Metering Film | A Crash Course

Common Questions About Metering


  • Exposure Triangle
  • Use of ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

Q: What is metering?

A: Metering is the process of measuring the appropriate exposure for a specific scene. Digital cameras often use spot meters to determine the aproriate exposure for a given scene. In film photography, especially portraiture, it's best to use an ambient light meter. 

Q: Can I get by without a light meter? 

A: Light meters are essential in most cases, but if you want to go with a budget option there are an array of phone apps that can get the job done in a pinch. I'd highly recommend reading about the Sunny 16 Rule here. 

Q: What light meter should I get? 

The Sekonic line is known for it's stability, longevity, and preciseness. For starters, I'd recommend the Sekonic L-358. It is a classic amongst film photographers. They can often be found on eBay or you can go with a newer model through B and H. 

How to meter

Metering is it's own art form. It takes awhile to learn where and how to point your light meter, but most photographers will tell you to meter for the desired look you want. 

The light and airy look

The light and airy look is often accomplished by metering in the shadows, pointing the bulb 45 degrees downwards, and with the bulb in. Often this in combination with rating your film at one or two stops below will result in a overexposed look. 

The Classic Look

Kodak Portra looks great using this method. Meter at box speed using the bulb out, in front of the person's face. This will give you a nice clean look with balanced highlights and shadows. 

The Dark and The Moody (Can be muddy if not done right) 

Meter in the highlights at box speed, with the bulb in. This will give you the dark and moody look, but be advised, it's hard to do without a lot of post. If your lab offers custom editing, shoot them a message with some samples. 


That wraps it up for metering! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.