Yes Virginia, there can be such a thing as too little depth of field.

Untitled Photo #2

Contax RTS3. 85mm 1.4 Carl Zeiss lens.


Little City Coffee Shop on Congress Avenue.

 Untitled photograph.

Obscure and marvelous objects of keen desire. Meter me. Please.

While the photo world pants at the rumor of more and more very similar cameras being readied for the market a lot of really cool stuff is languishing because it's not bling enough for prime time. The Sekonic Pro L-478D light meter is one of these cool stuff devices.  

While light meters seem to have fallen out of favor with most grab and shoot photographers I still carry around two different ones and use them on every shoot that requires me to use lighting.  I wouldn't want to do lighting set ups without one. The one that travels with me everywhere is the tough and hardy Minolta autometer V f.  Like most good meters from last century it reads both flash and ambient light. It's never broken and it takes a double a battery, which makes me happy.

In the studio I depend on my Sekonic L-508 zoom meter. It's a great incident light meter and it also has a built-in in spot meter function that I use, infrequently.  I use both the Minolta and Sekonic meters to measure mostly flash output on white backgrounds but after a bad experience with the rendering of test portraits on the rear LCD of a Nikon D700 I've gone back to making incident readings for every portrait session I do. I've found LCDs on most camera give varying results in varying ambient light environments and it's easy to under expose portraits since the live view or review screens always seem too hot to me.

With two meters in residence at VSL why in the world would I want the L- 478D? Well, mostly because it's so cool. It has features that I think are fun and useful.  I love the big screen and the fact that it's a touch screen. I like the front and center cinematography features and while I probably won't have a use for shutter angle settings as the world of film movie cameras darkens I find being able to set frames per second on the meter a big help when I'm trying to noodle in a good exposure that still hews to proper video technique.

The meter builds on the camera calibration we first say in the L-758 meter and the compulsively detail oriented photographer will have the option of fine tuning the meter and its read out based on actual camera performance.

But why use a separate meter at all? Precisely because we are so subjective when it comes to visual analysis. Most camera LCDs and EVFs show a preview or a review based on the jpeg converted file generated by our cameras, even when we are shooting raw. The exposure latitude of jpegs is much narrower and I've found that camera makers consistently engineer their cameras to err on the side of underexposure in nearly all situations. Even when the image on the screen is big and bright. You can see it plainly if you examine your camera's histogram and compare it with what you are seeing when you look at the same image on the camera's screen. The screen shot looks bold and bright while the (too tiny) histograms almost always have a notch-lette of flat line over to the right hand side.

When I use an incident flash meter, at the subject location, aiming directly back to the camera I generally get readings that are one half to one full stop more aggressive than what my cameras suggest. When I trust the meter I generally get perfectly exposed skin tones and detain in all highlights but I don't get crunched shadows and ruddy transitions from mid tone to dark in portraits.  That alone is enough to keep me using meters for a long time to come.

Where incident light meters really come into their own is aiding in the quick and precise set up of white background studio shots. I meter the background to make sure it's even and I take the incident reading (plus 1/3 stop) as my base for the set up. Then I use the incident light meter with the subject and raise or lower the illumination on the subject until it reads what the background does (before adding the 1/3 stop correction for detail-less white...) and I know I'm where I need to be to have the cleanest, noise free files with the right tonal ranges. Magic.

You're probably able to do much the same process with the reflected light meter in the camera but there's more math involved and the reflectivity of the background materials makes a difference in the accuracy of the metering. 

The reason I want the new is mostly that the new display is much more readable for me than the older, lower contrast, monochrome displays of the older meters. I also like that I can make changes to frequently used parameters on the touch screen rather than having to find the right button and scroll.

The meter uses two triple "A" batteries, which is better than some obscure older camera type battery (I'd prefer one double "A"....).   With included accessories you can use the meter as a reflected one instead of an incident light meter, and, by adding an accessory you can convert the meter into a five degree reflected spot meter.  The meter is highly configurable and offers thirteen different custom settings. It is firmware upgradeable via an USB socket.

Both of my current meters are over ten years old. Buying a new meter happens rarely but they are pieces of gear that I use nearly every day. When I'm shooting with a non-metered Hasselblad they are a constant companion. Now, if I can just get approval from the CFO.....

What book would I start with if I wanted to learn how to light?

The one book I always recommend for people who want to really learn about lighting.

I know you might have thought I'd be pushing one of my lighting books in today's column but I'm writing this because I've been hearing from a lot of people lately who want to move beyond the noble savage stage (available light only) of photography and really learn how the nuts and bolts of lighting work. I'm old fashion, I think you should learn the theory first and then build the practice framework on top of that.

I've written five books on photography and I know how hard it is to do it right. Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua have done it right with their book, Light, Science, Magic..., so much so that it is now in its fourth edition and it never leaves the top ten tier of lighting books on Amazon.com
It is one of the best books about the nature and control of light I have ever read and I keep replacing copies that are (permanently) "borrowed" from the studio bookshelves because I find myself returning to the book time and again as a primary reference for both my writing about lighting and my practice of photography.

Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this book. Mr. Hunter and I exchanged e-mails several years ago about the possibility of doing a joint project but we were both too busy to follow up and nothing came of the communication. I just really like this book and think VSL readers will be happy to have it at hand as a resource.

Buying a copy from the link below will help to support the blog with no additional cost to the purchaser: