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Flashmeters - Chris Burfoot explains how to use a light meter.

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Portraits and People

Words by Chris Burfoot.

The first thing to do is to set your camera to manual. It doesn’t matter how clever your camera is, you can’t use it on "auto" with studio flash!

Then you need to set your shutter speed to the flash syncronisation setting for electronic flash (see your instruction book). If in doubt set it to 1/125th second. This leaves only the aperture to set which will depend on what the ISO setting on your camera is. For general studio work, to optimise quality I would recommend you stick to either 100/200 ISO.

Next, set the same ISO on the meter and connect a sync lead between your main light and the PC socket of the meter.

For this example let’s suppose that we are taking a portrait with one light and we are using 200 ISO. Hold the flashmeter in front of your subject’s face at the point closest to the light source and point it at the light. Press the button on the meter to fire the flash and it will read the light falling on your subject, giving you a recommended aperture. The output of the flash head can then be adjusted to increase or decrease the aperture. Set this on your camera and fire away! - It’s as easy as that!)

Metering Several Heads
As we have seen, taking a meter reading from a single head is very simple. But what about when you start using multiple heads? Read on....

Let’s say we are using a main light on the subject and a second light on the background. The first step is to take a reading from the main light as explained previously and set that as the aperture on your camera.

If the reading from the subject is, say, f/11 that is what you set on your camera. Now take a reading from the background with the meter again pointing at the light. If the reading from the background light also gives f/11 the background will be exposed correctly and will be the same density as the subject.

Keep your camera setting at f/11 and for a lighter background increase the power so that the reading is more than f/11 e.g. f/16 (= one stop brighter) For a darker background reduce the power of the light.

Tip: If you run out of adjustment on your head it can be moved closer for more light or moved further away for less. Double the distance = 2 stops less.

The same principal applies to hair and back lights. Easy isn’t it!

Words by Chris Burfoot.

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