Tips for Using a Handheld Light Meter


In modern DSLRs they all have a light meter built-in to the camera. But sometimes you want a more accurate reading, or to measure the amount of light when using flash (your camera can’t do that), in which case you would turn to a handheld light meter.

Check out this video from Adorama TV (host Daniel Norton) for some light meter basics.

This second video is more advanced. Once again from Adorama TV, with host Mark Wallace, this one covers how to meter for light ratios. Read more about ratios here: Lighting Ratios to Make or Break your Portrait.

In the video above he is using the Sekonic L-358 light meter. Here are a couple other choices, also made by Sekonic. I personally use the L-308 and it works just fine. You don’t need one that’s really fancy but the one he used does have the memory storage for comparing the light, the L-308 does not. So if you want that feature you may want to opt for the L-358.

Have you used a light meter before? If you are shooting with speedlights or studio lights you may find it necessary, but if you shoot landscapes and use mostly natural light you probably do not need one. Let us know your experience in the comments below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Darlene Hildebrandt is the Managing Editor of dPS. She is also an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles, online photography classes, and travel tours. Get her free ebook 10 Photography Challenges to help you take better pictures or join a photo tour to some exotic places.

  • walwit

    I’m not a professional that may be why I don’t see the point of a light meter, I mean: If there is no rush you can always resort to try and error until you get the right light, if you are in sports you can’t use a light meter. Any thoughts?

  • Henry

    With light meter you can reproduce the same light ratios every single time.

  • SteveR

    While there are times when a light meter is not practical, many times it is. Sports or event photography make the use of a light meter impractical; however, most portraits will be better if a light meter is used.
    Even if there is no rush, when you can nail the exposure in one or two shots, your subject will be more relaxed and less tired than if you try shot after shot to get correct exposure.

  • varunkarthick
  • Steve Norris

    If you use studio flash or speedlights for product or portrait work you will definitely need a separate meter that measures flash values for accurate exposures. Remember that what looks bright enough on your LCD review may be well underexposed in reality.

  • walwit

    I appreciate your comments, I’m looking forward to make studio photography in the near future.

  • rob Lamont

    Sometimes the camera light meter can be fooled by darker, lighter colours and subjects. My kit includes a couple of older medium format film cameras so the light meter is always with me. It’s a good backup, just to be sure.

  • Brett Valentine

    I find I always grab for it when I pull out my medium format lenses (Zeiss Jena P6 mount) with my a-99 DSLT since there is no electronic connection with the camera body. Quicker than experimenting with apertures and te lack of compensation in the electronic viewfinder. . .

  • Bill Jaynes

    I have a an Minolta light meter that took me a long time to really figure out how to use. Once I did, balancing ambient light in the field or even just setting up for head shots was SOO much easier. Having said that, as has been mentioned, sometimes using a light meter just isn’t practical. I had a photo shoot with a gorgeous model in front of a waterfall in Pohnpei just over a week ago. She was on a rock with the very brightly lit waterfall behind her. I was in the water and my assistant was on shore. There simply was no practical way for me to get to her. The rocks in the water were very slippery and the water was moving too fast. I was glad that she was patient enough with me to dial in the settings by trial and error. Sometimes it simply has to be done. Those shots ended up quite nice but it took me about 30 shots to get things right, all the way screaming instructions to my assistant on how to adjust the studio strobe over the roar of the waterfall and the rapids. I still think I’d’ve done better with the meter.

  • Bill Jaynes

    I’ve certainly found this to be true in my experience. I quite often “swoop in” to do corporate or school portraits (head shots). There’s nothing that will kill client confidence faster than spending 10 or 15 minutes fiddling with light and camera settings while they sit waiting for me to get it right. Now that I know how to use my light meter (a very old Minolta from film days that still works) I usually have it nailed in a couple of shots and we’re off to the races.

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