Using a spotmeter in the woods : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

As I intend to buy a camera that lacks an exposure meter, Iíve just bought my first spotmeter (Pentax Digital). I use color film and my main subject is scenery, mostly woods (trees, rocks, clearings...) at all seasons. Right now, before trying the spotmeter outdoors, Iím wondering what to point it at: tree trunks? I suppose foliage could be of some interest as it reflects around 18-25 %. But at this time of the year, only coniferous trees show some green. Is there any kind of simple metering from which to start or is multiple metering and averaging the only way to use the spotmeter?

-- GERARD TAILLEFER (, February 22, 2001


Gerard: One of the quickest methods is to meter from a gray card or off the palm of your hand if the lighting is the same. A gray card will put your exposure in the middle of the scene. Using the palm of your hand, you need to open up one stop from the indicated metering. Another method is to make two readings, the first from a shadow area in which you want to hold detail and the second from a highlight and expose half-way between. You will find you can meter a scene quite quickly with the spot meter if you don't read every value in the scene. A little experiece will take the mystery out of it.


-- Doug Paramore (, February 22, 2001.

I usually sweep the scene and see what the contrast is. My Minolta will read in EV making it faster to figure.

-- Wayne Crider (, February 22, 2001.

I too do a "sweep" to see the contrast range. Then I usually do the shadow reading and put it where I want for the developer/paper combo I use. Pines are usually 1/2 to one stop darker than an 18% reading so it is your choice to put them where you want...

-- Scott Walton (, February 23, 2001.

My spotmeter (Sekonic 778) can memorize up to five measurements and display on a scale. I measure the medium, brightest and darkest spot in the scene and see if the contrast range fits within the exposure latitude of the film. If not, then I have to make a decision about if I want to prioritize highlights or shadows, or medium tones. The general rule is to expose for the highlights with slide film and for the shadows with negative film.

The strenght of a spotmeter is that you do not have to average. Take the spotmeter with you on a walk, decide on a contrasty scene, and try to judge with your eyes the contrast range of the scene. You will be surprised at how good your eyes are at handling contrast. Slide film can normally handle perhaps five stops between highlights and shadows.

-- Ňke Vinberg (, February 24, 2001.

Your question prompts another: are you using your Pentax SM properly? Several postings indicate that not few PSM owners take the zone ring for an ornament. I think it is the most useful feature of the spot meter. Using a grey card and incident meter I have developed correlations for the various colours you encounter in to their appropriate zones. Included among these is the palm of your hands. I carry this in a fold out chart that has a Kodak white on one side and the grey card in the other. You can point at whatever you are interested and put it into the right zone with the certainty that your colour film will be perfectly well exposed. If you have clouds, or snow, you have to be careful to give those the appropriate whiteness but with the zone/spot meter it is all easily done. Where to point? for colour film, whites take precedence. Nothing worse than burned whites or grey snow. I suppose that for B&W it is the other way around.

-- Julio Fernandez (, February 27, 2001.

You can also try this neat little gizmo - the ExpoDisc. It changes your spot meter into an incident meter. Check it out at:

-- Richard M. Coda (, March 04, 2001.

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