Understanding Light Meters and Settings
Shutter speed is pretty self-explanatory. It's how fast the shutter closes to record the image on either the film or the card, right? The faster that number is, the easier it is to stop action. So like water flowing and all these other things, that's one of those things where you have something that's moving where you really need a high shutter speed. So 250ths of a second, 500ths of a second, this where is action is gonna stop for you, where you're gonna still have detail, and it's gonna be crisp. Aperture, for a lotta people who don't understand aperture, okay the best way to understand it is the human eye. The human eye and the eye of a camera work identically. So let's say this is our eye, and when we're in darkness what happens? The pupil of our eye gets bigger to allow more light in. So we're in darkness and you can look at your eye and it looks like the pupil is almost the entirety of the iris of your eye. When you are in bright sunshine, that's why I have two. When you're in br...
ight sunshine, the pupil of your eye is like a dot. It closes down to protect your eye and to make sure that you can still see what's going on, because if your pupil was wide open, it would be like having somebody shine a light right in your face. So the camera aperture is the same. So when it's like a pinpoint like this, this is the higher end. This is where you're talking about like f22, where it's like a pinpoint. It's just really, really tiny. And then, when it's wide open like this, this is the bottom part, where like with some of the better lenses, you're talking about like 1.4. And this is allowing maximum light into the sensor. So understanding that relationship is important in relating it to your eye, right? This is something we're all familiar with. You know what your eye looks like in light and dark. Here's the problem with this. The ideas is, as it gets smaller, right, as it gets smaller, the number gets bigger. Smaller dot, bigger number. It's an inverse relationship. As this gets bigger, this number gets smaller. That's I think the confusing part. I think in the initial stages of learning photography, that was the thing I was having a hard time with, understanding how bigger meant smaller, and smaller meant bigger. So that's the idea, is if you can relate it to something in the real world that you understand, if you relate it to the idea that your eye opens and closes with light, that's exactly what happens with aperture. The other thing I notice with photography, especially stuff I see on the web, is white balance. White balance is something what when we shot film had to be calculated very carefully before you took the shot. It's very different now with digital, because white balance is something that you can do in the camera and white balance is something that you can do in post-production. It's always better to get your white balance correction as close as you can in camera. Now I'm comfortable often, with the automatic white balance in my camera. Because through trial and error when I shoot, I feel like white balance is close enough 99% of the time, where a slight adjustment in post-production will give me exactly what I want. But there are times when that's not the case and you need to either adjust your white balance manually in camera, or you need to push it really hard in post-production and then it doesn't look natural anymore. So doing a white balance correction, I'm gonna grab something and show you what we use. To do a white balance setup in camera, there's settings in your camera where you take a picture of either a gray card or a white card, that's what this is sold for. This piece of equipment is whatever, a couple bucks. But the idea is that you put it there, you take a picture of it, and then by adjusting the settings in your camera, where it's this custom white balance, and you read your manual, and every camera's a little different. The idea is, you take a picture of this, and then the sensor reads this as neutral, and then when it's shooting in the environment, because you shot it in this light, right this is the light we're gonna shoot it, it will adjust your white balance custom to this or this, 'cause I think video tends to use a little bit more white and photo tends to use a little bit more gray. By setting your custom white balance in your camera, you're now kind of eliminating the problem of having to push it too far in post-production. This is where you get those kind of orangy pictures that you see in people, or bluer pictures that see people. That kind of color range on your images, where it doesn't look like pure white light, is about white balance setting, and that's the correction that needs to happen. So quite honestly like I said, every camera's different in how you set your custom white balance, but you should experiment with the auto white balance and then from there, when you're editing your pictures, if you find that they're a little too blue or a little to orange, based on the color temperature, you need to make that correction in your camera. Now the color range that we use in photography ranges from about 2,800, and we use what's called a Kelvin scale. Goes from about 2,800, which is called tungsten light, and we go to about 5,500 which is daylight. We in food photography tend to be around 5,200. That's about the comfort zone that I found when I do post-production. Sometimes it ranges from about 4,800 to up to 52, above that, I mean it depends if you're outdoors where 5,500, that's where that really, really bright white light comes in. But if you understand this, this is also a way to correct your color balance in post-production or in camera, where you understand the reality of what does this color light look like, and what does this color light look like and how do you want that to be put into your camera setting. This is something that you can research, but understand like if you're buying a bulb for indoor lighting, you can get this rating on it, and anything that's closer to the higher end of this is closer to white light, which is better for food photography. There are uses and there are setups of all different types of photography that take all of these numbers into account, but the gold standard for food photography is up close to daylight. Does anybody have a question about white balance or any of the things we've talked about so far?
