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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

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Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Living in the past?
Old 05-17-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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Living in the past?

Does anyone else use a handheld exposure meter instead of relying on the meter built into their camera? When many news magazines were using color transparency film (It was quicker to edit than negative.) a great many of us used hand held incident meters because they were far less likely than the meters built into the cameras to overexpose the highlights and turn those highlights into unreclaimable cellophane. That, sadly, pretty much parallels the situation with todayís digital sensors.

Using a handheld meter isnít the most convenient way of determining exposure, especially in situation where the light is changing rapidly, either because the source is changing or you are pointing your camera in different directions. With landscapes, still lifes and architectural you can bracket. But with people (and pets) that isnít true.

That silly half a pingpong ball in front of the meter cell on an incident meter to a great extent mimics the human face in measuring the light falling on it. Itís a great meter for anything approaching portraiture and unlike a reflected light meter, because it is measuring the incident light, light people come out light, dark people come out dark rather than everybody coming out the same. (Thatís one reason it is still popular with cinematographers shooting people oriented films.)

Even with face detection linked exposure Iíve never gotten the accuracy, consistency and tonal differentiation I get with the incident meter. Automatic TTL metering can often lead to slightly different exposures frame to frame, making a matched set of prints somewhat difficult. So, obviously anything approaching a portrait session I use a handheld incident meter.

The facts that it protects highlights, works well with people pictures and calls for a single manual exposure that produces matching frames in a series of pictures has got me using a hand held incident meter more and more. As much as it makes sense to me, I could just be living in the past.

THOUGHTS??????
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Old 05-17-2019   #2
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I use it a lot of the time (Sekonic L308s), and a friend, an Ilford Artisan partner who taught me developing and enlarging insisted on me using it to get the best possible exposure for printing. He uses one almost exclusively.

As my spot meter is so temperamental I also use the Sekonic for large format, with no obvious issues.

I'm not a fan in very poor light with very small areas of light that might lead to the incident meter underexposing the subject (worse with pushed films). There I will use a built in camera meter.
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Old 05-17-2019   #3
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Don't use my incident meters much with digital. I rely on the highlight preference setting of the Canon DSLRs and then edit. But I use the digitals for work - features, sports, and spot news for our weekly newspaper and attached website.
But I do use a Sekonic 300 series (308?) when I'm shooting a non-metered or metered film cameras on personal projects. I know it's overkill for 400 speed black and white film - after 40+ years shooting that speed film, I can usually estimate and come within a half an f stop.
Unfortunately, that doesn't address the issue you raised. If I had time to use an incident meter for digital, I would.
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Old 05-17-2019   #4
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I use an L308 and a Minolta IVf (I love that Minolta and have the spot attachment for it) if I can. Sometimes things just move too fast for a meter reading. I do mostly shoot film as I spend way too much time on a computer while doing my day job and once I have the darkroom setup in the new dedicated area of the house I'll find a lot of enjoyment and relaxation. GIMPing images on the PC is anything but relaxing.....
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Old 05-17-2019   #5
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Oh jeez, Bill. You reminded me of those horrible days when the newspaper I worked for went color and decided on color slides to make the editor's job of viewing photos easier. What a cluster! A whole staff of photographers went from Tri-X on assignments to E6 color overnight. I sometimes had to carry around a three light outfit and even on routine assignments I would look for someone to hold my second 283 slave flash and point it at the subjects back to get separation from the background. And, yes, a Minolta flashmeter was standard for assignments. And, yes, blown out highlights still crept in causing much pain and frustration.

I have nightmares of those days and I never want to relive them. Today I don't own a flash or a handheld meter and I never will. I'm confident enough in my cameras' metering and in my eye's ability to get a useable exposure.
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Old 05-17-2019   #6
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I always use Sekonic L 718 and L 518 incident flash meters in my studio since I have no desire to "chimp" my way to a proper exposure via the screen on the DSLRs that I shoot with. The L 518 is now over 30 years old and has needed to be re-zeroed a couple of times because I dropped it, but other than that has only needed the occasional AA battery. The L 718 has been even more reliable. Both of them have always been very accurate, and I agree that TTL flash metering on location with battery powered camera manufacturer's flash units has never been that wonderful for me.
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Old 05-17-2019   #7
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Yes, but must take into account light transmission problems.
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Old 05-17-2019   #8
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I use my handheld incident meter(s) often. They work well for many situations.
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Old 05-17-2019   #9
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I use a handheld incident meter with my older film cameras, but not really with any digital camera. I find chimping for exposure to be faster than hand held metering.

