Metering outdoors

A modern light meter is a flash meter as well as an ambient light meter. And that can be good, but it can also be confusing. How do you meter when using a flash outdoors, when you meter both types?

For instance, for a shot like this?

Here is how I do it:

  1. I set my camera to the mode I want – manual, usually in this case.
  2. Now, I decide on ISO. Say 100.
  3. Then I decide on shutter speed – say 1/200th sec. No more than the camera’s fastest flash sync speed, usually around 1.200th second.
  4. Now I set those values on the light meter and I press the button to meter the ambient light and read the aperture that this gives me. (I can use the light meter in ambient mode, or I can use my camera. I prefer the light meter. )
  5. Then I set my camera to what I want with respect to that, say -2 stops w.r.t ambient. So if the meter reads f/4. I may use f/8 instead.
  6. Then I switch to flash meter.
  7. I now fire a test flash with my flash – and then adjust flash power and distance to give me exactly this aperture.

In fact it is often a bit of an iterative process:if step 3 does not give me a good aperture value (e.g. it gives me f/2.0 or f/16), then I will choose different shutter speed or ISO values until I get a value I like. Or if even at full flash power I cannot get the desired aperture in step 7, I adjust ISO and go back to step 1.

Try this technique: all you need is a manual camera, a manual flash (and a way to fire it), and a light meter.

And then you too can make shots like this:

That shot was taken at one of Joseph Marranca and my Mono workshops.

And there is good news: the last ever Mono workshop, on April 23, is open for booking. And it will be a very special one. Can you say “green screen”, “waterboarder”, and “amazing portfolio shots” as well as “learning great light and flash technique”? Sign up now if you want to have a great photographic learning experience.

2 thoughts on “Metering outdoors

  1. Hi Michael
    What do you think about’s method where he recommends adjusting shutter for ambient and aperature for flash, by “chimping” (no light meter).
    Just interested in your response.
    As the two methods have similar results, yet dramatically different philosophy.
    Many thanks

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