Skip to main content

Introduction to Film Photography

Lesson 8 of 20

Metering for Outdoor 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

8. Metering for Outdoor Shooting


  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 Outdoor Shooting

So we did this pre-shoot last week. We did a couple of them, but we thought it would be fun to show you real life situations. So we did one pre-shoot where we were out in a park, and shot some color, shot some black and white, and just different ways I meter in those situations. And then we actually went back to my studio, went inside, and used some window light, and again talked about the differences for shooting color inside and black and white inside, and how I use metering for those. So we are outside in Seattle. We're at Sandel Park. And I just wanna demonstrate how I would meter if I were in outdoor light. So I'm gonna show you incident metering in outdoor light, in kind of an open shade situation. We have our friend Ernie here, in open shade. So what I do when I meter, first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to set the ISO that I'm shooting at, which is the box speed of my film. I always shoot at box speed, I don't rate my film at anything other than that. So I have my ISO set ...

at 400. And I wanna shoot today at f2, because I'm shooting my contacts, and it's really pretty at f2 when you're outside. So this is what I'm going to do. So our friend here is in pretty even light. I'm gonna move him just a little so he doesn't have that little dapple of light on him. Right about there. So because he's in open shade, I could take a reading anywhere, and they're gonna be the same. Because the light's all the same. And when you're using incident metering, of course, you're metering the light that's falling on your subject, not the light that's reflecting off your subject. If we had bright light here, I would meter with my bulb facing away from the bright light. Because if you turn your bulb this way and you have light here, and you have shadow here, the lumisphere's gonna catch a little bit of that light, and you're gonna get more of a mid-tone reading. So as a habit, I always just turn my bulb into the shadow. Away. And I get a reading of f2 at 1/1000, so that's what we're gonna do! So I'm gonna get some of these leaves, just 'cause I think it looks pretty and fun. So I'm gonna be all up in here. Come over here for me, just a little. Now you're in a little bit of a dapple. And come forward just a little tiny bit. Good. Perfect. Hey. (camera shutter) That looks good. And just relax, take a breath. That's good, chin down just slightly. (camera shutter) Look over towards our friends over here. So you guys, when you're shooting in light like this, we're under a tree, you just wanna make sure, because as the wind blows, it blows the leaves, and you get different light patterns on his face. So sometimes you just gotta wait out the wind. Like that. For just a second. All right, good, now look back at me. Chin down just a little bit, there you go. I'm just waiting just one sec. (camera shutter) That's good. (camera shutter) All right, good. So every once and a while, we are getting a little bright spot on his shirt, and on his face, and when you are shooting with a digital camera, that's usually more of a problem. You're gonna see, when we look at these photos, that that little bit isn't a big deal; film handles those contrasts really, really well. Especially when you're metered for the shadows. So that is metering with incident light in even light, open shade. So now I wanna show you a little different of a lighting situation. So we were in open shade before. This is more of a backlight situation, so I'm gonna show you how I would do an incident reading for this light. A couple things I do wanna point out, however, is that to get the light behind him, we're having to stand so that this street is in the background, which isn't totally pretty. But because I'm shooting the contacts and I'm shooting it at f2, all that's gonna be blurred out, and hopefully we won't even notice it. And also a quick word, just really quick, before I meter, on shooting with backlight with film versus shooting with backlight with a digital camera. So, that backlight look is something that's really super popular with digital photographers, and it's beautiful, right? Where you can blow that out, you can get sun coming directly in your lens, and it's this really kinda cool effect. That's actually much harder to do with a film camera, because when you get that much light coming into your camera, what it can do is actually, not necessarily blow it out in that it will be overexposed, but blow it out in that you'll get more of a hazy look than you will get that kind of cool "backlit" look that we get with digital cameras. So because of that, when I am in a backlight situation, I try to make sure that that sun is always out of my frame. Whereas if I were shooting with a digital camera, I might let a little of that sun kinda sneak in. With my film cameras, I don't. Because I don't want that hazy look. And I'm standing on this gray Pelican case because Ernie here is really tall. And I have him standing in a hole, and he's still too tall. So I'm on a Pelican case. So let me show you how I would meter. So again, I'm going to take an incident reading, bulb out. I have my ISO set at 400, because