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Old 05-17-2019   #10
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Depends on the subject and results I am looking for. The Sekonic 758 gets a fair bit of use, with the IIIf it's a Gossen Luna Pro. The electronic finder cameras with compensation dial are a great help in previewing the composition.
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Old 05-17-2019   #11
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For my film photography, I use an incident meter almost exclusively. With digital, I rely on the in-camera meter.

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Old 05-17-2019   #12
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Nope, left that behind with film many years ago. I'd rather dial in a little negative exposure comp to save my highlights on a bright day. Once I've used a camera for awhile, I know how its meter will react. Plus, on digital cameras these days, they may even have a highlight priority mode (like the Ricoh GR III).
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Old 05-17-2019   #13
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I don't own a camera with a built-in meter. I always have a light meter with me, & sometimes use a spot meter, sometimes an incident meter....& sometimes I (successfully) estimate exposure. I process my film & print in a darkroom. Is that living in the past? Maybe, but people still go to concert halls to hear music made by dragging horsehair across cat gut strings instead of listening to electronic music....
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Old 05-17-2019   #14
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Donīt use any type of meter in general. If I need one in situations Iīm not sure every camera I own has a meter and the metering app on my phone is a real expert.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
.... As much as it makes sense to me, I could just be living in the past.

THOUGHTS??????

I donīt think than anyone who uses an incident light meter today is living in the past.
But if you are not sure have a look at the light meter apps to reduce equipment.
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Old 05-17-2019   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mackinaw View Post
For my film photography, I use an incident meter almost exclusively. With digital, I rely on the in-camera meter.

Jim B.
Same here. Gossen Digipro F2 now and a other Gossen and Sekonics over the years.
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Old 05-17-2019   #16
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Here is no situation then you can't check exposure by probe shots.
On digital. On film I don't use any exposure meter, just my brain.
It works with e6, ecn2, c41 and bw.
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Old 05-17-2019   #17
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Not sure why using an incident meter is living in the past. It is just another way of working. Shooting a digital camera using a built in meter is no different than shooting a 1960s film camera with a built in meter.
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Old 05-17-2019   #18
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At least an incident meter is keyed to the highlights so potentially beneficial to digital in the same way it was/is to transparencies.
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Old 05-17-2019   #19
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I carry a Sekonic L-758DR meter and use it for every photograph. I have not used a built-in camera meter in 20 years. Especially for digital, which has so little exposure latitude compared to BW neg film, built-in meters are incapable of giving correct exposure for most subjects. Yes, you can take the camera reading and manually adjust it, but an incident meter is simply more accurate and faster than jumping through hoops like that.


Here's a tutorial I wrote explaining why an incident meter is better.
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Old 05-18-2019   #20
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Never.

I found using raw files and auto-bracketing aperture exposures by 1/3 stop increments based on the in-camera meter works very well.[1] I just delete the inferior exposures in post-production.

When time is of the essence I simply take advantage of my camera's psuedo-ISO invariance. I pick the required shutter time and aperture and adjust the image brightness in post-production. This works well except for when the light level at least EV(100) 5-6. In very low ambient light in-camera ISO gain helps with read noise. There are two disadvantages. In low light in-camera review is impractical and in bright light you do have watch the in-camera meter to avoid sensor overexposure.

1. I use "Multi" meter mode with X-Pro 2 and X-100T.
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Old 05-18-2019   #21
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Turn it around: perhaps today's in-camera light meters outperform or do as well as hand-held light meters.
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Old 05-18-2019   #22
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I used a Sekonic Master L-104 series S from 1969 until about 6 years ago when I up graded to a 308s. The Sekonic Master has an incident cone that is why I used it so much with meter cameras. It (Master) still is right on with my new Sekonic.
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Old 05-18-2019   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
Nope, left that behind with film many years ago. I'd rather dial in a little negative exposure comp to save my highlights on a bright day. Once I've used a camera for awhile, I know how its meter will react. Plus, on digital cameras these days, they may even have a highlight priority mode (like the Ricoh GR III).
^THIS
based on the histogram of the initial shot of a scene to max out exposure w/o blowing the important highlights.
I haven't used my little Gossen Digisix since I sold my M3.
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Old 05-18-2019   #24
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I have cameras with built-in lightmeters: Leica MP and Leica M5. When I use these cameras, I use their meters. It is nice to have a meter, the exposure will be more precise. But the meter distracts my attention from the subject. Therefore it is for me often better to have no lightmeter at all, so I have cameras without a meter too.


