How I Determine Exposure in the Studio

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

For me, metering studio lighting is done the same way as when shooting with natural light by using a light meter. You’re going to need a handheld light meter that also reads flash output. My guess is that all modern light meters, even my Old Gossen Luna Star F2, read reflected, incident and flash, so it’s no biggie.

Studio flash users are almost always going to need a meter that reads flash but if you’re only shooting with available light or continuous light sources, you can get by with the reflected light meter that’s built into your camera.

When pointed at a subject, reflected light meters, in camera or hand held, are calibrated to provide a more-or-less accurate exposure measuring reflectivity somewhere around 18% grey. With hand held meters, the exact value varies and details are complex with some meters measuring 12% (the most common) and others at 14% reflectivity.

In most cases, the aperture a flash meter provides will be close enough for your first test shots but you should also take the time to look at the test image’s histogram because sometimes the image on the LCD is to bright, too dim or maybe too contrasty. Then you should refine the exposure though additional test shots until you have the exposure you like.

If you are not familiar with the histogram function of your digital SLR, take some time to read your camera’s User’s Guide about how it works or check out my post Hysterical Over Histograms. Knowing how to interpret histogram readings will help improve the exposures all of your images—flash or not

How I made this shot: I photographed once aspiring and now wildly successful model, Ashley Hannah in my home studio using a Panasonic Lumix GH4. Lens was a Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 at 45mm. Exposure, measured by that selfsame Gossen Luna Star F2, was 1/125 sec at f/8 and ISO 200. Retouched in Imagenomic’s Portraiture and tweaked in Color Efex Pro.

PS: Before a or subject arrives for a photo session I always make a few test shots to determine the proper exposure. Sometimes I use an assistant or my wife Mary or when I used to shoot in my friend Jack Dean’s studio, we used his mannequin Anna. That way when the subject arrives you can concentrate on working with them to produce the kind of pose and expression that you want.


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My book Joe Farace’s Glamour Photography is full of tips, tools and techniques for glamour and boudoir photography with new copies available from Amazon for $27.43, as I write this. Used copies are selling at hard-to-beat prices starting at $2.49 and the Kindle version is $11.99 for those who prefer a digital format.