Skip to main content

Introduction to Film Photography

Lesson 9 of 20

Metering for Indoor Shooting

Sandra Coan

Introduction to Film Photography

Sandra Coan

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

9. Metering for Indoor Shooting

Lesson Info

Metering for Indoor Shooting

We are now inside at Sandra Coen Photography and I wanna show you how I meter when shooting color film with window light. Spoiler, it's exactly the same as how I meter with under natural light. But, what I'm going to do is I'm going to set my ISO on my meter, box, speed, whatever film I'm shooting. Right now, it's the Fuji 400h so my ISO is at 400. And I have Ernie sitting here in front of this beautiful big South facing window. And we have light coming in here. So we have a highlight and we have a shadow. Which is different that what we are seeing with the outdoor light. Right, we were in open shade, it was all pretty even. Window light, you always have this difference with little bit of a highlight and a little bit of a shadow. So, I'm going to take my meter bulb out. And I again, I'm gonna go right in the shadow. And I want you to notice how my bulb is facing into the shadow. Again, it's not like this, cause if I did this, I'm gonna have more of a midtone reading because I'm gonna g...

et some of this highlight that's gonna come over here. I want a true shadow reading cause I wanna make sure that the darkest parts of my image is perfectly exposed. Now, window light, shooting color film. Because we are metering for our shadows, sometimes shooting color film with window light can be tricky. This is a beautiful day. Today, we have a lot of nice light. And we have a South facing window which means that in the afternoon, more so but South light's pretty full. It gets pretty bright. It'll change throughout your day. But a characteristic of South light is that it will really come in and fill up a room. Whereas North light, just kinda hovers and is kinda stays the same all the time. So even with all those things going on, we're still getting a reading in the shadow, of a 60th of a second at f2. Which because Ernie is a grown-up, it's gonna be just fine but if I were shooting a toddler, working with a toddler, is something ... That will be a little tricky. But, we're gonna make it work. Right, you're not gonna jump around, right. So, I'm actually gonna bring in a reflector and just bounce a little bit of that light back. Now, I'm still getting that, still getting it. So we're just gonna shoot at the 60th. That's fine, we can do it. But isn't this pretty, it's just so pretty. I love window light. Alright, here we go. This is it, this is total, my favorite kinda light. Have your, bring your chin down just a little bit, good. (camera shooting) Pretty. (camera shooting) And look out the window for me. And again right here. (camera shooting) Alright, that looks great. So now, I wanna show you metering black and white with window light, which by the way is like my favorite thing to do. So I'm excited to be back in studio, in my element. So with black and white, again, you really wanna meter for where you want your detail to be. That's kinda the fun of black and white. It's kind of the art of it. And you could really control the look of your image that way. You can make it more contrast, you can make it more brighter. Depending on how you're metering and where. So, here we're sitting, we have this beautiful window. We have nice highlights here and we have some nice shadows here. It's still pretty even light cause we're surrounded by this huge walls. We have like a two stop difference between highlights and shadows. But we can have some film with it. So if I were metering for my highlights, I just wanna show you what all these different things look like. So your highlights are where the light is hitting your subject's face if you're taking portrait. And you're gonna be bold facing the light. And we are at, 125, 2.8. If I were gonna do a midtone reading, I'd wanna get a reading that kind of had a little bit of shadow and a little bit of the highlight. So I'd be here under the chin, bulb out, facing me. And now, I'm at a 60th so it's a stop difference. And if I wanted a shadow reading, I'd be here away from the light so bulb is facing into the shadow to get a shadow reading. I'm gonna take one of each of those and we'll see. And now we're at the 30th so yeah, two stop difference. I'm gonna take a photo of each of those. The light is pretty even. But we'll be able to see just a little difference between meter for the highlights, meter for the midtones, and meter for the shadows. It should be fun, so, let's do this. So let's do a highlight reading. Again that's 2.8 at 125th. Again. Let's quickly kinda (exhales heavily) (man exhales heavily) Bring your chin down. (camera shooting) Good. (camera shooting) Again. Again, take a midtone reading. Now we're gonna be at the 60th. All good, you're so good. You moved your own head. (laughs) Or I ask you to do it. Good. And then this is gonna be a 30th again. Yep, so I'm gonna hold my breath and hold really still. Let's see who steady my hands can be. (camera shooting) Good. What's fun with black and white too is you can kind of play around with it. So, if this light were a little brighter, we'd have more of a silhouette if I came here. But we can still here actually, can you scoot your chair this way just a little bit. Let's just do it. So I'm gonna have you look at this wall. And I'm actually gonna meter