Do you still measure Photons
For the serious amateur photographer to shoot film he had to know the “Sunny 16 rule” or at least be able to read that little folded up paper in each box of film about the “Sunny 16 rule”, or if he was serious he had Kodak’s “Master Photoguide” which held the secrets to Existing light, flash, film reciprocity tables, filter compensation tables etc . . etc . . etc . . Sadly in these times to many photographers both serious amateurs & pro’s alike have never used or had to rely on anything else but their cameras on board light meter and Photoshop to correct their poor exposures. Yes I said it, poor exposures . . . I am not in the “Shoot it now / fix it later club”. For most they’d be lost without and app for their I-puck or do-droid, or dSLR’s internal meter & rear screen (Chimping) to get a shot. Most if not all new cameras will not even function without a battery, which in effect makes your fancy toy a really fancier paperweight/doorstop ! Yes, I to would be first inline for a recharge of my battery for my doorstop . . I mean dSLR, but I am not that far away from my old mechanical beasts and a roll or sheet of film. I will still grab my meter for landscape shooting.
There was a post today on Google+ and it was a general query to any & all photographers. The Question went like this “Film photographers! What are you using to meter long exposures (e.g. greater than 30 seconds)? I found this article. Do you calculate it? Do you use a specific light meter? Any experiences are appreciated!” . . .
I gave the following answer in film terms as follows; “As an old film shooter (4×5 chromes) Velvia, one had to compensate for reciprocal failure of the film beyond recommended exposure times as per the MFG, it became second nature and was easy to calculate as the MFG of film included a free data sheet with each box of film. This mainly affected color-shift & exp time, we also operated under the old “Sunny 16 rule”, had a stop watch, light meter and a “kodak master photoguide”. Shooting 4×5 it was sooo necessary to understand reciprocity, and just for your info, a light meter can be easily fooled. Film also had specific Dynamic F/stop range and latitude. Color neg was more forgiving then slide film, and one exposed for the highlights usually because just like now, if you blow out the highlights they are gone, no amount of Photoshop can bring it back. I still use a digital light meter, and a spot meter when shooting film, but can use my DSLR’s meter to gauge a long exposure with fair accuracy as related to FILM. ”
So that is the reason for this post . . . I sometimes am amazed but mostly turned off by photographers that ask me for my meta-data, you know the question . . What was your ISO, f/stop, shutter speed . . . GPS . . . blah blah blah . . all the time not realizing the info attached to the picture has little or no relevance to the shot other than, this was the state I put my camera settings in at the moment to capture the shot. Meta-data is the just that (the state in which the settings of the camera were in to match of all the external conditions that came together and the choices I made at that precise moment to execute capturing the photograph), all based on subject and conditions and personal style I imposed upon then scene/subject.
Oops there I went off on a rant . . I am sorry, but I would rather be asked why I chose the parameters I set then a blanket query for useless data. It’s like taking a fragment of a paragraph out of context as the sum of the statement . . . ok . . . OK . . . back on track. The post is about light meters and long exposures for both Film and Digital capture. Would I need a separate meter to judge the capture/exposure on a dSLR? not really, the meters in Today’s dSLR’s are pretty good especially for long exposures exceeding 30 minutes. With that said, there are caveats in both camps (Film & Digital). Film has its reciprocity quirk when once the max exposure the film was designed for is reach weird things tend to happen with color. Most often once that threshold is passed the time to get a correct exposure increases to maintain color balance of sorts. Digital on the other hand has its own quirks and that is sensor noise, dead pixels, hot pixels, temperature flairs all related to long exposures, not to mention camera battery longevity.
Once again I stray from the Question, so let’s break it down and get right to it. Q: What are you using to meter long exposures ? well most in camera meters can give us up to (dependent on camera) 2 maybe 3 minutes dependent on the dark situation we are shooting. There are standard formulas for most types of low light and night photography, we meter for daylight to photograph the moons surface correctly, we can photograph in moonlight if we’re using a fast enough lens in combination with high ISO and some cameras will even shoot and focus in near total darkness. Film cameras might be able to meter, but now we are dependent on the films capability and what we desire from the results that are possible. We are not really metering for exposure but are using predefined exposure times as a base point, with film this is really a “guess & by-golly” shot in the dark (scuse the pun). We must know the films parameters and capabilities, with film it is really a crap shoot because one thing off and your whole shoot will be in vain, with digital you just do a quick chimp and if it is working your in and you can shoot away with not much of a problem. So to answer this part of the question correctly would be . . . A: “follow the predefined tables for the film as set forth by the manufacturer and dictated by your subject“, the actual exposure will be determined & refined by all the variables when you shoot it.
Now for the next part Q: “I found this article“? . . A:”what article” irrelevant question, insufficient information. Q: “do you calculate it” . . A: “Yep ya do calculate it” , Q: “Do you use a specific light meter?” . . . A: “no & yes, you use your built in hat rack” and finally refer back to initial answer and be willing to fail a few times as film will cull out the faint of heart when you bust a few Benjamins (one hundred dollars) in the learning process or switch over to digital and chimp away . . . So there’s the answer(s) it is by formula and trial & error, digital is much easier, film can be exciting as you can really be surprised and sometimes end up with a happy mistake . . . There are endless books on night photography, light painting, astrophotography, it is all great fun. Film . . . not as much fun now do to Digital photography and all it capabilities, also its lower cost and instant gratification.
Here are a few pages from my “Kodak Master Photoguide”, do I still use film? yes, but less and less as time goes on and costs go up. I am as much a “digital junky” as I was a “film-a-holic” . . Sadly I see more and more Questions like the one described above online . . . it’s a sign of the times, I am as much a relic as my old film cameras, my methods, my old ways are just that . . . Film will have its die-hards, B&W will continue to hold a few. The is nothing like seeing a latent image slowly appear under the dim lights of a darkroom. I do not miss the smells or the dark cramped darkroom, but it’s sad to see the knowledge of light meters, film reciprocity , that “Sunny 16 rule” slip into oblivion . . . to that end I resign myself as just one more relic who will eventually disappear having had the please of 4×5 cameras, developing film and collecting photons. I hope one day the Internet is truly a source of information on everything. I will try not to be to much a cantankerous old cuss . . just ask a complete question.
The “Sunny 16 rule” is a method of estimating correct daylight exposures without a light meter. The Kodak Master Photoguide pocket guide was in my camera bag with its wealth of info.
Well I have blathered on long enough, go make a photograph, step outside your comfort zone and try a new style, genre or method of photography, challenge yourself . . better yet bug some old coot photographer . . . you both just might learn something!
later taters . . . I am outta here