Yeah we have a question from TCL, who asked, are there some cases where you would not want to calibrate the white balance for atmosphere?
I think that your white balance is one of those things where, I mean if you're looking to capture, let's say, capture the indoor part, indoor shot of a restaurant, and there's sort of that orange glow, you just leave it alone. I mean, because the camera's gonna read it, like in an auto white balance correction, it's gonna read what's there. Now I've left it like that and then there are times when I have corrected it in post-production where you slide it back, give it a little bit more, and it whitens the room. That might not be what even your eye saw. Your eye might be seeing that orange glow. So I think there's also a matter of style. But I think in food photography in particular, where you're not talking about atmosphere, we're talking about trying to get the light right, I don't know that food ever looks good when it's kinda got an orange glow goin' around it. So maybe that's a personal preference, but the idea is, yeah you can leave it that way, but I wouldn't do it for food.
And another question. Do you use any third party devices to set your balances, your color balances, gray cards and one of those color profilers?
I don't use a color profiler, I know like with film we would run shot where it was down the side so we can match it. I don't do that, because I think the software's so advanced now that it's not really necessary. But obviously the white card I have is one that I will use from time to time. I think you can also start to talk about, when we're talking about working in daylight, we don't do things like gels, and other things to correct the white balance like we would with lighting, where you're wrapping lights and big color gels and neutral density filters. And now we're starting to talk Einstein kinda stuff. So I think for today, for today we're gonna kinda stick to what we do in daylight photography.
I'm gonna ask one final question before we move on.
This is from Fashion TV from Singapore, Andrew you mention that you shoot usually in natural light, how do you handle the color temperature changes during the course of a day, especially when window light is used? Any practical advice?
Yeah, I think, your eyes become attuned to the color temperature of a room. I mean I feel like after shooting for as long as I have, I sort of have like a built in color light meter in my head where I'm looking around, and I'm looking at the light and I'm saying okay I think we'll be around here and I'll set my camera and start way. So yes the color will change during the day. So if you're on an automatic white balance, it usually corrects itself fairly well, but if you feel like it's far outside of the range of what the auto is gonna really do, if it's gotten really blue, then I would re-correct and reset again. Do another custom balance throughout the day. So for sure, you need to kind of monitor it. The AWB on my camera seems to handle it pretty well, but if not, you should make the correction like as you go through the day. Anymore from you guys?
I think we're good for now.
