Dear Light Meter: You’re Dead To Me

In a recent post, reader Clay posed the following question in the comment section:

Do you ever use a light meter? If so, what are the situations?

It’s a good, fair and simple question, so I’ll begin by answering it: Clay, not only don’t I use a light meter, but it’s been so long since I used one that–until you reminded me–I had nearly forgotten that they ever existed. Seriously.

Here’s why they’re less relevant than ever before: when you combine that LCD on the back of your digital camera with your brain you’ve got a better tool than you’d ever get from a hand held Star-Trek-looking thingie that spits out some strange, relational, numeric code. Am I right? Just take 5 pictures in as many seconds with a few adjustments here and there, and you’ve figured out where you need to be. Skip reading the ambient light (what a meter does), and just snap off a few pictures. Look at the back of your camera. Tweak your exposure to see what you want to see, and how you want to see it, right there on the back of your camera. Bingo.

Okay, okay. Before the haters mount their attack, I’m just getting your goat. Read more after the jump – click the ‘continue reading’ link below …

Clay’s question is a fine one, (and the above accurately characterizes how I nail down my exposure) but I’m really just using it as a springboard to get back at a larger point I’ve been hammering a lot lately: Sure, it’s incredibly valuable to know the ins and outs of the technical side of photography. I’m a huge advocate of that and I’ve paid my dues. You should too. But understanding the fundamentals of light and the mechanics of a camera and all the techno babble that’s all the rage online these days can only get you so far.

DO use the back of your camera, and don’t feel bad about it. Hell, go ahead and use a light meter and a 4×5 if you must – see if I care. Read reviews. Nerd out on gear. Whatever floats your boat.

But one thing is for sure: don’t ever confuse all the silly little gadgets and the silly little numbers with what it means to simply and eloquently capture a moment, a scene, or the essence of a human emotion – whatever it is that truly inspires you. You’ll be much better off for it, I promise.

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