© 1995-2004 Michael ReichmannHistory & MoonshotsWhen I was in my teens (
in the mid-1960s
) and just starting to make my way in the world of photography in a serious manner,
brought out the
. This was an SLR, very much inthe modern idiom, but it contained the world's first behind the lens metering system. One had tomanually close down the aperture to take a reading, and notwithstanding the name it
aspotmeter, but everyone who bought one thought that they'd died and gone to heaven. Imagine
acamera that could read exposure through the shooting lens, with filters, bellows extension and all.Damn, technology was advancing so much we might even land a man on the moon one-day.Tables, Charts and SeleniumPrior to this, taking accurate exposure readings was problematic. There were, of course, clip on meters,hand-held meters, extinction meters (
you're definitely over 50 if you remember these
) and variousexposure charts and tables. There was even that extremely esoteric
that everyone in the know was talking about
and not understanding.Hand-held meters primarily had selenium cells
large honeycomb matrixes. Downsides were thatthey could be dazzled by very bright light and they didn't work worth a damn at light levels much lower than a cloudy day.
) were just coming out and their small size allowedthem to be placed in shutter-coupled clip-on meters and then eventually to become in-built, as with the
.All of these with the purpose of helping photographers expose their film correctly.Anyone getting into photography today takes having sophisticated matrix metering systems in their camera for granted. But even these are fallible, and unless one understands what the automation isdoing getting accurately exposed photographs under difficult lighting conditions can be problematicand frustrating. Let's start with some basics.Sunny 16 & BeyondThe extremes of brightness that one encounters in the natural world are not that varied. For this reasonthere is the so-called
rule. This says that
on the brightest day normally encountered theproper exposure is roughly the reciprocal of the film speed at f/16
if you are shooting ISO200 film then the exposure will be 1/250 second @ f/16.
This is the same whether you're in Auckland or Amsterdam, mid-summer or mid-winter.From the extremes of a sunny day outdoors down to typical indoor room lighting covers a range of about 10 stops. With the exception of seldom encountered situations like fireworks, cityscapes andmoonlight scenes these 10 stops encompass every lighting situation you are ever likely to encounter.
Only on the ski slopes or at the beach will you need to stop down one more stop beyond Sunny 16 because of reflections off the snow and sand.
So, that being the case, why is exposure so difficult? Most people should have no problem inrecognising 10 different light levels, shouldn't they?The Eye's AutoexposureUnfortunately (
or fortunately, depending on your point of view
), the human eye and brain have a superbautoexposure mechanism built in. This means that once your eyes have adjusted to the current lightingsituation, and without clues as to what is causing the light level encountered, it is almost impossible totell how bright things are on a relative basis. As long as the light level lies somewhere within that 10stop range for most people it all appears the same.This is why light meters, whether built-in or handheld, are such vital tools. But before exploring lightmeters and how best to use them it's worthwhile to have in ones mind a firm idea of what "proper"1