for the highlights here. So his face is gonna be a little bit more in shadow. Which should be fun. (camera shooting) And then turn your head towards me and look at your elbow. So we're gonna get a little bit of that highlight there. Which is nice. And here ... So, most of the time, friends, when I'm metering my black and white, as rule, I tend to meter for it take a midtone or a shadow reading and then I ask the lab to scan for the highlights. We're gonna talk about that more when we get into labs. But I was just thinking that because again I wanted to create a nice densed negative. I like brighter images that's more of like my style and my brand. So I'm gonna do just a couple more with those shadow readings now that he's in a little bit more light. So, we will do that, just a couple more. (camera shooting) And get really close. (camera shooting) Good, that's it, good, great! So, these are those images. So, this is the color. Isn't that just so pretty, I just love window light. And, another one. So one thing I wanna point out in the video, which is important with window light that I didn't mention, is if you'll notice when I'm metering, I've got that meter right up close to his face, right. Because with light, the closer you are to light, the brighter the light is. So, if you're subject's over here, and you're window's over there, and you're meter, you're like, "I'm gonna take a highlight reading." And you're meter's closer to the window, it's actually gonna be a different reading than if you're here. So that's why I'm all up in his face like that. But yeah, so there's the color images. Fuji 400h, so pretty. And, black and white. This is that midtone reading. What you see is really nice shadows and highlights. Another thing that you might see me doing a lot, I know this isn't a posing class. But I kept asking for him to bring his head down. (Sandra laughing) Cause of what a lot of people do in photos, I do it too, even though I'm no better. Is they go like this, right, "Hi." Cause they want a double chin or anything. But that actually makes our face look wider. So I keep bringing his head down. That looks great. And then this is the comparison with metered for the highlights and metered for the shadows. So the difference is subtle but it's there, right. Like, do you see how we've got a darker shadow here? And just an overall brighter image here. Just different, like kind of really controlling it where you want to have your detail. And this is, like, this is super subtle because my studio, not only has huge windows, but I'm surrounded by giant white walls. So, light come in my studio and it bounces all over the place. If you we're in like, a room, you had a smaller window and maybe you didn't have light bouncing around or you had a darker day. It was a really bright day. This would be even more so ... But you can see how you really can control the look of your image with black and white depending on how you're metering it. And then, this is ... (laughs) It's not like the best image I have ever taken. But this is what I wanted to show you is ... Remember when you ask the question with the other profile of the woman that I had and you asked where I metered. This was the exact same light setup. Only this time, I metered for the highlights and so he's darker versus if you metered for the shadows, everything would be a little brighter. Does that make sense? So it's really interesting metering (laughs) and it's fun and I know it can be confusing. So, are there any questions about any of these metering highlights? This was from Mike Armstrong. So how do I meter if I prefer a more contrast or darker moodier images. Okay, that is such a great question. And I'm actually gonna show this in the next, the next thing. So if you want darker, moodier ... There's a couple things that you're gonna go on there. So, with color film, you still meter for that highlight, or for that shadow. And then, I have examples of this when we get in talking a little later about how you can still have dark moody ... It has more to do with the brightness of all of that, has more to do with the way your image is scanned. So, this is something where you wanna talk to your lab. You wanna have that communication. So you're like, "Hey I'm shooting color film. This is the film I'm shooting. This is how I meter, cause I want a good dense negative. But I don't want light and airy. I want you to scan for the highlights and I want it to be richer and then that's how you get that look. Same, kind of with black and white. So black and white you can control a little bit of your look with your metering and how you meter. So, if you want more contrast, then, you can be in a situation where you're more contrast. You can have a dark wall, you could bring in like a black V flat to bounce some black back. You can meter for the highlights, and then you can also talk to your lab and say, "Hey friends, could you please meter or scan these for the highlights so it's a little more contrasty and a little darker." So it all works together. Yeah, I'm really excited about the segment then on working with the lab. Yeah, it's cool. Because we're just talking now about the capture of the image but then if you have additional control with the scanning part. Yeah. Stay tune for that. Well, you have, with the scanning part in the film part, this is why I'm like, Right, well right, sure. We haven't gotten there yet. You're light, you're film, they go, "We didn't started, it's so exciting." I