually shooting at about 2.8. And then once that's there, this is zero. Your shutter speed's zero right now 'cause we haven't taken a reading. You just push the button and it reads the light. So we are in here in a dark studio room, so we're not getting like a great reading. It's like a 30th of a second, but we could do it different with window light. Yeah? Which direction is the meter facing? 'Kay, I'm gonna show you that right now, 'cause this is the question. So when people talk about metering for incident light, taking an incident reader, reading. I always wanna mix the word meter and reading at the same time, which is hard, so sorry. People always talk about where do you put your bulb, right? How do you put your bulb? So the bulb, the lumisphere, this is actually what is reading the light when you're taking a reading. You could have lumisphere out, you can retract it and put lumisphere in. According to the Sekonic manual, which by the way, I have read a lot, they advise putting bulb in when you're metering a flat surface, like a piece of paper. That's what it was designed to do. However, a lot of photographers turn the bulb in when metering 'cause it kind of shades it a little bit. So if your bulb is in and you're taking a midtone reading, for example, where you have highlights here, shadows here, that bulb isn't gonna catch as much as the light as if it were out. And so the theory is that it gives you an extra like half stop of exposure, which is fine. I, like I've mentioned, I like things being very easy and very straightforward. I rate it at box speed and I meter in the shadows and I meter with my bulb out every time, and then I'm gonna show you exactly where I put this bulb, and we're gonna talk about why. So can I have somebody, would somebody like to be my volunteer? Anybody? Yay, come on up. (giggles) Brave soul. So remind me your name. Dakota. Dakota. So Dakota here, let's pretend we're metering her. And I'm looking here, 'cause we're under studio light so we have light all around. So we're gonna pretend a little, okay? But if I were shooting Dakota with my camera, I would, and let's say we're using window light, where you have light coming in from this way. So what that's gonna create is a situation where you would have a highlight here and you would have a shadow here. So when I say I take an incident meter reading for the shadow, this is what I'm talking about. I take my meter, bulb out, and I face the bulb into the shadow, alright? Which I know is very different than what a lot of people do, but I do that. And the reason why I do that is because I want to make sure that my shadow, the darkest part of my image, is at that Zone V middle gray. So if we're looking here at our example, I wanna make sure my shadow is here, the darkest part of my image is here, because then I know my highlights are gonna be here. I'm rarely in a situation where I have more than a three stop difference between my highlights and my shadows. And I know that because I'm one of the craziest crazy people who will just meter myself walking down the street all the time. (audience member chuckling) I've done it on airplanes, an airplane window, like, "Wonder what the difference is?" And I'll meter myself. But so, I'm usually here. Every once in a while, if you're in extreme backlight, and I'll show you that in a minute, you're like, you know, golden hour, and you've got that sun coming right in, you'll have more than a three stop difference between your highlights and your shadows. And if you're making sure that your shadow, the darkest part of your image, is always here, then your highlights are gonna be fine because film has amazing latitude, okay? So I meter here if this were the shadow, we're pretending, in the deep, dark shadow, because I wanna know what that shadow reading is. And honestly, even here in the studio, I just got a stop difference from when I was over there. Now, why don't I do this? This is what, you know, people will be like in the shadow, bulb facing out. I don't do this because if I have light coming here and shadow here, this is gonna give me more of a midtone reading because the lumisphere is gonna catch a little bit of that light that's spilling across her face and the shadow. I wanna make sure my bulb is up in the shadow. And that's wherever my shadow is. So I'll show you some examples in a minute. But like here, we can see she has a shadow here. So I would try to get like (mimics electronic beeping) make sure I was like looking and making sure that lumisphere is in the shadow before I take a reading. Alright, if you wanna take a highlight reading, lumisphere faces the light. Midtone reading, this is the classic, right? Right under the chin. And you're gonna get a little highlight, you're gonna get a little shadow. Does that make sense? Does that help you with? I know you're like, "But wait!" (laughs) (woman speaking quietly) I know you're taking in. It's like a portable spot meter, essentially. Yeah, sort of, yeah, incident. Can you repeat what she said? Oh yeah, she said, "Is it like a portable spot meter?" I mean, kind of, yeah. So that's a great thing. So let's talk about spot meters. So if I were going to meter that exact same way using reflective metering, which is spot metering, it would be the same sorta thing. So this is a really fancy meter here, but same thing. I would set my ISO and I would set my aperture, and then I would have it on spot meter, which you just do this. And so it gives you like a little scope. And then you can look in. So if you're standing with your spot meter, you're taking a reflective, you can be like, oh, I wanna get into that dark shadow and you can meter there, or I wanna get into that highlight and meter there. Either way works. Like I said, I like to use instant metering because it's so consistent. It doesn't matter what skin tones are, what people are wearing. It's just super-duper consistent and easy. So let me show you another example. So when I talk about the importance of getting in that deep, dark shadow, this is what I'm talking about. So yeah, you can sit down, thanks! (laughs) Unless you just wanna hang out with me all day, which would be fun. Nice to have a little company. So this is what I'm talking about. So this is my studio and I have these huge south-facing windows and I like to sit this chair in front and I put babies in the chair. South light can get really intense. It's a characteristic of south light, is it changes throughout the day. It will come into windows and it will fill up a room. It can be very intense at points. And so I have these diffusion curtains on my window. That light comes in. Oftentimes, on bright days, I will have more than a three stop difference between my highlights and my shadows in this chair. So this is what happens when you accidentally underexpose. So this is an image I was taking when I was first reintroducing film photography into my studio work, and I had heard everybody talking about metering bulb in, right? 45 degree angle. How many of you have heard that? Everybody, right? So this is what I was doing. So I was just kinda standing where I was and I was doing that. And by the way, this works awesome if you're outside, you have pretty even light, everything's great. The problem, what was happening is every time I did this when I was in extreme light situations, is that this wasn't giving me enough exposure. It was kind of reading the room. It was giving me more of a midtone reading. Does that make sense? And so my highlights were fine. These are fine. Baby's face is fine. If you chop this image off here, exposure is fine. But in these really deep, dark shadows, I was getting underexposed. And so it kinda looks, it makes the whole image look kinda muddy, right? So instead, I started doing my thing. So I would bring my meter right down in here where those deep, dark shadows are, right down in here and meter, because I wanna make sure this dark part of my image, the darkest part of my image is at middle gray. And then this, and you can even see, like you can see behind the words a little bit of my logo in the window, right, that you can't see here. So those highlights are brighter in this image because my shadows, the darkest part, is perfectly exposed. But it all works out because film is awesome and you can totally do that, right? Does that make sense? Does that help answer your question? And what's great about this technique, this whole just meter in the dark as part of your image, you can find meter for your shadows, is it really works in all kinds of light and it's consistent and it's easy. So, oh, I just said that! This works in all kinds of light. So this is an example. So this was taken in the fall, classic Seattle day, where it was just kind of gray, overcast kind of thing. But even, as we know as photographers, even when you are in kind of gray, contrasty light, you can still see little bit of shadows. This is bulb out, metered in the shadows at box speed on gray, overcast day. Bright sun at the beach. So, noon, we have light coming in, there's sand everywhere, there's this golden beach grass so it's just like light everywhere. And again, this is box speed. And by the way, I was shooting Portra 800. So it was a 800 speed film, we're gonna talk about that in just a second, shooting at box speed, metered in the shadows for that darkest part I can find, and it looks great. Plus, baby's super cute. Window light, this is in my studio, again, with those south-facing windows. So I have a south-facing window and then I also have a west window so I get this kind of like glowy awesomeness that happens. But again, metered in the shadow. So the darkest part of my image is perfectly exposed, and I even meter like this when I'm shooting with studio lighting. We'll talk about that more on Wednesday, but same thing. So I've got my studio lights, I meter in my shadow. The most important thing with metering, it's gonna come back to the question we had earlier about consistency, is you just wanna make sure whatever it is that you're doing, are you getting consistent results and are you creating a consistently dense negative? Because that's how you start getting consistent-looking images too with your labs. So if you're doing a technique and you do this all the time, but you're getting inconsistent results, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, then maybe that's not a good technique for you. If you work in a situation where, you know, you have amazing light all the time and you can do it this way, if it works for you, awesome, but I'm all about consistency, so this is how I do it.