that's the box speed of the film I'm shooting, and I am going to be shooting at f2. And I'm gonna come up in here. So now here, we see sun here, sun here, sun here, but we have this nice deep shadow here. I'm always metering for that dark shadow part when I'm shooting color film, because I want the darkest part of my image to be perfectly exposed. So to do that, I'm gonna get that lumisphere right up in there in that shadow. I'm all up in him. And then take it right there. And it's the same shadow reading I had before. Which is f2 1/1000, and we're gonna do this. Gonna get on my Pelican case. By the way, you guys, I shoot with this apron for this reason right here, 'cause it has these amazing pockets, and I can put all my film, and I can put my light meter and stuff in there and I won't lose them. All right, friend, let's do this. Gonna bring your chin down just a little. Good, that looks great. (camera shutter) And a little, like, (sighs). (sighs) There you go, good. (camera shutter) I'm gonna come down, I'm gonna try to get a little bit of a flare. Just so you can see what I'm talking about. There's this reflection off of this car. We'll see. That looks good. (camera shutter) Got this, like, bright orange thing right behind you. Good. (camera shutter) I actually like this angle a lot. Let's do one up here. (camera shutter) There it is. (camera shutter) Good. That looks great. Now I wanna show you metering for black and white in outdoor light. So we moved to the other side of the park. We were looking for kind of interesting light, because that's the fun part of shooting black and white. So instead of looking for colors and tones, when you're shooting black and white, you're looking for highlights, you know, darks, lights, and all that kind of stuff. So I decided that we would put our friend Ernie here. Again, he's backlit a little bit. His face is in pretty deep open shade. But what I liked about this is that we have the light coming through the leaves. So these leaves, the dark parts are gonna show up darker, and the light parts are gonna be lighter. So it might give us some pretty texture for a black and white photo. So that's why we're here. Side note: I would never place him like this if I were shooting color film, and one of the reasons is he's under this big green tree, and he's standing on green grass, and so he's getting a lot of green light reflected on his face, and nobody really wants to look green. It's just not super pretty. But we're gonna shoot it in black and white so it doesn't matter. So I shoot everything using instant metering. That's who I am. So I'm gonna show you that. But I also just want to talk for a second about reflective metering, especially when shooting with black and white. Again, reflective metering means that we're gonna be reading the light that is bouncing off our subject as opposed to the light that is falling on our subject. And a lot of people use reflective metering when working with black and white, because you can easily really get in there and say, "Well I'm gonna get in here and meter the dark part, or I'm gonna meter the light part." You can spot meter with it. You can do it with instant metering too. I wanna show you how to do it with reflective metering, real quick. So, with color film, when we meter, we always meter for our shadows, because we want that darkest part of our image to be perfectly exposed. With black and white, there's no real rule like that. With black and white, you meter for where you want your detail to be. So if you want detail in the shadows, you want his face, you know, then you meter in your shadows. That's where your detail's gonna be. If you want detail in the highlights, if we were to turn him to profile, meter for the bright light behind his shoulder, he'd be more of a silhouette, you would meter that way. So, reflective metering. This is a little spot meter here. Which is great. And really, it just gives you a scope-- I'm gonna move my glasses-- so you can look through and you can decide, okay I'm gonna meter for this dark part on his shirt. And you can push your button and it gives you 2.8 at 1/125. By the way, I'm shooting 400 speed film. I'm shoot Kodak Tri-X. The problem with reflective metering is that because you are metering the light that is reflecting off, the color of the person's clothing will affect your reading. The color of their skin, their skin tones, will affect your reading. So the classic example of this is if you're at a wedding, right, and you've got white gown, black tuxedo. Those are pretty different tones, so if you're taking a reflective meter reading off of that white gown, you're gonna get a different reading than you would off of the black tuxedo, even though they could be standing in the exact same light. So, to compensate for that, a lot of people use a gray card, right here. And a gray card is just a card that is made to be at that perfect middle gray reading, 18% gray. To use a gray card, you would just put it in the light that you're wanting to meter, so I'm gonna have you hold this for me, right there, same light as your subject, and then take that reading again. And now we're at 1/30th, wow. So it changed a whole stop from the difference between his shirt and the gray card. So if I wanted to take a high light reading, of course, I would put it in the light, make sure it was there in the light, and I'd