Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Taking Light Reading

Hi, Everyone

This is the first time I am posting here, I am a student and I have this shoot coming up next week, its inside a bar where two talents are seated facing each other, I am thinking about lighting them with inside cross key and little fill from the camera position, I am using Kodak 7218, can anyone tell me what the best way to take reading, should I use the meter facing the camera or the lights? first for the two shot I mean (master, then OTS, I do have Sekonic L608c light meter. I wanna keep it a low key look.

Thanks Before hand

Larry Pittman

Here's how I would probably do it. (Keep in mind I have an EI 400 T.28 eye. For some reason I almost always end up there.)

Light the shot so it looks nice by eye. Then measure, with a spot meter, where the highlight, a mid tone, and a dark shadow fall. Figure out what exposure you want on your faces and see if the other values fall into place. If not, tweak. (More likely than not you'd end up adding more fill to match what your eye sees to your meter.)

I don't think I could easily describe how to expose this with an incident meter. Metering toward the light gives you a reading that will render "normal" the brightest part of a surface that is facing that way. Aiming the meter toward the camera just splits the difference depending on how much of the ball is illuminated.

I did an experiment once, based on thinking about how incident meters work : On a dark stage I turned on one light, and I held my meter so that exactly half the ball was illuminated, and then compared that to a reading taken with the meter directly facing the lamp. The reading with half the ball illuminated told me to open up one stop.

Technically that's correct: If the ball, when aimed directly into the light, captures 100 footcandles, and is then turned sideways so it only captures half that, or 50 footcandles, that's the difference of a stop. The fill side will still go totally black under those circumstances because there's no return, but the incident meter doesn't care. You could turn the meter more into the shadow to get more exposure on the fill side but now the key side will go a lot hotter. If the light is directly from the side that's not going to do you much good.

I've found incident meters to work for me under certain circumstances, like broadly lit day exteriors, evenly lit day interiors, and situations where I'm reading specific lights to set values for actors who aren't there yet. I've got a couple of Sekonic's with the retractable ball and I love that feature. The flat footcandle disk is too precise and drives me nuts because the readings fluctuate too much. I like the way the retractable ball gives me a solid reading faster.

In this case I'd use my spot meter and squint a lot. Squinting
darkens the shadow areas and gives you a better idea how film will see them. Pick a couple of key tones in the shot and place them on the Ansel Adams Zone scale, and if they don't fall on the scale the way you see them by eye then adjust the lighting until they hit the zones you want them to.

The Zone System is the single best tool I have for making images look the way I want them to look. Try it out.

-Art Adams
Director of Photography
Film | HiDef | Video

Mountain View, CA, USA

As an after note :

It is worth refering to the following page for notes on Zones ...


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