Some of my students at our studio in Waterloo have recently been asking why I do not use a light meter for my studio photography.
Light meters originate from the days of film – they were stand-alone, hand-held devices. Nowadays, they are popular with some photographers to ensure that they have the correct exposure, and to detect the ‘hottest’ spots on a subject.
However, I do not use a light meter for my studio photography neither when using speedlites. In my opinion, using a light-meter is a waste of time and money. Here’s why:
When you’re using flash or strobe lighting (studio/speedlites), determining the exposure with a light meter takes a long time and it slows down the photographer a lot. I find that this interrupts my creative flow. On the other hand, using my digital camera, it takes just one or two test images to determine the best exposure. It’s quick and easy.
If you use the same studio a lot, you can actually “learn the lighting” and become a natural “light-meter”. For example, in my own studio, I always start at f/5.6 with an 80cm soft box, and f/8 when using a standard reflector. With these two set ups, I never fail to achieve the right exposure, because I have already used it a thousand times. I practically learnt the result by heart and I am now the light meter myself.
Furthermore, buying a light meter can be expensive! My philosophy in our school is that photography should be as affordable and accessible as possible. If you do have some extra money to spend, I would suggest you invest it in some other helpful tools such as lenses, lighting, shapers, props, and accessories.
The light meter kills creativity!
In my opinion the light meter can limit your imagination. As an artistic photographer, your ability to think outside the box is seriously important. You want to produce pleasing and appealing photographs by using light freely, without restrictions. You need to be guided by your intuition, not a machine like a light meter!
Tools like these will always guide you towards producing the same standard results, over and over again. That’s the exact opposite of what we should aim for. Photography is art, and the point of art is to learn and produce interesting and exciting images!
This is why I don’t use a light meter, and over the whole nine years that I’ve been teaching photography, I have never advised any of my students to use a light meter for their flash, speedlite or studio work.
At the start of my Studio Lighting and Speedlite Photography Workshops, I explain to my students what a light meter is, what it does, how it works, and also how to determine the exposure easily without one.
I love teaching my students the science and philosophy behind photography, but most importantly I enjoy teaching them how to think freely. By encouraging budding photographers to improvise and experiment, they learn how to achieve genuine and original photographs.
I think it’s important to teach students how to make their own decisions – without copying or being overtly inspired by other photographers. Using automated tools can have just the same limiting effects. But by only using your imagination, and your creative intuition as your “light meter”- the possibilities are endless!