Thorsten asked: When metering light, where do you point the dome of the meter?

Thorsten wrote:
Great little BTS video. I watched very closely and think I know the answer to my question, but not 100% sure, so here goes – when metering do you point the dome of the meter at the key light or back towards the camera (for the sake of simplicity, I’m assuming a single light source)?
Photographers the world over seem to have strongly held opinions on this issue and instead of clarifying the question this only seems to add to the confusion. What has your experience shown you to work best? I realise there probably isn’t a single simple answer to this, but any thoughts you have on this will add to my understanding of handheld metering. Thanks.

Hi Thorsten,

Funny you should ask – I’m in the process of preparing a webinar for Sekonic meters that covers the exact topic you are asking about (among others).

The answer is a bit more complicated than it first appears because most often there is a second light source (or fill card) lighting my subject or I am not photographing a single subject but a group of subjects instead.
Here is the technique I use:
1. If the two light sources are of similar or only slightly differing intensities (power level and distance) AND there are multiple subjects being lit I aim the meter’s dome at the camera.
2. When I am metering a single subject and my two light sources are of similar or slightly differing intensities, I position the dome of the meter so that it points at an imaginary point approximately about half-way between the lens axis and the main light. I often call this “feathering the dome” towards the key (or main) light.
3. As the difference in intensity between the main light and any secondary light source increases (say over 2 f-stops), or as my single subject turns towards the main light I aim the dome directly at the main light instead of feathering it at all.
4. Lastly, if I am lighting a group of subjects, and they are arranged so that they all are turned towards the main light and all the subjects are approximately the same distance from the main light I aim the dome directly at the main light.

Using the four techniques above seems to give me the most consistent exposure levels from image to image but I mention the difference in metering technique between single and multiple subjects because if you feather the dome when photographing multiple subjects the subject farthest away from the main light always seems to get short changed in its exposure level which (in turn) makes the subject closest to the main light seem to be most important (which is often not the case).

Importantly, before I start using a single reading with a dome receptor I most often read each light source individually either with the dome retracted (on Sekonic meters) or using a flat receptor (on meters not equipped with a retracting dome), or blocking secondary light sources from hitting the dome with my hand so as to read each light’s intensity individually. So, it might be said that I first decide how steep a ratio I want between my multiple light sources and the adjust my metering technique to take that difference into account.

Finally, I read background or hair lights by pointing the dome directly at those light sources and placing the dome in the same place as the portion of the subject or background I am lighting and the adjust these light’s output to fit into the exposure setting I’m using to light the primary subject of my image.

The real point is I always try to use a consistent technique that is dependent of the subject and lighting I’m using.
As an example of this, in the image below there is an approximate 2.5-3 stop difference between the main light and the fill light on the primary subject, I aimed my dome at the main (or key light), and the light wiping across the background was set at the same intensity as the light reading for the primary subject be reading it individually.

I hope this info is helpful to you.

Seconic has a book excerpt from 

on Incident Light Meter Positioning


Posted on June 12, 2011 at 7:49 am by Steve Sint · Permalink
In: Tools & Organization, Working with Flash · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

4 Responses

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  1. Written by Thorsten
    on June 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Thank you Steve for such a comprehensive and quick reply, much appreciated. My own experiences had already led me to believe that there wasn’t a simple “do this” or “do that” answer to this one. Your explanation certainly helps clarify things for me and also reinforces two important aspects of photography – (i) know your equipment (and how it reacts in different situations) and (ii) practice makes perfect.

    I’m looking forward to the Sekonic webinar you referred to in your reply. Thanks again.

  2. Written by Steve Sint
    on June 13, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Thorsten wrote:
    “Your explanation certainly helps clarify things for me and also reinforces two important aspects of photography – (i) know your equipment (and how it reacts in different situations) and (ii) practice makes perfect.”

    Actually, I have come to a different conclusion in the last couple of years. My conclusion is that everything about a photograph is interconnected. The arrangement (or pose) I choose to use depends upon the subject or the number and size of the subjects and the lighting I choose to use depends upon the pose I’ve chosen to use. Further, even the lens focal length and f-stop I choose to use depends upon the subject and how the subject is arranged or posed. Although it might sound very zen like everything in a successful image is dependent upon the subject, the pose, the lighting, and the technical camera choices all working in harmony to reinforce each other as they express the message I’m trying to express.

    Take care,

  3. Written by KN
    on July 29, 2011 at 10:31 am

    truly loved the article added to my favourites

  4. Written by Francesca Garde
    on October 23, 2011 at 4:46 am

    Hi Steve. I wanted my wedding to be just perfect and I wanted you to take it. I am impressed by your creation.

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