Film Photography Tip: How to Meter for Best Exposures

Been wondering how to properly meter for film photography? This quick video has the answers. 

One of the aspects you’ll encounter as you get further into film photography is metering. It can be intimidating or confusing, but it pays to learn how to meter different scenes and work with either your camera’s built-in meter or a handheld light meter. In today’s featured video by Ohio-based Matt Day, he has partnered with The Darkroom Photo Lab to provide the important information we need to achieve well exposed film photos.

Technical as it may be, metering is a crucial element of photography. When done correctly, you’re guaranteed to get the best exposure for the scene you’re shooting. However, there are some factors that come into play for metering, like the kind of meter you’re using and whether you’re metering for highlights or shadows. Starting to sound confusing? The video below should help you understand things better.

Matt stressed that you must learn and understand how your light meter is interpreting the light when metering a scene. Meters and metering techniques do this differently. Spot meters, for example, read the light coming from a specific part of the subject, while incident light meters measure the light falling on your subject. Your camera’s built-in light meter, meanwhile, most likely uses a system that averages the light coming into your entire viewfinder.

Matt demonstrates how important metering is to get the right exposure, say, for backlit portraits. A camera’s built-in light meter tends to produce a silhouette, because it reads the light coming from behind the subject. With a handheld meter, you’ll be able to measure the light falling in front of your subject. But, if you don’t have one, you can get close to your subject in order to fill the viewfinder, get a reading using your camera’s built-in meter, and then set the exposure. Then, recompose your scene while keeping the initial meter reading until the lighting changes.

If you’re shooting with a color negative film, you can safely overexpose your shot because color negative film handles overexposure better than underexposure. But, getting the meter reading as accurate as possible is crucial for shooting with slide film. Not sure if you’re metering correctly? You can always bracket your shot by shooting with your reading, then taking a shot one stop overexposed and another shot one stop underexposed.

If you’re not shooting a backlit subject and your scene has clear shadow and highlight areas, you can experiment and get one light meter reading for the highlights and another for the shadows. As Matt’s results show, it all depends on personal preference and what look you’re going for.

Want to know more? The Darkroom has a detailed and dedicated blog post that includes tips for metering black and white film and slide film, as well as a guide to different metering techniques.

Don’t forget to check out Matt Day’s YouTube channel for more of his photography videos.