Class Description

Stop with the excuses, grab your film camera and get out there and make amazing images! If you’re comfortable with your DSLR and post processing, then learning to use your film camera is easier than you think! In this beginner course, Sandra Coan walks through how to shoot with film so that you feel comfortable, confident, and excited to take the best pictures! She’ll talk about choosing your film and how to find and work with a lab to process your images.

This course will cover:

  • The differences and similarities between film and digital
  • How a camera meter works and how to meter for film
  • The different film options and how they affect your photo
  • How to find the right lab to process your images

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of using film. Sandra will show you how to slow down during your photo shoot, focus on what you’re trying to capture, and ultimately get a great image straight out of camera.


a Creativelive Student

Sandra is a gifted teacher!!! I've been following her work for years and know what an incredible photographer she is - but to be able to teach the way she does is truly a rare gift! I've been shooting film on and off for years and was amazed at how much I could still learn from Sandra's class. She presented the information in a way that was so easy to follow that you couldn't wait to get started. It's wonderful to learn from someone who is clearly passionate about their craft - but who is also excited for others to succeed at what they're teaching.


Amy could not have said it better in her review of this class! I am also a film shooter (have been shooting film personally for 8 years and professionally for 4) and even as someone who understands a lot of what Sandra was talking about, I STILL found this class to be incredibly helpful and learned a lot. Sandra is such a great teacher and an inspiration to so many film photographers. Great class! Thanks Sandra and Creative Live for putting this together for us.


Sandra is not only an insanely talented photographer but she's a gifted teacher. I've been shooting film for weddings and portraits for 5 years and even studied it in photography school so I'm not new to film by any means. But I've allowed myself to be so intimated to create portraits with film using strobes for far too long. But not anymore. I'll be 100% honest when I say that the information she teaches in this course, to a seasoned COMMERCIAL photographer mind you, may be insanely simple. But that's the beauty of it!!! There is no reason to over complicate shooting film with strobes. It's the simplicity and straight forward, clear as day information that Sandra teaches that's essential to rejuvenate today's overly 'tech obsessed' world. Film is alive and well! Sandra's course is gold when it comes to getting that appreciation for our craft back! I'm jazzed and ready to slow my roll down! Thank you, Sandra and CL! The value of this class is far more than that of the strobe kit I finally invested in (HOURS after the class!). : )