Proper Way Of Using A Exposure Meter

Jason Lang

New member
I just learned recently how to use a light meter in class. Though I have some confusion regarding the tool. Should it be pointed directly at the camera? Thats what I learned in class but I read Gerald Hirschfeld's "Exposure Meter and The Cinematographer" and he explains to point your meter to the key light you want to measure.

I am going to shot my first 16mm project on a bolex and I just want to be using it correctly. I do have a question to add. If your shooting in a area that has light coming from multiple directions for example the underpass of a highway, which will have light coming from the left and right side. Where do you point the meter? Do you just pick a side to expose for? Or would it be better to just keep it in the middle kind of balancing out both sides.


New member
You'll aim it at the scene or principal. It's what you'll be shooting so that's the exposure you wanna measure. Aim it at a light and it'll peg. Aim it at your camera and it'll show underexposed. There is lots of confusion over this for some reason but don't let it be. You are measuring the exposure of what you are shooting so, well, that's what ya aim it at.
Both of you should mention whether you are talking about an incident meter or a reflective (spot) meter. Jason is clearly talking about an incident meter and Grinner is talking about a spot meter.

You point a spot meter at the object that you want to measure the reflectance of. It will assume that object is 18% grey so you'll have to interpret that reading to compensate for lighter or darker toned objects. For example, it's common to assume that caucasian skintone is 1-stop brighter than 18% grey so you'd open up 1-stop from your spot meter reading if you want the caucasian face to look at full key exposure.

An incident meter reads the amount of light falling onto the meter, it doesn't care what tone the subject is.

You can point the dome of an incident meter either at the key light or towards the camera. I always point it in the direction of the light I want to read, and flag off other lights with my head.

The problem with pointing it at the camera is that it will average the key & fill and I'd rather make that decision myself, how much to split the difference, which to favor in the final exposure. So outside in sunlight, I might take an incident reading of the sun by pointing the dome at the sun, and take a reading of the shade, shielding the direct sun off of the dome. Then I make a creative decision as to where to place the final exposure, maybe I'll decide that the sun should be 1-stop over and the shadows should be 2-stops under, if there is a 3-stop difference.

But metering is ultimately a personal preference issue, do whatever works consistently for you and gives you the results you want.