Light Meter Dynamic Range

Sekonic-Nikon-Canon-Linhof-Sony_4.pngI find that calculating the dynamic range of a scene is important n any aspect of photography, even more some when using traditional film because once the exposure has been made, we can’t simply look at a screen to see how we have done.

When using black and white film, I like to try and stay within  5 stop range even though I know film especially black and white film has tremendous latitude.

With black and white film, it’s important that we retain as much information as we can in the darkest shadow areas that contain detail. Failing to do this will result in a negative that has empty, clear areas and no matter how good your processing is, if there is no detail there in the first place, no detail can be extracted.

Using the Sekonic L758 meter is extremely useful when it comes to measuring the dynamic range, all we need to do is us the EV setting in the meter to calculate the difference between the darkest shadow area with detail and the brightest highlight area with detail.

Once we have calculated the scenes dynamic range, we can then figure out if we need to rethink the composition, start adding some filtration over the lens. or just metering for the most important part of the scene and then letting the remaining tones fall where they will.

The following short video demonstrates how I use the Sekonic L758 light meter to calculate a scenes dynamic range.

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4 thoughts on “Light Meter Dynamic Range”

  1. Jean-Luc Coulon

    Hi,

    Thank you very much for the whole site. I’m very fond of B&W. I began when I was 12 (about … 50 years ago) when I got an enlarger for Xmas.

    There was some kind of magics seeing the picture appearing in the bath. Some surprise also : no back TFT on the camera to see what was captured.

    I was using a “Photax”, see:
    https://www.collection-appareils.fr/x/html/appareil-8-Miom.html

    About the 758D and scene dynamic range, the device allows to compute automatically the delta EV of the scene:

    1 – Select the spotmeter
    2 – choose the ambient / EV mode
    3 – Get a measure for the brightest area
    4 – Press the memory button
    5 – Press the AVE./”Delta”EV button, “A” is displayed
    6 – Get a measure for the darkest area WHILE HOLDING the measure button.
    –> the delta EV is displayed both on the screen and in the viewfinder.

    e.g. if the brightest area gives 15 EV, it is put in memory, if the darkest is 10 EV, while holding the measure button, the device display the dynamic, so -5EV (minus sign because I began with the brightest area).

    If the analog scale is set to EV, the computed value is displayed permanently (blinking indicator) on the analog scale (even when you release the measure button). And with the mid-tone button, you adjust this dynamic range where you want in the dynamic range of the camera.

    This is the same procedure as the one used in the studio to measure the contrast ratio of the various lighting sources.

    I’ve a question about your procedure: you use the custom function which affect the exposure compensation to ISO 2. Why do you set it to 2EV? Is seems to me that, in this case, it is useless as there is the same correction for highlights and shadows, so the difference stay the same.
    Also, in which measurement do you compensate you shadows by -2EV?

    Regards

    Jean-Luc

  2. I like to place my shadows, (the darkest partP I want to retain detail in Zone III so this is why I set the ISO option to read -2 stops from what the meter reads.

    After I have used the EV to determine the dynamic range and to make sure everything will fit inside 5 stops I then proceed to place the shadows into Zone III.

    I scan the scene with the spot meter and find the darkest part I want to retain detail, I then press the ISO button which automatically calculates what exposure I need to set the camera to.

    Please ask away if I haven’t explained this clear enough.

  3. Jean-Luc Coulon

    Hi,

    Ok, I understand.

    When I was mostly doing film photography, I was doing about the same : expose for the shadows.

    But in the digital word, I tend to expose for the highlight for 2 reasons:
    – There are very few tone values in the low EV Zones
    – Even at low ISO, shadows are noisy.

    I often do 2 exposures, 3 to 4 away – one “normal” and the other surexposed, and do some kind of “HDR” (this is not really HDR) just to get more tone levels and less noise in the shadows.

    If I surexpose the shadows, I’ve more tone levels (and more important, less noise ; but both are related) but they are not placed where I want them to be. So in post-processing, I move the shadow back to there place keeping the noise low and getting more tone levels.

    This is more important in colours than in B&W because the noise processing in B&W is very different.

    J-L

  4. Myron Gochnauer

    I too own an L758, but find it way too fiddly most of the time, even though it is incredibly versatile. Meters that use a manually set, physical dial are much faster and more intuitive for me, even though I have to transfer a reading to the dial to determine an exposure. Pentax and Soligor spot meters are representative examples of this type of spot meter. If I want to determine the range of illumination, I can compare the readouts when metering the same subject in the most brightly and darkly lit areas. (I have a piece of a grey card on the inside of the lens cap to use as a standard subject.) It isn’t even necessary to use the dial, since the meter gives you easily recognized, remembered, and manipulated numbers like “14” and “9.4”. If there is any difficulty, it is in learning how to use the grey card (i.e. how to angle it relative to the light source and the meter). Am I the only person who prefers physical dials to buttons and numerical readouts?? I even prefer ovens and microwaves controlled by dials for time and temperature. 🙂

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