A chunk of my fourth roll of Kodak Ektachrome E100 was about experimenting with an incident meter. Even with the few rolls I’ve shot – and despite the mistakes and issues I’ve varyingly had – I’ve got to the point now that I now feel comfortable enough with E100 in the ways I normally shoot. That is to say, it no longer seems entirely alien. As such, I’m now in a place that it seems ok to begin to experiment a little with the hope of learning something more.
The desire to shoot with an incident meter comes from a couple of recommendations in the comments on the previous posts in this series. But actually, whilst there were loads of suggestions around the idea that I should try an incident meter, there was also one very fine suggestion that I should take notes as I shot. For the sake of this roll – at least for a small part – I took heed of both pieces of advice, and in doing so, I must admit, if learning is the main goal here, I do feel like I’ve achieved something!
Exposure is an interesting subject. The more you delve into it, the more its potential for complexity unravels. I’m aware of many of the methods, and conceptually understand what I need to do to get something out of at least a few of them – at least I think I do! The problem is, I’m quite lazy, so I often find myself sticking to a path of least resistance and even after trying other methods with success, I find myself falling back into my comfort zone and either use a process of guessing, reflective metering, or a combination of both.
Incident metering is often touted as being the most simple and reliable way to meter, but I often question this as it’s my view that it can lead to the exact same series of errors, just from a different angle. Literally. Whenever I’ve tried it in the past, specifically when I’ve shot higher-contrast landscape scenes, I’ve found a half decent reflective meter to give close-enough to what I need, with a lot less fuss. This usually leads me to conclude that sticking to reflective metering is best for me – at least with neg film. That said, my previous successes with the Konica Hexar RF could quite easily have cemented the technique for reversal film too.
As it turned out though, I actually really enjoyed incident metering this particular roll. I’m not entirely sure I’ve achieved anything more than if I’d just used a reflective meter, but because the incident meter requires me to think a bit (lot!) more – especially because it’s a break away from my usual technique – I feel like I’m positively impacting my learning curve in a way that sticking to what I know might not have.
Actually, I think that I’m going to find my metering technique tightens up in general if I stick to incident metering with Ektachrome E100. Because E100 will more brutally reveal my mistakes – and because I now feel like I’m using this as an opportunity to pull away from my usual techniques – the only real outcome is that I learn how to read the light better, or at least in a less lazy way – which can’t be a bad thing.
Incident metering – the basics
If you’re not already aware, the basic idea of incident metering is to take a reading of the light that’s landing on the subject rather than that being reflected off it. In most circumstances, the meter reading is taken with the meter between the subject and the camera with the meter facing away from the subject and pointing in the direction of where the photo will be taken from.
The majority of incident meters have a domed diffuser that sits in front of the light meter’s photosensitive cell. The reason it’s domed is so that it can take an average of the light landing on the subject. Like most subject matter the dome is 3D, so if the light is hitting the subject from one side relative to the angle of the camera, with the dome pointing at the camera at the same angle, the average of the light falling onto it is taken.
I took a couple of shots at the beginning of the roll that between them quite nicely demonstrates the potential benefit of incident metering. If I remember rightly, this first shot was a sunny-16 shot – she doesn’t pose often so I was a little flustered and just snapped – but I’m pretty certain I dialled in something close to sunny-day exposure. There’s not all that much wrong with this exposure as a whole, but you can see Norah’s face is quite shaded on the one side.
Since I was armed with my Lumu incident meter, what I should have done is use that. But I didn’t – as I’ve said was feeling rushed. If I had, I would have likely got a slightly better exposure for her whole face. It would have also been interesting to see how that would have impacted on the rest of the frame.
This occurred to me as we walked away looking for ice cream, so when I had another chance I took this shot with Norah as the main subject of the image using that method:
The dome of the incident meter has done its job of averaging the light landing on her face. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the reading as I forgot to note it down – again because I was out with the family. Regardless, this does somewhat highlight the benefit of 3D incident metering in a fairly basic usage case.
The rest of the shots from that day (and actually the majority of the roll) were of a little garden for the show that was put together by the school that Hannah works at and Connie goes to. They’re super-boring and, again, I shot them sunny-16 so are of no benefit to this post, but here’s one for you anyway:
Incident metering for higher contrast subject matter
On my next little outing, I was specifically on the lookout for some high contrast scenes. I get the basics of incident metering, but its when I’m shooting more landscape-type images with higher-contrast that I’ve found the idea of incident metering to be a little more involved than I’d like. This was a morning that I’d arrived at work a little early, so popped down to the river bank hoping to find something of a high-contrast subject to shoot. I found one too. Unfortunately, I can’t quite remember what I was thinking with regard to my exposure, and my note taking was a bit too shit to be useful. This is what I wrote:
Dappled light on path/bench
Shade reading 3.5 1/125 vs sunny-16 morning light
First shot 3.5 1/125
Second 11 1/125
Third reflected reading f/5.6
These are the shots:
I dunno either…? I think I was maybe trying to ascertain the advantage of a reflective reading in these circumstances. The issue is, with no real subject matter (or in other words, a shit photo), it doesn’t really prove or show much beyond a badly incident metered image, a poorly judged estimate, and a reflected meter result that looks a bit shit… Let’s call this a failed experiment. Note to self: take better photos and make better notes! It’s interesting how the lessons here are not purely photography based… ha!