Okay, so let's talk about baby steps. Now I went through a lot of mathematics here of all this different things and I understand that counting and clicking, but here's our goal, that red A. We need to get rid of the red A. What's the red A I say? The red A, I'm gonna do Dr. Seuss, now you know this right? The red A I say is automatic. This is what we don't want. Get rid of automatic. So what do we do? Take baby steps. So what's a baby step in getting from auto to manual? These are the priority modes in your camera. There's an AV mode, which is aperture priority and then there's an S something mode in most of them, or something that has related to S, which is a shutter priority mode. So when we went through all of this, right, we started to say, shutter is our priority in this particular image, 'cause we have movement. But I'm not really comfortable yet, in completely setting my camera up. So I have automatic white balance on. Okay, that's taken care of. I know I want my shutter to be the thing that's the priority, so I set my camera to shutter priority. And then it will automatically adjust the aperture in the camera to get you the shot you want. So if I need 250ths of a second and I know I want to stop action I set the camera, shutter priority 250ths of second. Then the rest the camera will take care of. So that's about kind of learning half of what we need, because then with the shutter at 250, it's gonna automatically adjust the ISO and the aperture for you. So that part of it is done. Okay, so we go to another situation and the aperture is my priority. I want to set that aperture at four oh, because I want my falloff to be this way. So I set the camera on aperture priority, Set it at 4.0 and then your ISO and your shutter are gonna be automatically controlled by the camera. I'm only comfortable doing that in certain circumstances, never professionally and I said this yesterday. I'm comfortable with it with my point and shoot or my micro four thirds camera that I carry around. These are the things that, kind of when you're walking around the street, light is constantly changing, you're in a dark alley or shadow or whatever, but I know I want my pictures to have a certain feel. So I'm gonna open up my aperture really wide, 'cause that's what I want. I wanna have like kind a moody feel to it, and I'm gonna let the camera do the rest of the work. Now if you're setting, you can also manually control your aperture. Actually, some cameras will control the aperture in those modes and some of them won't. So let's go back on what I said before about the, you might find that it might it may not control your ISO, as well as your, you know if you're in aperture or whatever. So let me go back on that, 'cause some cameras do that and some cameras don't do that. You may need to manually control your ISO. So that's the baby steps that I would suggest. I would suggest understanding your ISO and what it does. Low number means you got lots of light, high number means you get less light right? Then I would go with those aperture priority, shutter priority kinda settings, to start to understand the relationship between those two things. And then from there, once you start to understand those things, learning how to read a light meter is the next part, okay. So, you have my light meter. I wanna hold it in my hand. So when you're talking about using a light meter, which is one of those essential skills. All the things we just talked about in the last 10 or 15 minutes, are all about how you use your light meter and how to set your camera settings, and here's my light meter. So I talked about this yesterday. So again, this is like that whole priority thing on your camera, right? So I go here and I set my, first thing I do is I push the button to set ISO. And it's clearly stated here ISO. So I got it at 100. So now I've got it set at 125ths of a second, which is at the beginning of my comfort zone for shooting. Now I have the mode button. Now the mode in this one gives you what's called a non-cord mode, which were not gonna use, because that's when you have a strobe that's being blown and it'll read what the strobe is throwing. Then you have a corded mode, where this thing is plugged right in to whatever you're working on, your camera, or your tether or whatever. And then that's gonna read it automatically. But what we're gonna do is ambient mode. Now ambient is related to ambient light, the light that's around us, the light that's in the room. So so far on this meter, I have it set for 100 ISO at 125ths of a second. Now I can control that with the buttons on the side. So let's say I want my shutter to be 60, or I want my shutter to be 250. That's the first control that I have. So I make my decision what my priority is. So I'm at 125ths of a second. My light is coming in from this direction, so I want this bulb to read the light that's coming in from this direction. So now it says to me, I'm really at 100 ISO. I'm very low for f-stop for aperture. I'm only at maybe 1.2, so that's not gonna work for me in here. So what's the first thing I wanna do? I'm gonna bump up my ISO. Okay so I'm gonna bump up my ISO and as I do this, it changes the numbers on the screen. So it tell me exactly where I need to be. So in order for me to