Light Meters are Useless

This might rub some older pros the wrong way, but we have to face the fact that using an external light meter is entirely useless these days.

For those of you who don’t know what a light meter is, I’ll give you a relatively simple description. It’s a little hand-held device that will tell you what your camera should be set to in order to properly expose for the light you’re using. It will even work with strobe lights in a studio setting.
The light meter here is for sale for $822 (at the time of posting; not joking, I linked the image, so you can click it and go to the purchase page). You can buy a very nice amateur camera for that price, or a very decent camera lens.
In the past, these were absolutely necessary! By “the past” I mean back when people used film or even early digital cameras that didn’t have the features that every modern digital camera these days has, at least, if it’s worth being used in a professional setting.
These were necessary because photographers couldn’t get the instant feedback you can get these days. They had no choice with film but to set up their lights and use light meters to waste as little film as possible. Or those pesky medium/large format film plates…those were expensive! Well, they still are expensive, but now we just have digital backs and sensors on the cameras that capture those sweet, sweet, high-res images.
If you’re one of those older pros who swears by them and it helps you create your images just the way you want them to be, more power to you!
If you’re like most people out there, there is no point.
If you happen to own your own lights, you probably have a pretty good feel for what settings your camera should be at, in general, for the work you most commonly do! That’s for in-studio, by the way. If you’re out and about in the field and need to measure ambient light, well, literally every DSLR camera on the market today has a light meter built in. It’s not perfect, but neither are hand-held light meters.
So because in this modern day of digital photography, we can set up our lights the way we want them, adjust them to the brightness we think they should be, and then test shoot. Usually it only takes a shot or two to help adjust the lights and then, if they were worthless, delete them! Unlike the days of film where, once a negative was exposed, there was no way to “unexposed” it – it was totally wasted. You also couldn’t check to see what it would look like, since they were still clear until you put them through several chemical baths to reveal the images and stabilize them to resist light.
I’ve mentioned that I learned photography on film before. I had a relatively advanced film camera too, it had the same kind of light meter built in that companies use today, but because they are imperfect, I always relied on bracketing – that is to say, I would adjust my settings to where the meter was about centered out, take a picture, then adjust my settings to where it was technically over-exposed, shoot another image, then adjust my settings to where it was under-exposed, and shoot a third image. This technique wasted 2/3 images sometimes, as they were all the same, just exposed differently, but it almost always helped me achieve at least one good image out of the batch.
It’s just not that way anymore. I’ve worked with people doing shoots for big brands in the past, even they don’t use light meters for the same reason – it’s worthless and useless.
Of course, as with everything, if you use one to help create your images, and that’s how you work best, then it is useful. I’m writing for most people who haven’t integrated this into their workflow.
So if you’re an emerging professional and you’re wondering whether or not to make this purchase, I say “NO!” Don’t bother.
If you’re anything but someone who has been using one for a long, long time, I say, “Forget they exist. Let them die out!”
Embrace the digital age we live in! Remember where our technology came from, but do not let it limit you.

This post comes to you from Studio Jay Photography at


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