Despite my shit note-taking, since the rest of the roll was taken whilst out shooting with Jeremy and Fraser one evening, I did manage to get something useful. The benefit to my note taking of shooting with other people was that I was talking to them a bit about what I was doing at the same time, so remember more about what I was thinking.
This next image was the first shot I took. In terms of notes, I simply wrote:
Sun f/9 1/125
I remember waffling to Jeremy and Fraser about how it was my goal to take a photo of something in direct, evening sunlight. To do this, I told them, I just needed to take a reading with the incident meter facing the sun. Of course, this was only really the right thing to do because I had the sun pretty much directly behind me. i.e. the subject, camera and light source were on almost the same axis. Regardless, the result I got was exactly what I had hoped.
At this stage, I decided to do a comparison shot between taking a reading in the sunlight and taking a reading in the shade. The note I made was as follows:
Pilar thing – f/8 then f/2.8 1/125
This first image was taken at f/8, and with a slight change in the light between the first image and this, it represents a meter reading with the sun, camera and subject on almost the same axis. In fact, for my own shadow not to be in the frame, I had to hide in the shadow area you can see in the left-hand third of the image. I’m pretty pleased with the result – I quite like the slightly lower-key look to it, as it’s captured the evening light quite accurately – though admittedly, it’s not the most interesting image.
This next image was taken at f/2.8. This was just an experiment to see what would happen if I metered the shadow area. The result, as expected, was a blown out image.
In hindsight, given what I now know about E100, I suspect f/7.1 or 6.3 might have resulted in an image with slightly more shadow detail and yet still retained good exposure across the rest of the frame. But, as I say, I’m happy with the result in the first image.
I then took two more images in a similar light with similar results:
I know which one of those two I prefer…
Moving on from there, I wanted to find a higher-contrast difficult scene where I could take an average of a couple of readings to attempt to get the best result. The notes were as follows:
Sunlit boat through shaded boats
f/2, 6.3 then 4 – meter read f/2 in shade and f/6.3 in sun.
This first image was taken with a reading taken at arm’s length, facing myself, reaching out over the water in the foreground. I have essentially exposed for the boats in the foreground shadowed area. The result isn’t particularly attractive, I don’t think, with the background being fairly overexposed, and the foreground looking unpleasant. Sometimes, shadow areas need to stay in the shadows…
This next image was taken at f/6.3 – this was the reading I’d got with the meter on the same axis as the sun and the side of the boat/houses in the background. I knew this would way-underexpose the boats in the foreground, but I wanted it as a point of reference.
This final image was taken at f/4. My gut feeling was that I wanted to achieve some detail in the shadows, but that a lower-key outcome would work best for the scene.
I’m really pleased with the outcome too. Though I must admit, I feel like this was thanks to a good chunk of luck as it was much else. My incident metering technique is far from refined, especially for scenes like this, and in this instance, the best result was based on gut feeling more than much else. But, importantly, this has certainly given me the confidence to experiment with this sort of technique a little more. I just wish I’d taken a reflective reading of this scene, even just for reference. Again, better note taking required!
If anyone has any tips on taking readings to average to increase my chance of repeating the above success with E100, then I am all ears!
Failing light (and brain)
From this point on, the light was beginning to fail, as was my brain and my note-taking. I had pretty much concluded that I’d got what I wanted for the benefit of writing this post, and with there being a lack of higher-contrast subject matter to now shoot, went into a lazy-brain mode.
Actually, thinking back, I remember making another mistake. Walking along the river with Jeremy and Fraser, we were all taking various meter readings and talking about them. For some reason, I saw it fit to take some of my readings with the meter pointing at the direction of the sun which was pretty much a 90-degree angle to the subject/camera axis. I wondered at the time why Jeremy had given me a funny look a couple of times… It’s this that makes this following note and photo redundant as far as the outcome goes – I can’t remember how I’d metered it and therefore what the note means…
Downriver 2.8 (read at 2.2)
Still, the outcome is ok…
From then on, I was just shooting at 1/60th and f/2 as the light had failed and these were the best settings I could achieve. The results were a little underexposed, but with a post-process tweak, a couple of them came out quite nicely (though they are a little dull in terms of the subject matter).
The takeaways from this roll
I feel like there’s quite a lot I can take away from this roll. For a start, if I’m going to take notes, I think need to make more effort! Beyond that, it strikes me that incident metering does indeed seem to hold the potential to give me great results from Ektachrome E100, even with high contrast scenes.
I think it’s possibly quite evident that I’m out of practice when it comes to incident metering. As such, it seems that I’m apparently quite liable to forget the basic rules if my concentration drops, even just a little bit…
Finally, I now feel like shooting Ektachrome E100 has become about me refining my metering skills with different methods. I do feel like I know some of this stuff, but as I’ve talked about a few times on this site recently, practice is definitely key. Knowing an outline theory, and putting it into practice as someone who, relatively speaking, doesn’t have a great deal of experience with an incident meter took a lot more brain power than I thought it might. But, significantly, I do feel like the results I achieved when I did apply the brain power were amongst the better frames I’ve had out of this film so far!
Words of thanks and recommendation
Finally, I just want to say a continued thanks to both Kodak Alaris and Duncan from Silverpan Labs. Kodak is supplying the film for this series, and Duncan is doing an excellent job at developing the films and giving me consistent results as well as useful and insightful feedback – this being a service he offers to all of his customers.
If you want to buy this film, I also recommend Analogue Wonderland as my chosen film supplier. They stock E100 here, but also supply something like 200 other films making the website interesting to explore as well as purchase from.