Getting Started: Metering


Quick Start to Film Photography


Lesson Info

Getting Started: Metering

Cameras, now we're really gonna get into it. This is where it gets really important, and we're gonna talk about metering. I'm going really fast 'cause I'm trying to get everything in is everybody still with me? (laughs) Okay just let me know. I had a question about the film, how do you know-- do they print dates, I obviously don't shoot film at all, do they print dates on it or how do you know it's from a reputable supplier or...? On the wrapper here, there'll be an expiration date. So this one expires in April of 2019. So you can check that out. [Male Audience Member] Thank you. Yeah, that's a good question. Okay so you guys, when it comes to film photography, metering is everything. Good metering will make or break an image. So we're gonna spend a little bit of time on this. So film versus digital sensor, I like to start here. I always say if you were to do a Google search, if you were to put this in like Google just like this, you're gonna get like 800 articles telling you l...

ike why one is better than the other, and people feel very passionate about it. I actually don't think one is better than the other, but they are very, very different. And the biggest difference between film and a digital sensor is in exposure latitude. So we all know that as digital photographers, when you're shooting digitally, you can accidentally overexpose your image, or completely blow out your highlights, right? Like that's something that I know digital photographers know and to compensate a lot of digital photographers will actually err on the side of underexposure, and then pull that up in either Lightroom or in Photoshop, because they're wanting to make sure that they're not losing any information in the highlights. Well with film, professional grade film stock, especially color film, you can actually overexpose your film, I've overexposed intentionally up to five stops, six stops, and not lose information in your detail, or in your highlights. So that's a big deal (laughs) But on the other end, if you underexposure it, if you go that other end, you're going to introduce unwanted grain and color shifts, which are not pretty. So it's actually the opposite, we know that you err on the side of underexposure with digital, you err on the side of overexposure with film. Which again can feel kind of weird. So here's an example of what I'm talking about. So this is a seven stop exposure test that I did. This one was shot with my digital camera, which is a Canon 5D Mark II and this one was shot with Portra 400, I believe this is. But you can see right here what I'm talking about. So this is what would be considered perfect exposure. And then we're at one stop over, two stops over, three stops over. And so you can notice in the digital images, they start getting brighter, pretty soon he's losing his face, and by over exposed three, the child has no nose, like it's just gone it's sad. Whereas you know, down here, with the film, we're up here at plus three, and there's still plenty of detail in the highlights, nothing is blown, and notice the brightness level is the same also. That's gonna be really important in a minute. Down here, underexposure, however, by under one, under two, under three, even that under three on that digital image we know we could still pull up, and we could still use that, but with the film image, by the time you get down there, you're seeing a lot of color shifts, orangey shadows, kind of greeny gross grain. So this is what I'm talking about as far as that difference between how a digital sensor and film react to exposure. So here is the same kind of test, done with a roll of black and white. Now people often talk about the tremendous exposure latitude of color film. Black and white film has pretty decent exposure latitude too. It is different than color film for sure. And with black and white film, the film stock that you use really makes a difference. Some film stocks have better latitude than others, so that's a part where you really need to get in there and know your film. Here you can see even at overexposed by three, we still have plenty of detail on the highlights, nothing is blown. And what's interesting, what's fun about black and white, this is Tri-x by the way, Tri-x 400, which is a tremendous film stock. But what's really interesting about black and white film, is even down here at that negative two, you could push that negative in processing, which unfortunately I don't have time to talk about this class, but I cover in detail in my other class, but what pushing would do would be add contrast and grain to that, so those brights would get brighter, those darks would get darker, and that would be kind of a beautiful, usable negative. So that's a lot of wiggle room, where you're not gonna lose anything on either end, which I think is fantastic. So okay, this is my (laughs) I should warn people before I put this test out (laughs). This is my posing doll and I take a lot of pictures of her because she sits very still and she doesn't complain. So sorry about that, but this is a 10 stop exposure test, isn't this amazing? So this is what I was talking about, this is five stops overexposed. Fuji 400H which is my film of choice. Portra 400, Portra 800, I mean isn't that amazing? Still plenty of detail in the highlights, and again, notice the brightness level