Let me be upfront and offer a disclaimer. I am not a cinematographer and don't profess to call myself one. I enjoy the role and love creating beautiful images. I am happy to step into the role whenever I think I can offer something.
Its also not the first time I have assisted James with lighting and camera. His shoots always contain a new or unusual element, they are great fun and every time we seem to push ourselves a little bit. With this shoot I needed some way of measuring, controlling and comparing light - above what an inbuilt waveform monitor offers me on the camera.
A light meter provides information about the exposure of a scene or part of a scene, it tells us exactly what shutter speed/aperture combination to use based on the 18% gray standard, and can even provide detailed charts and graphs on the quality and color of the light. I use it predominantly as a tool to check exposure settings for perfectly balanced images.
Incident & Reflected Readings.
Light readings can be taken in two different ways: by reading the light falling on the subject (incident) or the light that is reflected from the subject (reflected). Most meters can take both types of readings.
Incident readings measure the light falling onto the subject, so it requires the meter to be pointed toward the camera from the subject’s position. This method has proven to be very accurate, more so than reflected readings, because the meter will not be fooled by overly reflective or dark surfaces. This can be difficult with fast-moving or faraway subject matter.
Sekonic have it covered if you need more information.
The shoot itself was quite straight forward. A model looking direct to camera applying makeup as tutorial. The brief called for the lighting to be soft and clear but still have a halloween and theatre vibe.
We did this by having a large source behind the camera, slightly off angle lit by a 1k Fresnel.
This was diffused by a 2x2 scrim, with 1.25 white cloth.
The other two lights were Fresnel's 600s, the first was a rim with a 0.6 ND to drop the intensity slightly. Controlled by flags and black wrap, set to spot.
The second to light the background, about the same distance from the wall to the light, as from the rim light to the subject (2M). Again 0.6 ND on the background light, set to spot.
The fill was a reflector on the left side and had a .3EV difference between each side, just enough to add a little shape but be consistent.
On a side note we opted for Fresnel lamps to enhance that theatrical, b-movie, halloween feel. And because of the subject matter we still got a very high quality of light, very even with a nice blended incase we needed to using it as spot or background light.
There were two setups with small camera and lighting changes for each tutorial.
I used a Sekonic L-478DR LiteMaster Pro, its a touch screen meter, incident light only without an adapter which actually makes it really straight forward to use. Also there are plenty of tutorials out there for it.
So why use it?
Time. First of all we finished an hour early than scheduled, and part of that was the ability to light and exposure the picture without a model (or double) being sat in the frame, holding up a grey card. Secondly, I could tell how evenly the light was falling across the scene and create a ratio quickly. It also helped ensure the rim and background light stayed consistent between setups throughout the day.
The lighting plan could be implemented quickly and accurately, such as the half stop ratio between the models left and right sides. Or the intensity of the background light compared to the model in the foreground.
We were shooting on two camera systems with two different lens types. The closeup zoom stopped down to f4, the master at f2.8. The prime was shooting through an autocue, dropping 1 stop of light. By measuring this we could shoot at the same ISO on both cameras to make up for the stop of difference and the difference in aperture. I was able to measure the exact spot we wanted the light to fall, and with the waveform monitor I was certain of a solid match.
This wasn't the first I had used a light meter. But the last time was working on a 16mm film shoot while at college. I had really missed this approach to working, not that I DP much but when I do this will be in my kit bag every time. Its a tool which made me more confident in the decision I have to reach, it helps clearly communicate information to the crew and allows me to work at faster pace, regardless of camera, sensor or lens choices.