How to meter a portrait

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by Raffay, Nov 19, 2013.

  1. Raffay

    Raffay Member

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    Hello,

    I get quite confused while metering a portrait shot. On all other shots like still life or landscape I find shadows easy to find, but on a person I find it hard to find shadows, any tips?

    Cheers

    Raffay
     
  2. Keith Tapscott.

    Keith Tapscott. Member

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    Use an incident lightmeter if you have one.
     
  3. FM2N

    FM2N Member

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    What Keith said.
     
  4. AgX

    AgX Member

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    Or just take a reading at +1 for white skin (reflective or incident metering).
     
  5. Ed Bray

    Ed Bray Member

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    Take a reflected reading from the face, the usual adaptions have to be made after an assessment of the subjects skin type has been made:

    Open up one stop for Caucasian Skin, as the reading for Asian/Middle Eastern Skin and close down one stop for Black skin, there are a couple of minor changes you can introduce, for very white skin (Nordic types) open an additional 1/2 stop (open 1.5 stops in total) and for very Black skin close down by a further 1/2 stop (close down 1.5 stops in total).
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 19, 2013
  6. cowanw

    cowanw Member

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    Since you are from Pakistan, this interested me so I googled and read a bit.
    It seems for slightly darker Indian skin +.5 stop or for darker African skin +0

    PS Ed's probably more right.
     
  7. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    It's impossible to answer a question like this without seeing the model and knowing what you want the picture to look like.
     
  8. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I do much as Ed does, on a portrait decide where you want to place the skin tones.

    A point not mentioned with portraits is depending on the lighting you often need to check the balance between highlights and shadows using a reflective meter ansd adjust the lighting to get the effect you require.

    Ian
     
  9. ROL

    ROL Member

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    I'm going to piggyback off this comment as it touches on visualization, a concept I find that cannot be brought up often enough in monochrome photography. BTW, I find all the above comments workable and likely quicker in some instances. They are simply not the way I work.

    I treat portrait, studio, etc. all as landscape, if narrower in execution. While it may seem more complex at first, using your spot meter to identify luminances you want to present in your final print, will give you power over light as no incident metering will. Meter your shadows and highlights the same as you might when shooting landscape, placing where and to what value they will be. Deepest shadows may be on background, a dark article of clothing, under the chin, or in the hair, all dependent on your subject and lighting. Highlights may be placed in same manner. The only difficulty becomes in properly registering skin tone, if that is your goal. That will vary upon race and season, as previously mentioned. Guess what? By using your spot meter and translating your decisions to the final print, you get to decide, dare I say "artistically", how your subject is presented.
     
  10. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    KISS
    I just use an incident meter in front of the face towards the camera.Don't turn it into a science or your sitter gets bored.:cool:
     
  11. momus

    momus Member

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    Wow, I had no idea that this was so complicated. I simply meter off my hand in the same light (adding a little exposure for my brownish wife or blackish pussycat), or just go w/ whatever the meter, in camera or in hand, says. It always looks good to me, and I'm fussy about this sort of thing. Maybe it's because I shoot Tri-X exclusively? It's pretty darned hard to screw up w/ that film. I do generally use a spot meter, but even w/ center weighted metering it always looks good. I never have any trouble nailing exposure w/ portraits.

    For my purposes, using the right lens in the right light is the most important stuff. A soft side light from a window works great. I have to explain things to a new sitter, but I generally get a camera or meter right in the person's/cat's face, take a reading, lock exposure, back up, focus, and shoot. After that initial reading, fire away. But truthfully, unless there's just a lot of bad light (in which case I shouldn't be shooting a portrait anyway), just pick a distance, meter, and shoot. It's really about the right light. If I'm not exactly sure what look I'm after, bracket. And take LOTS of shots if it's important. You can never take too many shots when doing portraits, because you may never have that sitter in that light again.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 19, 2013
  12. Ed Bray

    Ed Bray Member

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    Getting a portrait that your sitter likes can also be an issue, broad lighting for a skinny face, short lighting for a fuller face, all need to be metered correctly to give a full range of tones, fortunately the internet is a vast pool of knowledge and all of the techniques required can be found with a little bit of endeavour.
     
