Low Light Metering

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by gr82bart, Jul 11, 2004.

  1. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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    How do people meter for low lighting? I mean really low lighting light conditions - like night time or twighlight?

    Has anyone used their Sekonics or other meters with good results? Or do people rely on other guidelines and techniques?

    What about taking into account the reciprocity failure of film during long exposures. Are there meters that compensate for this? I also assume not all film are the same.

    Thanks in advance.

    Regards, Art.
     
  2. erickson

    erickson Member

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    Funny you should ask this question. I'm in the middle of a night photography class right now.

    The first thing we did in class was put our meters away. I'm not aware of any meter that takes into account reciprocity (sp?) failure. If such a beast really exists, it's not likely to be accurate with every film. Plus, not many meters give accurate readings in really low light.

    Our first shooting assignment was to take our favorite film out with some notes about starting points and bracket with 4 or 5 longer exposures. For example, a landscape lit by a full moon on our chart has a starting exposure of 2 minutes @ f/4 with ISO 100 film. So we'd shoot our favorite film for 2, 4, 8, 15, and 30 minutes, process and examine the results. Normally, I disagree with bracketing in favor of educated, deliberate exposures. However, I really think metering in certain night situations (but not all) is unrealistic.

    Something I didn't expect to see were all of the DSLR's in the class. It was funny to see how many exposures the digital shooters made compared to the film shooters. I shot a 135-24 roll of FP4+ in my backyard, had a hell of a time printing the thinner frames (hold on while I make a 20 minute paper exposure through my grade 5 filter!), and learned a lot about how FP4+ sees in low light. The guys with the DSLR's made hundreds of exposures, but I'm not sure if they learned anything about their cameras' CCD characteristics. They all had opinions about how to fix things in Photoshop. Only the instructor commented when I showed my prints and disclosed information about paper grade, and N-1 developing, film contrast, and grain control.

    Anyway, my uneducated advice (the class isn't over yet!) is to experient and take a lot of notes. Write down all of the exposure settings for each shot, light sources, and atmospheric conditions. If you're able to get a reading out of your meter, write it down too. Then you can see how far off it was when you process your negatives.

    Best of luck!
     
  3. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    My method is not very scientific but here goes:
    Spot meter, then do your calcs to allow for reciprocity failure of the fim. I bought a cheap meter a while ago that has a 1deg spot, which is the only thing I use. Recp failure graphs I found on the manufacturers site for each film I use. At night I meter the highlights and dark areas as usual based loosely on the zone system. On my meter due to its limitations, it's necessary to meter at an F stop wide open (say F5.6) and allow for what the reading would be at the actual operating aperture setting, then allow for the reciprocity failure of the film.

    There are a couple of examples that I consider had successful exposures that you may find helpful:
    http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=591&password=&sort=1&cat=500&page=1
    For this one; spot metered first on nearest buildings and near walkway, then checked the LHS water highlights and then the far buildings , and then the low sky. All fell within the range of the film, so chose a setting that would capture them all (actually the exposure for the near buildings), looked up the corresponding time to allow for reciprocity failure, and click.

    http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=363&password=&sort=1&cat=500&page=1
    This one was taken well after sunset with just a little ambient back lighting. Spot metered on the closest side of the big rock, checked the highlights on the water/sand at top, closed aperture down two stops to allow detail in the highlights while retaining detail in the shadows, then allowed for reciprocity failure of film and click.

    Spot metering I think works, though don't know if there is an easier way :smile:
    Good practice.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 11, 2004
  4. matt miller

    matt miller Subscriber

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    John, how low will your meter read? My Minolta Spotmeter F will only read down to EV 0, then I get "E". EV 0 really isn't that dark.
     
  5. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    I used to do a lot of night photography in the streets of small towns in Mexico. I had a Pentax 1deg spot meter and a Gossen Luna Pro. I found the Luna Pro with the variable angle attachment to be by far the most sensitive of the two. If possible, I wouls actually walk into the shadowy area of the scene and meter directly. I would add on exposure for reciprocity (a guess, really). I shot Plus-X and the negatives turned out perfect almost every time. I was really please with the meter and the quality of the negatives.

    -Mike
     
  6. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    Hi Matt, I only use in Fstop/ShutterSpd mode - because I understand it. In my eagerness to get going with the meter (only bought it about 1 month ago), I've never used the EV mode, so have to do the Fstop/SS adjustments mentally.
     
  7. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    In unfamiliar, very low light conditions I meter on a white card and open up a couple of stops, then attempt to account for reciprocity failure. I use a Minolta Booster II hooked into a Sekonic L508C. You need to modify the calibration procedure to get the full sensitivity of the booster. Before getting the booster, I used a Profisix which performed quite well. My Minolta Spotmeter is definitely not sensitive enough for very low light - and it gets quite inaccurate as it approaches the limit.

    Having said all that, you will quickly be able to estimate exposures by experience as accurately (or inaccurately) as your meter - there are so many things that are inaccurate when metering low light, including the relationship between the spectral quality of the light and the spectral response of your meter.

    As already mentioned, it would be difficult for a meter to account for reciprocity failure because films differ so much in this respect - slow films with good reciprocity characteristics become 'faster' than fast films with poor reciprocity characteristics.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  8. vazquez

    vazquez Member

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    For "moderate" low light situations (churchs, museums, night clubs, street) I use my old Gossen Lunasix Pro with very good results. For "realy" low light situations, I use guesswork, bracketing (if possible) and a tripod.
     
  9. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    It dawned on me that it might be worth expanding on one of the less-than-obvious reasons that I meter off a white card in low light. Not only does it make the most of the sensitivity of the meter, but it also lessens the likelihood of errors caused by infrared reflection. Some materials reflect proportionally more IR than visible light, and this can cause large errors, so metering off something that reflects most of the visible light hitting it seems like a good idea to me. You might meter off what appears to be a shadow value to you - though it is disproportionately bright to the meter. This isn't universally applicable, but it's something I bear in mind.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  10. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    Ahuh! I didn't realise the meters were that sensitive to IR reflection. This would explain some of the problems I've experienced in very low light/cold situations. You don't use the incident light metering in these situations Helen?