Need a little education about color exposure meters

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by mark, Aug 24, 2006.

  1. mark

    mark Member

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    I was reading a photographer's bio and in it it said he used a color meter. I have seen these and they are very expensive. How useful are they? DOes anyone here use one? DO they really make a difference?
     
  2. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    As you may already know, color meters are used to measure the color temperature of the lighting, so appropriate filtration decisions can be made for precise color control - mostly on commercial shoots or for films. If you search the archives here, you'll find a few posts on the subject, I think.
     
  3. mark

    mark Member

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    I tried searching the archives but I must be doing something wrong. I know it was talked about at one point.

    This photographer used them for nature photography. God I wish I could remember the guy's name. Pretty pictures though. anyway how would one use it in the "wild"?
     
  4. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    Yes, I have two - a Minolta II and a IIIF. I also have a spectrophotometer, but that needs to be hooked up to my laptop. It's difficult to say how useful colour meters are generally - it all depends on what you do. Having a colour meter is important enough for me that I have the spare. If you have managed without one so far, I suspect that having one wouldn't make a difference - I got one because I wasn't getting the results I wanted.

    What do I use one for?

    Balancing light sources so that they are exactly how I want them. With neg film it is rarely important to get colour temperature bang on, but it is often important to get it consistent. Even when using only one type of lighting - eg tungsten - there can be sufficient variations in colour temperature to be noticeable. Whether they are acceptable or not is a different matter. If they would be unacceptable, then a colour meter will tell you how to tweak the individual lights with gels. If you are mixing sources then a colour meter becomes even more valuable.

    Balancing light sources to a certain selected value, either by gelling the source(s) or putting a filter on the lens. This is more important for reversal colour film than for negative, but it is still sometimes valuable for neg film, especially if there is a big difference between the colour balance of the source and of the film.

    Nowadays you can get a USB spectrophotometer for about the same price as a colour meter. Hook that up to a laptop (or whatever) and you have a far more versatile, informative instrument than a colour meter. You may not need that versatility of course (well, not until you try it). A colour meter is handier and most will do flash, which the current spectrophotometers won't.

    Standard kit for a cinematographer is a colour meter, a spot meter and an incident meter.

    So there it is, in a rushed nutshell. The answer is "It depends".

    Best,
    Helen
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 24, 2006
  5. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    I wonder... Does he/she use reversal film?

    For close-as-possible colours I guess that you would read the light falling on your subject, or something equivalent, then filter accordingly.

    If you are dealing with natural light I think that experience is good enough in most cases, except when you want technical accuracy - but then I wonder whether a colour meter would get you any closer than an experienced estimate when you remember that there aren't an infinite variety of filters available. Dealing with one light source (the sun) in different conditions, but in conditions that you have experience of, will go a long way to enabling you to estimate the closest filter. So again, as far as the usefulness goes - well it depends on what you want.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  6. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Once you own the meter and desire to use it with competence then you will spend more money than what the meter cost you for filters and gels if you wish to be prepared for all eventualities. Then count on spending a goodly investment in time and film so that the system works well for you.

    This is not said to discourage you. It is said to offer to you some realistic advice. There will also be times that you will wish to make photos that are to some degree warm or cool to a degree that you want.

    Experience, personality and need are what will make it worthwhile for you.
     
  7. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I hardly ever use my color meter for photography, because the information it can give me is not very useful for most of the stills I shoot.

    When I shoot motion picture, however, it is an indispensable tool for matching color correction on lights (particularly green/magenta in discontinuous spectrum sources, either fully correcting, or simply matching sources for later color correction)

    In order to really make it useful, you need as much control over your lighting situation as you can get. Other than that, it can help suggest camera filters, but after some experience, you will probably not need it for that in most situations.

    It is a tool many photographers do without, given the expense vs. practical usefulness.
     
  8. mark

    mark Member

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    I wasn't going to get one just wondered how folks use it in the field. Thanks for the info.
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    A simple Gossen Sixticolor two-color meter can tell you how much of a warming filter you might need under various daylight conditions for a neutral result (full sun, overcast, open shade, forest canopy, window light, window light on an overcast day), but I agree that experience will make it unnecessary eventually. Shoot color slides and bracket filtration for a few months, and you'll figure it out.
     
  10. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Yes, I have one, but for the kind of stuff I do, it's substantially irrelevant (I bought it mostly for doing reviews and articles, not photography, much like my densitometer).

    For some purposes, though, especially architectural photography, they're wonderful. You can gel all lights until they do exactly what you want. That doesn't necessarily mean gelling 'em all to neutrality, just so the colour casts aren't too wild. Much the same is true in cine.

    I'm puzzled by a nature photographer using one, though, I must say.

    Cheers,

    R.