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Old 05-18-2019   #25
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Always have one though it is more of a habit than a technical preference these days. It also helps me to remember the 'pre-flight checks'. Aperture set, shutter speed, iso etc. I once had a fleeting chance to photograph a very important man, who was responsible for a lot of death in West Africa. I didnt do the 'pre-flight routine' and subsequently blew the exposure. Never repeated that mistake.
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Old 05-18-2019   #26
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I can share Dogman's feelings. I also worked for papers in those days and know firsthand the nightmare of moving from Tri X to transparencies. I am a long-time Gossen fan and most of the time have a Luna-Pro with me. I also use a Luna-Pro F. It's a perfect meter but sometimes a bit large. I have always advocated just walking around and measuring light. If you do that enough you will have a pretty good idea how to expose when you don't have a meter with you. I have never cared for cameras with built-in meters.

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Old 05-18-2019   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chriscrawfordphoto View Post
I carry a Sekonic L-758DR meter and use it for every photograph. I have not used a built-in camera meter in 20 years. Especially for digital, which has so little exposure latitude compared to BW neg film, built-in meters are incapable of giving correct exposure for most subjects. Yes, you can take the camera reading and manually adjust it, but an incident meter is simply more accurate and faster than jumping through hoops like that.


Here's a tutorial I wrote explaining why an incident meter is better.
I guess you haven't took pictures of people moving between sun and shadow for a while.


Two devices are never faster than one. But for yours static objects representing the nice things from the past it doesn't matter.
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Old 05-18-2019   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
I guess you haven't took pictures of people moving between sun and shadow for a while.


Two devices are never faster than one. But for yours static objects representing the nice things from the past it doesn't matter.
Yep , I rarely take static stuff .
My subjects are moving quickly and often in and out of shade so I rely on the camera which is good enough.
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Old 05-18-2019   #29
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I do. Most recently I used a Gossen Variosix F in an art gallery in Manchester when I was using delta 3200 at 6400 in a ricoh 500gx, and with a Praktica PLC3 for the same purpose with more of the same film.

I also have a Gossen Trisix, a Metrwatt Metraphot 3 and a Metrawatt Metrastar. I haven't used the latter with a camera yet. I've got 9 cameras with no meter and the ricoh's has just given up the ghost.
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Old 05-18-2019   #30
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Quote:
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I do. Most recently I used a Gossen Variosix F in an art gallery in Manchester when I was using delta 3200 at 6400 in a ricoh 500gx, and with a Praktica PLC3 for the same purpose with more of the same film.
That's a dim gallery.
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Old 05-18-2019   #31
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I have owned various handheld meters but seldom use them.
I tend towards cameras with good built-in exposure meters.

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Old 05-18-2019   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by seany65

I do. Most recently I used a Gossen Variosix F in an art gallery in Manchester when I was using delta 3200 at 6400 in a ricoh 500gx, and with a Praktica PLC3 for the same purpose with more of the same film.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
That's a dim gallery.

In some parts it is, but I wanted to use /125 and /250 to minimise camera shake to see if that was the reason why the first film looked to be slightly out of focus in most shots. I suspect that the small rangefinder patch and using an old pair of spectacles as replacements for the "up-to-date" pair that had fallen to bits and were unrepairable didn't help.

The second film wasn't much better, but many of the exhibits were quite small on the print which may not have helped with any perceived focus issues.