of these images. Versus on the underexposed side, where you start to lose, some you know, detail in the shadows and you're getting that unwanted grain and all of that kind of stuff. So pretty interesting huh? Now I bring up this slide because I want to show again, so here we have those same three professional grade color film stocks, at overexposed three and at overexposed five. At over exposed three overexposed five. And again, you can see that we still have plenty of detail on the highlights, nothing is blown, and again, notice the brightness level of these images. It's the same. And I show this because what a lot of people do when they first start shooting film is they think "Okay well I know that you're supposed to err "on the side of overexposure, cause I hear that "all the time from film shooters." And "I want my images to be light and airy," and have that bright airy look that is so popular right now especially among wedding photographers. And so they think "Okay, well to achieve that then, "I'm just gonna totally overexpose my film, "to get that bright and airy look." But actually that's not how it works. So as you can see, this is a two stop difference, brightness is the same. So brightness on film has a lot more to do with the way your images are scanned, than it does in how much you overexpose it. Which I know is weird, it's hard to-- I see some faces out there, but I think that this is really important to point out. Because when you're thinking like a digital photographer, it makes sense "Okay, I'm just gonna overexpose "my film a lot because I want that bright and airy." But I'm gonna show you in just a second, looking at your negative, why you don't necessarily want to do that. But this is just another example. So this is same image, same light. Shot exactly the same, these are about three stops overexposed. And as you can see the digital rendering here on the left is blown, and the film one looks fine. So the question that people have when I start talking about this and showing this is like "Okay, wait a minute. If overexposure doesn't "affect the brightness of your image, "then why do film photographers overexpose their film? "Why are people doing this." Right? Does anybody have that question? Yeah I see some heads shaking, well this is why. Because so, 10 stop exposure test, and this is what the negative looks like. So what happens is, is when you overexpose your film, look what happens to your negative, see how it starts getting darker and darker? That is called density, film density. And what happens is, is that when you overexpose on a digital sensor, you actually lose information on that sensor so if you're overexposed to the point where your highlights are gone, you can't pull that back and get that information in Photoshop or in Lightroom. But the opposite is true with film. So when you overexpose your film, what you do is you let more light in to hit that negative, and so you actually add information in the shadows. So it's the opposite, whereas when you underexpose, you can see it there, you lose information in the shadows, there's nothing there which is why you get that weird wonky green. Here's another view of that. So this is a box speed exposure, so a perfect exposure. Two stops over, two stops under. And here you can really see the difference here. Do you see how in the overexposed image, we have information in the highlights, and we have lots of information in the shadows. So if you get up here really close, you might not want to 'cause it's a scary doll, but there is, you can see all the little hairs, all that information in the shadows, at overexposed two. And there's nothing there when it's underexposed two. So that is why film photographers overexpose their film. Because they're wanting to create a dense negative. That's the role of film. Now, I've just got up here and told you that you can overexpose your film up to five to six stops, you're not gonna lose detail in the highlights, it's amazing, but that doesn't mean you can just go out and overexpose your film all day and be fine, because when you do get to this level of overexposure, there are some drawbacks too, and you can even just see that in the negative. This, by the time your overexposed five or six stops, you're in what's considered extreme overexposure, and see how dark the negative gets? Your negative can get so dense, that it becomes hard for a sensor to push light through that negative, or if you're printing, to get light through that negative. And then you're gonna start eventually to get color shifts and unwanted grain. So the trick is to overexpose your film, err on the side of overexposure, but do it just enough so you're creating a good dense negative, so you have information in the highlights and information in the shadows, okay? But don't overexpose so much that you're just producing this super dark negative that's gonna start introducing color shifts and grain, okay? So the question then is how do we do that? And we do it with metering, ta-da! So let's talk about metering for just a second. So like I said, earlier, when you are a film photographer, metering is extremely important. It will make or break an image, and that is because of what I just showed you with those negatives, right? So you're wanting to err on the side of overexposure, but you're wanting to make sure it's just enough so you have that detail in the shadows and you do that with