get to 4.0, I'm gonna keep clicking, keep clicking, keep clicking, and I need to be close to 800 ISO in here for this particular shot. So this thing is your tutor. It's not only your essential tool, but if you're learning how to work your camera, this is the one that'll teach you the relationships between the three numbers that we've talked about. So you need to learn how to use this. Now it has this other button too, like your camera where it says aperture, where you can change the aperture number or the shutter number. So again, it works like that same like the camera thing we were talking about where those three numbers kind of all work together. But this is a great, once you start to play with this, this is your tutor and your tool. So this is a great item that you need to have in your camera bag. So let's go through the last of these slides. This was the slide I was looking for yesterday where we talking about using like toothpicks and all these other things in our shots. This thing is propped on a, you know when you go into a restaurant and they have the tickets and they slap the tickets down on that spike. You know, after your done at the diner, that's what that thing is standing up on. But again, this was about the lighting and having the ability to allow all this to go off. It was supposed to be like alien fruits from outer space or something. So my priority in this was to get everything I wanted in this shot. Create the light, but then get everything in that, of the fruit, it's called the dragon fruit for those of you who don't know, to get everything in focus. So again, my aperture was my priority in this particular shot. Steam rising, everything bubbling. Again, shutter speed is my priority in this shot. It's moody, it's the shallow depth of field, my aperture is the priority in this shot. And now I'm gonna do, okay this has two purposes, okay. The next two slides are a side-by-side of the same picture with a shallow depth of field, which is an ISO number of about 2.8 and then, oh it's the other way around, okay, an then with the aperture at about 9.0. Now that's the first part. The second part is, that's a Shauna James Ahern gluten-free doughnut. Okay, so this one, you can see all the crystal sugar and everything is in sharp focus just at the top, and everything else just falls away. And that is the shallow depth-of-field look. And that is the same shot where we're at 9.0, where even the sugar on the table and all the kind of grain on the table and everything else is in focus. So there's a definite side-by-side. Camera's in the same position, ISO is the same, the only thing we changed in this is the aperture and the shutter, just to get that kind of relationship going where you can see shallow and deep. And back and forth again. You see how everything is soft and out of focus around the doughnut, and then it becomes a raspberry. (audience laughs) The magic of the internet. This is one of those kinds of shots where you're talking about making sure your white balance is right, because white on white on white. So this is a situation where I would absolutely do a custom white balance, if I'm shooting all white. I wouldn't trust the AWB in a shot like this. I would definitely take more time and make sure that my white balance is absolutely right on point, 'cause when you're shooting things where there's really very subtle color variations and all white is always a little bit of a challenge. Again we're talking about, both making sure your white balance is correct because we have a lot of white in this picuture and also we're doing a faster shutter so we can capture that cloud that's moving. And then razor sharp focus. So that's where I wanna make sure that my shutter speed is a little bit faster 'cause I want everything to be in like super sharp focus and a high ISO reading as well. So I want my number to be at 100 rather than anything else. So this is like one of those pictures where the stock agency would say... This is a great example of that. It wouldn't nescessarily need to be at 100, but I made sure it was, because that's that sharp, sharp razor tight, tight pixels. Let's talk about whether or not we're making sense at this point. How about questions, anybody?
And I got one right here and ready. So this questions asks, it's from this coop, white balance for each particular studio shot, do you estimate the color temperature, do you use the live view or something else?
Well I use the automatic white balance in the camera, I leave it on that setting. And if I'm unhappy with what I'm seeing, because the thing that's great about digital is as soon as you take a shot, you can see what's going on. And if your camera is pretty accurate to what they look like in post-production on your computer, you can tell right away if your white balance is off. So I would say, we have the added kind of benefit of being able to see photographs immediately and know whether or not we need to make adjustments. The live view and when I'm shooting tethered, it's just a bigger version of what you're seeing on the back of the camera. So for sure, I mean, I would use my eyes before anything else.
Fantastic, and you're shooting in RAW?
Always, that's great, I'm glad you pointed that out.
We haven't talked about that.
