Question about incident light meter

Started Feb 28, 2013 | Discussions thread
cedy Junior Member • Posts: 41
Re: Question about incident light meter

What I am failing to see anywhere in this thread is the zone system.

Incident metering is ok, but spot metering is far more accurate and useful. The zone system and reflective spot metering is a much better system. The zone system consist of ten zones that are one stop apart, every zone contains one stop of light.

Zone 0 = pure black

Zone 1 = just off black

Zone 2 = texture, but no detail

Zone 3 = texture and detail, and is a typical shadow

Zone 4  = typical black persons skin tone

Zone 5 = middle gray (18%)

Zone 6 = typical caucasian skin tone

Zone 7 = texture and detail, typical highlight, think sunlit concrete

Zone 8 = texture, but no detail, think snow or paper

Zone 9 = pure white

When you spot meter a white persons face, the meter will think that should be zone 5, heck everything any meter does is say middle gray, so you know that it is off by one stop. It should be zone 6, not zone 5, so you take the meters reading and open up one stop i.e. meter says f/5.6 you open up to f/4. The for a black person who you just metered, you would close down one stop i.e. f/5.6 > f/8

Shooting snow, you want the snow to be white, so when you meter the snow lets say the meter says f/16, now you know by the zone system that snow needs to zone 8, so you open up 3 stops (to  f/5.6) and now when you take the picture, the snow is "placed" in zone 8 and snow is white. Just google pictures of snow sometime and see how awful people are when they don't open up, a large amount of snow pictures are as gray as it gets.

The zone system is useful for both film and digital cameras, but what you meter is slightly different. For a film camera, you typically find a shadow, meter it and then close down 2 stops from what the meter says. This places the shadow in zone 3 and it works like charm. For digital cameras you look for something on the bright side and place it in the zone you want it to be in. Why you meter this way is that film cameras are better are retaining detail in shadows, but digital cameras are better at highlights.

In the end you can meter anything you want, then just place it in any zone you like. Just match whatever you are metering with whatever zone you want it to be in.

Now if you think about it, the zone system is useful in other ways to. Lets say you are outside on a sunny day and find a mountain that looks pretty. You meter the mountain, and get whatever reading. You decide that the mountain would look good in zone 6, its got some light colored rock on it and that is your deal. However you also meter the sky above the mountain and discover that if you shoot the mountain at that setting the sky is in zone 8, well that is not going to work as it will just be a white blown out sky. So you then you make the decision that the mountain can be a little darker, so that the sky looks better. So you close down a little bit. This is the secret to spot metering, you meter lots of places and find out where things will fall in the zone system.

If the dynamic range of the mountain and the sky was simply just too much, you could use a graduated filter or take two shots and combine them in post. If you used incident metering, you would never have all this information.

This is why reflective spot metering is so much more accurate and useful than incident metering.

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