I wanted to re-shoot with my praktica plc3 to see if the bigger "rangefinder" patch and the fact that it was bigger and heavier would help, but the sections I was interested in were closed, so I've lost the chance to do a proper comparison.
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Old 05-21-2019   #33
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While I use an incident meter to prevent losing highlight detail with transparency film and digital sensors, there is a technique I also use that is available to digital shooters that can insure highlight detail and at the same time promote the generous exposures that benefit digital images. It’s simple. It’s the histogram that can be made available on many digital cameras’ viewing screens. True, it’s often a histogram for the jpeg image, not the raw image, but it’s useful in allowing you to use the most generous exposure that does not block highlights. Just give the most generous exposure that doesn’t push the brightest area of the histogram off scale. Is there anybody else that uses this technique?
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Old 05-21-2019   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
While I use an incident meter to prevent losing highlight detail with transparency film and digital sensors, there is a technique I also use that is available to digital shooters that can insure highlight detail and at the same time promote the generous exposures that benefit digital images. Itís simple. Itís the histogram that can be made available on many digital camerasí viewing screens. True, itís often a histogram for the jpeg image, not the raw image, but itís useful in allowing you to use the most generous exposure that does not block highlights. Just give the most generous exposure that doesnít push the brightest area of the histogram off scale. Is there anybody else that uses this technique?

Its called "Expose To The Right" and no, I don't use or recommend it.


First, most digital cameras histograms are not very accurate and are too small on the screen for them to ever be.


Second, you're overexposing the image and then having to pull the tones back down to where they should be in post-processing, which never looks perfectly natural.


There's no magic bullet or secret trick for exposure that works better than simply exposing correctly using an accurate meter.
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Old 05-21-2019   #35
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Yep, I do use the histogram pretty often. But a good bit of the time I just go with the aperture priority settings and auto ISO. Sometimes I'll switch to shutter priority or even manual but keep auto ISO. A little finessing in LR is usually enough to keep detail in the RAF converted files.
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Old 05-21-2019   #36
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None of my large format or medium format film cameras have built-in light meters.
Some of my small format film cameras to not have built-in light meters.
Some of my small format film cameras have built-in light meters that work and I sometimes use the meters.
Some of my small format film cameras have built-in light meters that may or may not work. I do not know because I have never put batteries in the cameras and the cameras do not need batteries to take pictures.
I use a variety of hand held light meters.
I also use the Sunny 16 Guideline.
With my cameras that do not have a built-in light meter, I sometimes use a digital camera to determine exposure.
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Old 05-21-2019   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chriscrawfordphoto View Post
Its called "Expose To The Right" and no, I don't use or recommend it.


First, most digital cameras histograms are not very accurate and are too small on the screen for them to ever be.


Second, you're overexposing the image and then having to pull the tones back down to where they should be in post-processing, which never looks perfectly natural.


There's no magic bullet or secret trick for exposure that works better than simply exposing correctly using an accurate meter.
Chris -

Points well taken. The histograms and blinking highlights on a lot of cameras are too small to be used easily, especially outdoors in bright light. Itís a technique I use indoors under both nasty available light and stage lighting, both situations where the lighting contrast may be such that you do need a full exposure if you want to get any shadow detail. (And, obviously, I canít really use an incident meter photographing a stage production from offstage.)

Itís interesting. I ran some images taken this way through Raw Digger, a program that analyzes raw images. The frames were bright, but not a single one had overexposed highlights. In fact, they all had a few underexposed areas. I think what we are talking about are relatively unique situations of harsh indoor lighting where the subject is so moment orientated that you canít do the simple thing of bracketing your exposure.
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Old 05-21-2019   #38
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If I'm using a camera that doesn't have a built in light meter (my Leicas, Canon P, Rolleis, Mamiya C220F and eye level prism Nikon F's), I'm using an incident meter, and I never get a bad shot, black and white or C-41.
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Old 05-21-2019   #39
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I just look at the live histogram. It's very easy to determine the proper exposure at a glance. It's basically a meter that reads every pixel of your camera's sensor. This was one of the key features that moved me away from digital SLRs to mirrorless.
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Old 05-21-2019   #40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
While I use an incident meter to prevent losing highlight detail with transparency film and digital sensors, there is a technique I also use that is available to digital shooters that can insure highlight detail and at the same time promote the generous exposures that benefit digital images. It’s simple. It’s the histogram that can be made available on many digital cameras’ viewing screens. True, it’s often a histogram for the jpeg image, not the raw image, but it’s useful in allowing you to use the most generous exposure that does not block highlights. Just give the most generous exposure that doesn’t push the brightest area of the histogram off scale. Is there anybody else that uses this technique?
Absolutely this technique, especially with my D810. Highlights can be easily controlled with recovery if needed and the histogram is accurate enough that this almost always gives a nice full-bodied exposure that performs well especially with LR's auto exposure's vast improvement.
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