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Introduction to Film Photography

Lesson 5 of 20

Reflective & Incident Metering

Sandra Coan

Introduction to Film Photography

Sandra Coan

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Lesson Info

5. Reflective & Incident Metering

Lesson Info

Reflective & Incident Metering

There's two different ways to meter. There's reflective metering, and there's incident metering. So I just wanna break those down for you really quick, and tell you what they are. I want you to have all the vocabulary words by the time you leave this class. (laughing) So reflective metering means that you set your meter, and you put it to a reflective setting, and it then reads the light that is reflecting off of your subject. So the light that's bouncing off of your subject. This is what most in-camera meters use. Or like if you're in spot meter mode, it's gonna use reflective metering. This is a great method when shooting landscape or something, where your subject is far away. The problem with reflective metering is that the clothing that your people are wearing, the tone of their skin, all of this kind of stuff, can affect your reading; the reading you're gonna get. So for example, you're at a wedding. This is the classic example. And you have a bride and groom, they're in the same ...

light. You have white dress, you have black tuxedo. Even if they're in the same light, if you take a reflective reading, you're gonna get a different reading off of her in white dress, than you will off of him in black tuxedo. Because those tones are different. Or skin tones. You're taking a family portrait, and people have different skin tones. You're gonna get different readings. And so what happens is with this kind of a reading, if you're just doing reflective, there's the possibility of somebody being off. Somebody being a little under or something. So where a lot of photographers get around this is that they wanna use reflective metering, but they'll bring in a gray card, which is a card that is gray. But it's at that perfect middle gray, mid-tone gray, and they'll just put the gray card in the light to kind of balance it off. So it works. Incident metering is instead of reading the light that is bouncing off of your subject, you are reading the light that is falling on your subject. So what's great about incident metering, is that, therefore, it doesn't matter what color clothing your people are wearing. It doesn't matter what their skin tones are. None of that matters, because the only thing that your meter is going to do is read that light that is falling on them, right. So it's super duper easy. And like I said earlier, I'm kind of lazy by nature. I like things easy, and so this is what I do. Everything I do, I only use incident metering, because it's great. Now, in a minute, we're gonna get into all of this, and I'm gonna show you exactly how I use those. I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about the difference. This is what reflective metering is, this is what incident metering is, so that when we do start talking about metering you'll understand what I'm doing, why I'm doing, and the words that I'm using. Alright, are there any questions about metering, incident/reflective, why we would wanna use one or the other? No? Well okay. So this, incident metering by the way, this is how I control my overexposure. So remember I said that it's your meter's job to find middle gray, and it's your job to figure out where you're gonna place that middle gray. So I can use my metering to do that. And we're gonna talk about that more in just a few minutes. Awesome. So this is just a quick question from Ricky de la Terra, who is watching from Mexico. Oh how fun. Who says, still has a Mamiya RB67, and a pack of porta film from 10 years ago when he got into digital. Do you think that I can still use that film without a problem? I think you can still use that film, absolutely. But you may get some color shifts and stuff in it. It won't look like the portrait that you would buy now. It'll look a little different. Just make sure you're giving it enough exposure, enough light. Because that's what happens as film ages, is it gets kind of less sensitive, so overexpose it a little extra. That's what I would say. And just know that the results might be anything. It could be anything, which is fun. That's the fun of film too, right. Like sometimes you put something in you're like, whoa didn't see that coming. It's kind of fun that way. Exactly. So question from Erin, what photography is. Do you ever meter in-camera when you have action or fast moving subjects, or are you always using that handheld I'm always using handheld light meter. And that's actually a great question. And maybe we can talk about it a little bit. But I feel like I'm always shooting action 'cause I work with toddlers. So that's; toddlers by definition are action. So I'm always using, or photographing fast moving clients, and they're all over. But generally, you're gonna have your people, for the most part, in the same light. So you take a meter reading for your light once, and unless they go into drastically different light, you're gonna be fine.

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!). : )