read off of that. I never use reflective metering. I like instant metering, because it doesn't matter what color clothes my subject is wearing, it doesn't matter what their skin tone is. I'm only going to be reading the light that is falling on them. And you can do that with black and white, as well. Let me put this down. Let me show you. So we're gonna shoot at 400. Which is the box speed of my film. And I'm gonna shoot at f2.8, and I'm gonna come in here. I'm wanting to get his face, so I'm gonna meter in that shadow, with the bulb facing me. And with my incident reading, I'm getting 1/250. So I'm going to take that shot. But do you see what a difference that was between the reflective meter reading? It's because he's wearing a dark shirt. It's kind of interesting. So let me just get this set. And we're gonna go ahead and take this shot. All right. Put your chin down just for me a little, good. Those leaves are pretty. (camera shutter) Turn your head over that way just a little. Bring your chin down. Chin down like you're looking at your shoe. It's an amazing shoe. There you go. (camera shutter) Good. And look here at me. (camera shutter) All right, there we have it. All right! Nothing like watching yourself on video. (laughs) Okay, so this is what we got from that shoot. So here we are in the leaves. It's very pretty. So again, this was metered for the shadow. And this is what I was talking about in the video, we have a little bit of bright light on his shirt. And you know how when you shoot with a digital camera, those differences are really stark, you can really see? And it just, it doesn't bother me with film. And this is that backlight with the cars. Again, metered for the shadows. Skin tones look great. And then this is... This is what I was trying to do, I was trying to get down and get a little bit of light into my lens so you could see that backlight effect with film that I was talking about. And you can see it a little bit. See, we got a little bit of this haze down here. We were shooting at 10:30 in the morning, so the sun was pretty high, so it was harder to do. I actually kinda like it, in this instance. I think it kinda looks cool to have a little haze there. Again, surprise! Film's so fun. But I did find this I wanna talk to you about. This is what I was talking about. So sometimes, when you're shooting backlight with film, this is what can happen. Where the film comes in, and you actually end up in this hazy, grainy situation, where this isn't underexposed, it's just... The way the light is hitting the film that's kind of blowing it out. Which is different than with digital photography. When you're shooting digitally, you can actually let all the sun into your lens and you don't have that. So to avoid that, I just kind of moved my body a little, so that you can still get backlight, you can still get that pretty sun, but I make sure that I'm not letting that sun come into my lens, 'cause I don't wanna blur everything out. So there's the comparison with those. Big difference, right? So it's just something to think about, when you're shooting with film. There are people who backlight with film all the time, and they do an amazing job. It's just, kind of, understanding that the technique is gonna be a little different than if you're shooting with a digital camera. With the black and white, so here we are in the leaves. The leaves do look cool. (laughs) And his face looks great. And this was taken with the incident reading. I don't know if you caught it in the video, but there was a pretty big difference between spot reading on his shirt, spot reading with the gray card, and the incident reading. I think I was at 250 with the incident reading, right? And at one point we were at 1/30? With the spot metering? So, 125, 60, 30, that's a three stop difference. So that's what I'm talking about, it really makes a difference. When I was reading up here on his face, it was at 125, and then I went to 1/60, then I went to 1/30, depending on where I was getting the light on his shirt. So isn't that amazing? So it really is a difference with reflective and incident. I'm metering for his face and we were able to get those just fine. So one question that people always have about shooting outside, incident vs reflective metering, is, okay, so what do you do if you are a street photographer? Or you are taking a landscape? What do you do in those situations? I always work with people, so I always go to using examples of people. But that's an example when you could absolutely do spot metering and it would work great. Like, if you're taking a landscape, and you're looking at the scene, and you're light's way over there, and you're like, "Oh, I really wanna make sure "that I get shadow detail there, "so I'm gonna meter for that shadow." Spot metering comes in really well. However, if you don't have a spot meter, and you just have an incident meter, like I have, you can do it with that, too. So what I always tell people, the cheater way to do that is to look at your scene and be like, "Okay, that's shadow, there. "I want detail on my shadow," and then just make a shadow any way you can. And meter for the shadow. If what you're seeing in your image way far away is highlights, I want detail there, you just find similar light and meter there. It's kind of an easy way to 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!). : )