Metering Film in All Kinds of Light

How to Meter Film in all Lighting Situations

I often get emails from film photographers about how to meter in different lighting situations.  A few days ago I received this question:

"Sandra, do you meter differently on darker, overcast days?"

Short Answer:  Nope.

Long Answer:  I meter using incident metering in all lighting situations.

Incident Metering

Incident metering means that your meter is reading the light that is falling on your subject rather than the light that is bouncing off your subject.

I like this technique because when using incident metering it doesn’t matter what my subject’s skin tone is or what color clothing they are wearing. The meter is only going to read the light that is falling on them and therefore my readings are super consistent.

I always shoot my film at box speed and set my meter to the bulb out position. Then I meter for the darkest shadow I can find when shooting color and for the highlights when shooting black and white.

I meter this way on cloudy days, sunny days, with window light and with strobes.

It's super consistent and super easy!!  And I'm all about consistent and easy!

Here are a few examples of this metering technique in different kinds of light.

sandra coan photography business education metering film in all kinds of light

The photos above were shot on a cloudy day in late afternoon light.  I used incident metering and metered for the shadows.  (Contax 645, Portra 800)

sandra coan photography business education metering film in all kinds of light

Above we have an example of what an incident reading in the shadows looks like on a sunny day in mid-afternoon light. (Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

sandra coan photography business education metering film in all kinds of light

Here we have incident metering (for the shadows) with indoor window light. (Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

sandra coan photography business education metering film in all kinds of light

And in the photos above I was photographing inside with strobes, also taking an incident reading in the shadows.  (Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

I Meter the Same in All Lighting Situations

All of these images were taken in very different lighting situations, and they were all metered exactly the same: Incident, box speed, bulb out, in the shadows.

If you need a little more help with your metering, check out You Tube channel. I have a lot of great video tutorials there!