know. (laughing) So yeah. Awesome. So, this is a long question from Vegar but I think that some of it is, "If you're using an incident meter, and sometimes you get the aperture and then a 10th of a stop reading, for example, 116th at f4.0, 0.6. Do you round up, do you round down?" I always air on the side of over exposure. Okay. Yeah, what you got is a different way of thinking than being a digital photographer. And you see it's always just ... If in doubt, go a little over versus a little under. Cool, right. Yeah. Okay. Questions about the light meter itself. Oh, let's do it. I love talking about my meters. Can you tell us what you have and then Mike Armstrong had also asked, "Is the light meter one of these things where I should definitely splurge and get a high quality one or will a low cost one do the job as well just fine?" Okay, great question. This is my light meter. My little buddy, we've been together a long time. (laughs) I kinda have this one since like 2002. So I use this Sekonic, this is the L358. Mine is outdated, they have fancier once now. But you can still get them on ebay and I love this meter, it's great. The one I'm demoing with, this one is one of those fancier ones I was just talking about. This is the Sekonic 758, and it has tons of bells and whistles. You can do an incident reading with it using the bulb or you can do spot metering with the scope, which is cool. And then, it also gives you all sorts of things with that. As far as spending money on light meters, I think it's an important investment. If you're gonna be a film photographer and you wanna do this, I always say, I think that, aside from your camera, this is the most important piece of equipment you can have when you're a film shooter because metering is so important. I mean, think about when we are looking back at those negatives. This all starts with a negative. To get a gorgeous film image, you need a really good neg. And this is how you get there. I mean it really does, it's so important you guys. Now, that said, there are great light meters that totally work that aren't super expensive. So my sister in law is a film photographer also and she had this light meter that she got at like a thrift store that was like old school. And it didn't take like a battery or anything. It was like the old kind, where you like slide over and it worked great. She could get great incident readings. I had a student in one of my classes once who got one of those little lumisphere attachments for your phone. Which I was like, "Totally, don't use that, are you kidding?" And so she was like, "I'm gonna test it." And so she did all these tests and she actually get really good readings on it. So there are options out there depending on your budget but if you are worried about making an investment, this is never an investment that you're going to regret. It's a great piece of equipment. As a film photographer, you need one, you need a good one. Great. For sure. One thing, can I just say ... Please. I just thought of a question.(laughs) Great. So, one question I get a lot that I didn't talk about is, "What about using my in camera meter? Can I just use my in camera meter." And I always advise people away from using your in camera meter for a couple of reasons. First of all, in camera meters tend to use reflective metering. And as I'm sure we know by now, I prefer incident reading, right. Also, most film cameras that we're using, at this point, are old, you know It's old technology. Things may be a little tired. They might not be working as well as they did when you first got started. And so those in camera meters sometimes can be inconsistent. And can lead to accidental under exposure which has certainly happen with me. I have a 35 millimeter camera that I take with me on my family vacations cause it's easy. And sometimes, I'll be like, doing that thing, I just told you not to do where I'm like, "I'm just gonna rate my film in a and put it on automatic setting and use the camera meter." And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't because it's just inconsistent. So I think when you're learning for sure, get a handheld light meter. Really learn how to use it. Make sure you set it so it's giving you full stops depending on your model. Sometimes it will give you, you know, third stops or half stops. But start thinking like a film shooter and most film cameras operate, the control are in full stops and train your brain to know what those are. So that you can know the difference, you know, 2, 8, 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, you know. Get all of that in your head. Learn how to meter. And then once you know the rules, once you're good at it, once you know what to do, then you can break the rules and you can be lazy every once in a while. Be like, " Yeah, I'm just gonna rate it at a 100 and be good." Which I do from time to time. Yeah. If you only have a chance to get one light reading if you're shooting on the fly or something like that. Is there a way to compensate and adjust for either highlights or shadows without doing another reading. Yeah, that's a great question. I think if were in a situation like that, I would take a shadow reading. Again, cause you're always going to air on the side of overexposure. I'd rather overexpose something. Maybe even a little bit too much rather than underexpose it. So, I would definitely always air on the side of overexposure.

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!). : )