You're right, I'm glad you brought that up, okay. When you're working professionally in this business, you will never shoot jpeg straight out of the camera, you will shoot RAW files. And what RAW files are, is a digital negative. It's basically got the most, you have the most flexibility in post-production to move your, all the camera settings we've talked about within reason. There's an awful lot of flexibility, up to maybe a stop or stop and a half, or maybe three or four clicks of your shutter speed, to make adjustments on the fly in post-production. So the idea of shooting RAW allows you to develop the picture like you would if it was a negative. If you're shooting jpegs, you're already kind of limiting yourself as to how much flexibility you have in post-production. So the idea, and we're gonna talk about this in this next section about workflow, the idea of shooting RAW is pretty intimidating for people because now you have to acquire a whole new set of skills about using software to bring your pictures to where you want them to be. Now most cameras, any professional camera, every prosumer camera, any kind of digital SLR, a good portion of the micro four thirds cameras, and even some of the point shoot cameras are shooting RAW files. And there's actually some apps that will let you shoot a RAW file or something very similar to a RAW file that has a lot more flexibility with your iPhone which is remarkable. There's an app called, 645 Pro, 645 Pro that it's unbelievable the file that you can pull out of this thing and you can actually process it in a way in Photoshop the way you would a RAW file. So thank you for bringing that up Jim. (laughs) Questions?
We have questions.
[Lady At Computer] I think we have a question from the studio audience.
Oh good excellent, Steve.
This is a two part question relating to the light meter and the camera settings.
And when using light meter, what camera metering mode would that be equivalent to and then likewise, you know like spot or matrix metering in the camera? So how should that be set in the camera?
I prefer spot metering, because in food photography we have like that kind of small focus point. I like the spot metering, because I like to kind of be directly on the focal point that I'm gonna work on. The matrix metering is like metering the whole scene. But the reality is, because like some of the shots we talked about yesterday where we had all that back lighting, where everything is blown out, if you started doing a matrix metering that's gonna correct for that, and I don't wanna correct for that. I only wanna correct for the thing I'm focusing my camera on.
And the light meter sees a similar--
The light meter is a guide, I think. You know, and if I put the light meter right where I wanna put my focal point, so even if it's pointing back at me. So the light's coming this way, but I'm pointing the bulb of the meter... Drop stuff, just don't drop the camera. So here's the light coming in, but I'm metering this way. And then I'll take an adjustment, I'll make an adjustment based on what's the difference between the light coming through the window and the light that's actually on my subject and it's usually somewhere about halfway. So it is definitely an interpretive art when you talk about having multiple metered pieces in one frame and we do that a lot with food photography so it's not an exact science when it comes to it. You have to kind of be able to understand the flexibility that you have, between the light that's coming in the room and the light that's bouncing back on your subject. Was that both points? Did I get to both parts of your question?
I usually shoot either aperture or shutter priority and then make adjustments with the exposure compensation to get what I want. Would I get even more flexibility shooting in manual or?
Right (drowned out by laughter).
You knew the answer to that question.
No I didn't actually.
Well, yeah, what Paula was saying was that you know some of the cameras have a really accessible exposure compensation dial like right there and you can kind of correct for maybe up to a full stop with just the flick of your thumb. Now it's essentially doing the same thing, but again, you don't wanna use it as a crutch to get out of automatic mode, right? You wanna learn how to fully work your camera in every way. So we have time for maybe one or two more questions.
All right, we'll ask one more question. You had mentioned you know if you have a DSLR or something, there was a question from Adventuresome Kitchen and they asked as an 11 year old photographer not professional, how can I incorporate all of these techniques from my point and shoot camera?
So it's an 11 year old or someone who's working for 11 years?
As an 11 year old photographer.
Not a professional though.
Well it's Adventuresome Kitchens, so it might be a person who's been shooting for 11 years. (audience laughs) We might wanna clarify that, but I mean--
Well I don't know that my advice for an 11 year old would be any different than anybody else.
True. (audience laughs) So the idea was, say that again, 'cause I got caught up in the fact that we had an 11 year old writing in.
The question is, for people that don't have DSLRs, that are interested in food photography, are shooting with point and shoot cameras of all different levels, can you talk about how all the techniques you've been talking about this morning, how they can incorporate that, these techniques in their photography?
Well fully functional point and shoot cameras, absolutely you can use everything we've talked about and it's a great training ground for learning how to use a DSLR. I don't know that there's that many of the point and shoot cameras that don't have full manual controls anymore. So if your camera, especially if you're publishing anything on your blog or anything like that, all of the techniques that we've talked about here will be appropriate for a point and shoot camera.