Is it possible to train oneself to accurately interpret light intensity?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by David Lyga, Dec 27, 2013.

  1. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    I am ambivalent on this matter. I've certainly gotten better over the years (it IS liberating to walk around without a light meter), but with frustrating frequency I still manage to misinterpret many shadow-lit scenes and a dull day's true level of intensity. Subjectivity is the enemy here: The brain adapts too easily for purpose of 'accommodation' and this mitigates intensity disparities for the brain's comfort (but not for the recording medium's output).

    And real accuracy is never guaranteed with a light meter, either. We must learn to correct that 'dumb' meter and we do so by judging: 1) the reflectance value of the scene's important elements (ie, the meter does not know how light of dark an object should be) and 2) the overall contrast.

    Thoughts? - David Lyga
     
  2. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    A light meter. What's that?
     
  3. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    You are quite funny, cliveh. Is your age such reason to cause you to be so perplexed? - David Lyga
     
  4. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    No.
     
  5. cjbecker

    cjbecker Member

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    Yes its very easy to do, once youve taken the time to train yourself and have seen many different settings.
     
  6. dasBlute

    dasBlute Subscriber

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    I've been playing guitar for 40 years. I can tune a guitar by ear.
    I can even use my memory of the opening strains of Stairway
    to get the A in pitch.

    When I want it to be absolutely right, I use a tuner. :smile:
     
  7. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    The problem, cjbecker, is the 'definition' of shade and dullness. It is 'all over the place' and one's state of mind cannot pinpoint that intensity level easily. Sun is sun and accommodation can be made for it appearance according to specific time of day, time of year, etc.

    dasBlute, I studied classical piano for twelve years in my youth and never, ever had perfect pitch. Not everyone has that. But even you admit to having to use that 'iight meter' analogy: the 'tuner'. - David Lyga
     
  8. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    David, this again comes down to simplicity of MO. If you use the same film, developer and process technique again and again and again, infinitum, you don't need a light meter. Having said that, if I was doing studio/still life/macro work I would.
     
  9. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Ambivalent? Over lighting? :confused:
    I surmise that your theories may come from a lack of in-depth knowledge and experience with meter. Especially the commentary about the lack of accuracy of light meters. Where did you get that idea from? In skilled hands, exposures are what the photographer sought, first and foremost, provided he has the skills and experience to know. What's difficult about that? Meters certainly are not dumb. In my long experience, it is indisputable that it's the photographers that cause the majority of difficulties in exposure using meters withh a sorry lack of foundation skill in understanding a scene, and quantifying light, which is taught in all analogue foundation studies (but not digital!). I cannot see how you 'manage to misinterpret' light on dull days: objects will be darker and additional exposure will be required — no sweat with any meter. Contrast will be flatter and will need to be lifted, you can do that with the meter or in the darkroom. Easy to overcome all of these with just a meter and experience.
     
  10. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    In the early years of photography that is all that people could do. This was particularly true for cinematographers. This lead Oscar Barnack to invent a device to expose a strip of movie film in order to determine the correct exposure for a scene. (This eventually morphed into the Leica prototype.) It is also the reason why there are so many formulas for reducers and intensifiers. :smile:
     
  11. Truzi

    Truzi Subscriber

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    I believe "perfect pitch" must be attained at a very young age, while "relative pitch" can be acquired later. Something to do with one of my degrees, I think.

    David, should I assume you've found the Ultimate Exposure Computer on the web?
    http://www.fredparker.com/ultexp1.htm

    I get the impression, however, that you are past this and talking about even greater accuracy.
     
  12. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    Shoot color slide film only for a year. Pay attention to the lighting situations you like and note the exposure. Process the film right after shooting. You'll get the hang of it.

    Really, there's not such a huge range of lighting situations, and I think most photographers gravitate toward a few lighting situations, if they are paying attention to the light.

    Sometimes things are changing rapidly, like sunrise/sunset, and that's a situation where I find I can't rely on rules of thumb and do better with a meter, but sometimes I can do better with rules of thumb, because in most situations, the light isn't changing rapidly, and it's better to set one exposure and use it as long as the light doesn't change, than to meter every shot. Or if you're shooting outdoors and there are passing clouds, you might find yourself alternating between two settings, one for clouds and one for direct sun.
     
  13. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Ed Weston did not own or use a light meter.
     
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  15. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Good resource.

    You can substitute your own descriptions to improve accuracy too.
     
  16. Pioneer

    Pioneer Subscriber

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    If I think through things I can be pretty accurate outdoors during the day. For me the problems seem to come up when I am inside, or at night. I know that if I shoot something in my kitchen in the evening, lit only by fluorescent, I typically shoot black and white for EV 7, a little different for color because I typically use daylight film and a fluorescent filter.. I know this from experience. But if I am at someone elses house in the evening I am not certain that is correct. And my eye is not good enough to meter the light. So using a meter is the only way for me to really know.
     
