Measuring light

Measuring light

Erik van Rosmalen

Digital cameras by default have light meters on board. So practically no one uses their handheld lightmeter anymore.
Which is a pity. Film camera’s often don’t have internal lightmeters in them. How do you measure your lights?

Sunny 16

My Mamiya C330 has no built in light meter. The same goes for several previous film cameras I used. Of course there is ‘sunny 16’. The rule of thumb that helps estimate the right exposure. ‘Sunny 16’ basically means that in broad daylight, an aperture of f/16 fits ‘1/ISO’ of your film. So in sunlight, f/16 would go fine with 1/100s – or 1/125s, for my Mamiya. Works like a charm. In evenly light situations, landscapes or street photography. And of course you can extra- and interpolate if you want to do a portrait with an extra stop over- or underexposure. However, I like to measure.

Lubitel cemetary
My first medium format camera was a Lubitel-2. Besides having to guess exposure, focus was also a guessing game on that camera… This shot worked out for both. (Shot on, I think, TriX400)

Measuring methods

In the beginning, I used to meter the light with my DSLR. That was okay-ish. But learning more about handheld metering and incident light metering, made me experiment. At first I measured light with an old Gossen. That did work but the measurements weren’t very consistent. Later I found that the battery in the meter wasn’t the right one, causing measurements to go off.


Shortly I tried an app on my phone called Lightmeter. That works as well but still is a bit cranky, and not very user friendly to me. Now I use my Sekonic lightmeter that also is capable of measuring flash. Net result? My exposures are better than when measured with my DSLR!

Nowadays, I always use my handheld lightmeter when shooting with my C330s. I even use it more and more when shooting digital, since I prefer measuring incident light instead of reflective. It gives a more accurate reading for the area I want to measure, and I can compare different areas of the composition and fill them in according to what I want to achieve.

Bonus effect on clients

Another great advantage of carrying a handheld lightmeter, especially when shooting digital with clients? It provides you with a sense of professionalism. And sometimes that’s helpful too: Step into an office of an extremely busy manager with just an SLR and they’ll give you five minutes of their precious time: “Don’t you have the shot yet?” Walk in with a handheld lightmeter and start measuring and they’ll automatically put their trust in your hands. “He probably know what he’s doing.” And you’ll get the time you need for the portrait. True story!

Tool for mindful photography

But back to film photography. Besides measurements being more accurate or not, a separate lightmeter also adds to the ‘mindfulness aspect’ of shooting portraits, like I explained in my previous blog on FPN. It makes me actively think of what I’m doing and, again, it is a tool that combines great with conversation with my client/model. Win win!


Don’t want to walk around carrying an extra device? Reveni Labs has a solution: a hotshoe mounted light meter. It will off course only measure reflective light, but it is a small thing that can go on almost each camera, since it will fit the hotshoe. If the price isn’t a turnoff, it might be a solution ;-)

Revini lightmeter
Revini lightmeter

Now I’m curious: how do you measure light? Let me know in the comments!

About the author
filmphotonetwork photographer Erik van Rosmalen is a digital content creator (text, video, visuals) by day, film photographer by night. You can find his profile here.


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