  13. baachitraka

    baachitraka Subscriber

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    Incident meter, if you have uniform lighting.

    Spot meter(Reflected meter), one reading on the face and add +1 stop to it.
     
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  15. JamesMorris

    JamesMorris Member

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    The simplest way is to do what Jane Bown did. Put the subject next to a window, shoot at f/2.8 1/60s. Print it.
     
  16. bob01721

    bob01721 Member

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    What Ralph said. IMHO, with portraits, it's not about the exposure. It's about the expression.
     
  17. wiltw

    wiltw Subscriber

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    Incident meter, or use an 18% grey card target to fill the frame of your camera and add +0.5EV to the reading.
     
  18. hoffy

    hoffy Member

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    OK, so we are making whiter skin whiter and darker skin darker? I understand that middle greys don't look too good for white skin, so we want to over expose a little, but I am a little unsure that you would want to under expose with darker complexions.

    Or am I mis-understanding?
     
  19. Ed Bray

    Ed Bray Member

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    No, you are not mis-understanding, if you want really dark skin to look lighter than it really is then just use the reading obtained from the light reflected from the dark skin, if you want it to look like it should then close down a stop or more.

    By doing this, you are not under exposing, you would be 'correctly exposing', if you just use a reflected reading obtained from the dark skin you will over expose as the meter doesn't know what you are metering from and would give you a reading based on 18% grey reflectance, it would in fact assume it was a very dark 18% grey and skew the reading suggested to cope with the lack of reflected light. As you are 'not' metering from an 18% grey but a darker tone you have to make the adjustments to the reading obtained to give you the 'correct' tones in the final image.

    If you don't want to take the word of someone who was doing this professionally for 20+ years, you can always go and try it yourself?
     
  20. Claudia Moroni

    Claudia Moroni Member

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    I don't think you're underexposing if you adjust the exposure to a stop less for people with very dark skin. It depends by the person skin tone, but I find middle grey to be a better translation in black and white of the skin tone of people with lighter dark skin (if that makes sense).

    Personally I use an incident meter and place it under the person chin towards the camera.
     
  21. Terry Christian

    Terry Christian Subscriber

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    Yes, hoffy. Keep in mind that the meter reading is giving you an average tone, middle gray (Zone V). Individuals will vary, of course, but Caucasians are generally a stop lighter (Zone VI) and African-derived skin tones are about a stop darker (Zone IV).
    My skin tones are Caucasian (Northern European). If you meter my face and use that reading, you are effectively placing my face at middle gray, which will be too gray. You need to open up a stop. Or, you could just meter off a gray card held in front of my face (i.e., in the same lighting) and get an accurate reading that way without having to adjust.
     
  22. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Agree 100%, and I like keeping it simple. The beauty of this is that it doesn't matter what skin tone the person has, because you're not even concerned with reflected light.
     
  23. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    +1, incidental reading from under the chin pointing the meter at the camera position, and take the damned shot before the sitters eyes glaze over from boredom, the sitters facial expression is so important in portraiture, and I see so many portraits that are are shot as if they were inanimate objects like still lifes , or landscapes.
     
  24. Terry Christian

    Terry Christian Subscriber

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    This is why a squawking rubber chicken is essential to any photographer's gear bag.
     
  25. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    For years I just calculated the exposure from the guide number of the flash. It's simple and instantaneous. Some adjustment to the exposure might be necessary when part of the subject is illuminated by two or more flashes, but that can be learned through experience or calculated with basic math.
     
  26. hoffy

    hoffy Member

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    Oh, yes, I was mis-understanding....I was assuming using an incident meter, not a reflective meter....

    Sorry 'bout that!