  17. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

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    Depends a bit on one's subject matter. Walking around town during the day with the Rolleiflex, I check the meter a few time during the day and it was always the same reading. Deep in the redwoods with LF, it would be difficult without a meter for me -- even though I have been photographing in the same area of redwoods for 30+ years. Large variation of light depending on the cover, and the deepness of the shadows within a short walking distance.
     
  18. momus

    momus Subscriber

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    It's probably possible to a point, but I sure wouldn't rely on it. Light is very difficult to judge because our eyes are constantly adjusting to various lighting, whether we're aware of it or not. Much of this adjusting is not done at a conscious level. I can usually rely on my eyes to tell bad light from good light, but beyond that I like to use a meter, although as you said, you need to understand how to use the thing. As long as I'm not dealing w/ overly reflected light off something bright and shiny, I get good results from finding a middle value, metering that, and using that as my exposure. That's w/ a hand held meter or a basic center weighted in-camera meter.

    With my Nikon N8008s, I set the thing to spot meter, lock the exposure on the point of interest, and shazam...."correct" exposure. That $20 camera taught me that Sunny 16 is merely a ball park thing, at least with 35mm film, where incorrect exposure can cause big grain problems. One day I set it to spot and pointed it up into the sky w/ the sun behind me, then slowly lowered it. That particular day it changed nearly 3 stops by the time I got to the horizon! With a hand held meter I would have just aimed the meter vaguely upwards, got my reading, and wondered later why the sky was not properly exposed. The question was, WHICH part of the sky was important? I'd never thought of that, as I figured that it was all pretty much the same. Sometimes it is far from the same, and when I really looked at the sky closely that day I saw that it was deep blue toward the "top", then slowly changed to a lighter and lighter blue as my eyes headed downwards. Once my eyes got near the horizon there was a thin area that was nearly colorless. All these graduations gave different meter readings.

    According to Ansel Adams, Weston owned a handheld meter. Adams commented that while he would use very involved methods to obtain exposure, Weston would walk around w/ his meter, seemingly pointing it at various random areas (probably looking for a middle value), then come up w/ exactly the same reading that Adams had arrived at by his complicated formulas.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 27, 2013
  19. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    yup
     
  20. Kawaiithulhu

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    When I was in high school and shooting B&W regularly I could estimate exposure well enough that I only occasionally used a light meter to double check when I thought that conditions were odd. Eyes adjusting had nothing to do with it because I was feeling the conditions and not trying to read the relative light mentally.

    I will say that growing up in Los Angeles this was a bit easier because the weather and light was always dependable so once I got used to seeing the meter I eventually just stopped with it. More variable places will take longer and you'd have to shoot way more to get used to the wider variety.

    I can't repeat it now because I shoot nowhere near enough to get that deep a feel for the conditions anymore.
     
  21. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    I'm lucky. Where I live we only have 3 light levels: EV15, EV13, and EV2dark. That makes photography a cinch.
     
  22. erikg

    erikg Member

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    Actually he did. He had a Weston meter (of course). It is true that he did not make it an essential tool in his work the way Adams did. I do think it is possible to train oneself to make reasonable exposure decisions without a meter. Reasonable, workable, but not always exactly right.
     
  23. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    I shoot color chromes (usually Velvia 50) which allow a smaller degree of error than negative film most of you shoot. I use a light meter and bracket as well. I"m often right with the first shot but I'm conservative so I bracket. I shoot MF 120 film so the cost is relatively cheap. Since I often shoot late or early in the day when light changes pretty quickly or when weather conditions are changing and I can be easily fooled, the meter is indespensible. For me. I use a Minolta IIIf but keep a small selenium in the case for when the batteries for the Minolta fail (or even if the meter fails totally as just happened recently).
     
  24. spatz

    spatz Member

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    When i shoot with my Nikon FA i usually try to make good use of the first two shots for which the meter does not work. I go with my gut feeling and once the meter goes live on frame 1 i shoot exactly the same scene and for 90% of the time im spot on. Its not a calculated and methodical approach but rather one where I trust my instincts. If i start to question my ability I start to get muddled up and my predictions are way off. So yes i think its possible. Like with anything, experience is an irreplaceable friend.
     
  25. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    This thread comes to mind...

    http://www.apug.org/forums/forum48/97738-douglas-slocombe-dp-who-never-used-lightmeter.html

    The link to the video appears to be dead/expired... but from my recollection of the interview... Dougas Slocombe had the experience and talent to know the light and could tell the cameraman what aperture was required without using a meter.

    Now I admire him for having developed that talent over a lifetime of achievement. But I don't plan to dedicate myself to acquiring that talent for myself. I plan instead to use light meters when needed, and use my somewhat less-developed talent for judging light... to double-check the meter.

    For example, I'll guess in advance what shutter and f/stop might be required... and I'll set the camera to my guess in advance. Then I'll take meter readings and set the camera correctly.
     
  26. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

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    What is 'fun' is using a meter to determine one's exposure time -- say 15 minutes, then realize one forgot a watch or any other timing devise! Counting one anseladams, two anseladams, etc for 15 minutes is a bit tedious. I usually count up to a minute, set a rock or stick down, then count another minute. Generally my counting is a little on the slow side -- but that never hurts the neg quality at all.