What is a Light Meter? Different Types and How They Work

What is a Light Meter

In order for a photographer of videographer to get a perfect photograph, they need to manage the amount of light on a given scene. Experienced photographers are able to guess the values of exposure on a particular scene using their past experience.

However, new photographers and those who do not have lots of experience have to rely on the light meter. In this article, we attempt to answer the question, what is a light meter. We will also look at how this device is used and identify the different types found in the market.

What is Light Meter

A light meter can be defined as a device used to determine the amount of light in a particular place. It is commonly used in photography to define the right exposure for a photograph.

Mostly, a light meter can be comprised of either an analog or digital electronic circuit which can be used by the photographer to decide the f-number or shutter speed that should be deployed in order to get the best exposure when a particular light situation and filming speed are considered.

Fields in Which Light Meters are Used

Apart from their use in scenic design and cinematography to determine the optimal levels of light, light meters are also used in other areas that require a person to have an understanding of the amount of light being transmitted.

In occupational health and safety, certain regulations stipulate the amount of light that workers should be working under. Companies that need to follow these regulations will need to always have an idea of the amount of light being transmitted and they will do so using a light meter.

In the general field of lighting, light meters are used to regulate the amount of light used at home in different rooms so that waste of energy can be reduced. They can also be used to determine whether plants are receiving the right amount of light for them to grow optimally.

Handheld Light Meters

Handheld light meters were popular during the days when film was prevalent, before the technology of in-camera light was common. With Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (DSLRs), the photographer can tell whether they got the light right on the LCD screen.

This wasn’t the case with film cameras as the photographer had to wait for days while the film was being processed for them to know whether their metering was right. Handheld meters then became the solution that mitigated the risk of flash lighting and film exposing.

In contemporary photography handheld light meters are still being used to ensure perfect exposure, eliminate waste and save time.

Even though many casual modern users of light meters will probably never need to use a handheld light meter, these devices are still used for their capacity to provide exact information regarding lighting while at the same time making issues simple by delivering exact numbers.

Since light is the biggest factor influencing the quality of photographs, the more knowledge a photographer has about the setup, the better their photographs will be.

In-Camera Light Meter

The main advantage on an in-camera light meter is that as long as you have your camera, it is also with you. It is common for novices in photography to think that once they have an in-camera meter they will always get the right exposure. The reality is that managing light is not so simple; users still have to learn how to make their in-camera light meter work well for them.

While these built-in light meters can be a great guide, the photographer will still need to play their own part. While managing light is not rocket science, the photographer needs to think carefully about the subject they want to take a picture of with regards to angles and backgrounds.

While in-camera light meters are convenient, they come with a number of disadvantages such as their inability to deliver incident or flashlight reading. In order to get these specific details, you will need a separate unit.

Another disadvantage of the in-camera meters is that they can be awkward to use when the photographer is moving around a set or when dealing with complicated lighting setups.

Usinga Light Meter

The proper use of a light meter starts with understanding the concepts of reflected and incident light. When using a DSLR you can get readings on the reflected light. When the source of light hits the subject being photographed, it gets reflected to the camera from the subject.

The camera then measures the amount of light reflected and when you are deploying the automatic mode, the f-stop value and shutter speed are calculated automatically.

With a handheld meter, you can measure both reflected light and incident light. In order to use it to measure incident light, you will have to place it close to the object you want to photograph while the light meter faces the camera.

The reason why this technique is regarded as a more accurate reading is that light is measured directly from its source as opposed to it being measured as a reflection of the source.

These types of meters are also useful when a photographer is working with a flash as they have the capacity to calculate how intense the flash is. This type of knowledge will assist a photographer to determine the correct f-stop values and shutter speeds for a particular photograph.

As you can see from this article, just having a light meter will not be the magic bullet that will allow you to create perfect photographs all the time. You will still need to learn how to use the device. There is also a need for you to decide which type of light meter to use for a particular subject.

As a photographer, knowledge, and experience coupled with the light meter will ensure that you get the best photographs possible. The right knowledge on how to use the device and knowing the different ways of measuring will lead you on the road to becoming a better photographer.