metering. Now, this is a handheld light meter. And aside from your camera, this is the most important piece of equipment you can have as a film photographer. And what a handheld light meter does is it helps you find middle gray. So it goes into a scene and it reads all the light, the highlights, the shadows, everything that's going on, and it tells you what middle gray is in that scene. So what is middle gray? Middle gray is that perfect mid spot between absolute black and absolute white. That's what middle gray is. And every light meter and every modern camera out there on the market is designed with that in mind. So it is your meter's job, or it's your camera's job if you're using your in-camera meter, to read a scene and find middle gray. It is your job as the photographer to look at the scene and decide where in that scene you want that middle gray reading to be, and that's what you use your meter for, are you guys with me so far? That can be a little confusing. So let's just talk about meters and how they work, and then I'm gonna meter people right now, in the studio. Isn't this exciting? (laughs) Things that get me excited. So like I said, middle gray is, your meter is helping you find middle gray which is perfect exposure, and to do that, it takes into account three data points. And those three data points make up the exposure triangle, right, so you've got your ISO, your aperture and your shutter speed, and when those things are in balance, you have perfect exposure. So when you're setting up your meter, I'm just gonna show you this first, you always wanna start with your ISO. And your ISO is actually written for you on your film stock. So every film stock comes from the manufacturer with a number on it, this is Ektar 100, that number is your ISO number. It used to be called ASA number. So that's what you plug in to your meter, just starting right there. Now there's wiggle room with that, people rate their film with different things, again I talk about that a lot in the Intro to Film Photography class, but I'm gonna not talk about it right now, just out of time. But what you need to know is that's the number that you put in your light meter, and you put it here. And then when I'm shooting with natural light, I always set my aperture where I wanna shoot, I just turned this on and it's set at 2.8, I like to shoot wide open, and if I'm shooting with strobes, then I put in my shutter speed. So you put in two of the three variables, and you hit the button and the meter tells you the third, and then you set that in your camera. So that's how light meters work. Now once you have your meter set up, you understand it's important, you understand it's helping you find middle gray, and you've understood how to program it to get it to work, now you just need to decide how you're going to meter. And there are two different ways of metering. You can do a reflective meter reading, or you can do an incident meter reading. So I want to tell you what the difference is really quick. So reflective meter reading means that your meter is reading the light that is reflecting off of your subject. So the light that is bouncing off your subject. And this is the technique that your in-camera meter will use. Like if you're in spot meter mode. So it's reading a scene, and wherever it's pointing, it's reading the light that's reflecting off of this. Which is great but the problem with reflective metering is that the color clothes your subject's wearing, the color of their skin, whatever is going on with them, will affect this reading. So the classic example is wedding, white wedding dress, black tuxedo, they can be in the exact same light, and you're gonna get a different reading off of that white wedding dress, than off of that black tuxedo, which can be a problem. So a lot of photographers, to compensate for that, use a gray card, which is a card that is gray. (laughs) But it is set to that perfect middle gray tone. So you can put this card in between white dress black tuxedo and you'll get that middle gray, perfect middle gray reading in that light. Now I like things simple and easy. I always tell people that I'm lazy by nature, and so I don't use reflective metering, instead I use incident metering. And incident metering means that your meter is reading the light that is falling on your subject, as opposed to the light that is bouncing off your subject. And this is great because it doesn't matter what their skin tone is, it doesn't matter what clothes they're wearing, what color it is, all this is telling you is what that light is doing that is falling on your subject. So I only use incident reading all the time, I love it. So I'm gonna show you how to do that right now.

Class Description

Have you always wanted to shoot film but are just unsure how to begin? Join film photographer Sandra Coan for a quick start to film photography. In this class you will learn:

  • The difference between film and a digital sensor
  • How to choose the perfect camera and film for you and your style
  • Where to find and buy professional grade film stocks
  • How to meter so that you get perfect exposures every time
  • How to find and choose a photo lab so that you can get the most out of your film images

By the end of this class you’ll be ready to pick up your film camera and shoot with confidence!


a Creativelive Student

As all of her other classes, this class is amazing and very informative too.