Metering is the cornerstone on which any good photograph is built.
You can take a photo of the most stunning landscape or a portrait of the most captivating subject you’ve ever seen, but if the image isn’t metered correctly, the end result may not turn out how you intended.
When I first began to use fully manual film cameras that didn’t have a built in light meter, I immediately realized how essential a light meter is.
I took the in-camera meter for granted when looking through the viewfinder of my Canon AE-1 and Elan IIe, and was like a fish out of water when I moved on to other cameras.
Fortunately, metering light is very easy to do.
Using a Handheld Light Meter
My first handheld light meter was the Minolta Auto Meter IV. Super compact and easy to use, the Auto Meter did not have many bells and whistles and did exactly what it was intended to do in a straightforward way – meter light.
I ended up selling it a few months after purchasing it, and I’ll tell you why: I kept losing the thing.
Between packing my camera, the lenses, the film, a spare battery (and making sure I had the transportation trifecta: phone-wallet-keys), I didn’t like having to keep up with another piece of equipment.
To that point, I’ve owned two Minolta light meters in the past because I lost one while shooting and had to purchase a replacement.
See what I mean?
Experimenting with Light Meter Apps
I began looking into more convenient solutions and soon learned that there are multiple apps out there that turn your cell phone into a functioning light meter.
Now, I was very skeptical at first. Hand held light meters by the likes of Minolta (find on eBay) and Sekonic (find on Amazon) are tried and true technology that have been used for decades. How well could my phone actually perform as a light meter?
After downloading a few apps and deleted those that just didn’t feel very user friendly, I happened upon myLightMeter Pro, or MLMP.
My Light Meter Pro is the easiest to use and most streamlined light meter application I have used thus far, and is extremely reliable.
This app has been my companion on every shoot I’ve done for the last year or so and has been the best light meter app to use for my film photography.
Using myLightMeter Pro
When you first open the application, you’re greeted with the main screen, where you can input your desired shutter speed, aperture, and the speed of the film you are currently using.
There is a screen beneath your exposure options that you can open to spot meter a scene.
In practice, you can tap the screen, point your phone’s camera toward the subject you want to properly expose, hit measure, and MLMP will do the work for you showing an accurate exposure value.
Below the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO dials, you will find an exposure compensation slider which allow you to over or underexpose your scene as you like, in an easy to use way.
Save Your Settings
Beneath the exposure value window on the right side, you will see a Save button, which allows you to save the exposure readings of a particular scene to your phone, which is a really cool function.
Say you’re shooting in a particularly unique lighting situation and you’d like to remember how to meter it in the future, meter the scene within the app, hit the save button, and you’ll now have documentation of the proper exposure for that scene.
This can be great for learning how to read light or to maintain consistent results.
The buttons numbered one through five at the bottom of the screen are lens presets which allow you to tell the app when you’re shooting with different lenses.
This is a big help if you jump between formats like I do.
For instance, my Pentax MX usually has a 50mm 1.4 lens on it, whereas my RZ67 typically has a 65mm f4 – it does no good if the app suggests that I shoot wider than f/4 on my Mamiya, which can only go as wide as f4, or if it thinks I can’t go wider than f/4 on my Pentax which can open up to 1.4.
So, having different lens presets for each of your cameras helps in a big way.
You can customize yourself lens presets by selecting Settings on the main page of the app.
The Classic button on the top right side of the application switches the layout of the light meter to a classic Sekonic dial-style meter.
The functionality is the exact same as the regular Pro layout. However, I tend to like the Pro version better as I find it a bit more user friendly.
This mode is also the layout for the non-“Pro” version of the app. You can switch back to the Pro mode by selecting Pro at the top of the screen.
Spot Metering with myLightMeter Pro
MLMP works great as a spot meter.
I believe it does have functionality as a reflective meter, but I haven’t tried it out yet. (You can access that function by selecting Mode on the top right hand side of the main screen though.)
This is how you would meter a scene while out and about with your camera.
Open the app and begin by inputting the desired ISO you wish to shoot at. Shooting some Ektar 100? Input 100. Rating Portra 400 at 200? Input 200.
Tap the viewing screen in the center of the app to open your camera.
Tap the area on the screen where you wish to meter, and then select Measure.
The app will calculate the f-stop and shutter speed you should shoot at in order to achieve a proper exposure.
Using MLMP in Tricky Lighting Situations
myLightMeter Pro is great but it isn’t perfect.
It can get tricked by heavy contrast within a scene (think streetlights on a dark street). I’ve found that it helps to get as close to what you’d like to meter for as possible, so as to avoid accidental metering of light you don’t need in your frame.
For example, if you’re metering for the highlights of a scene, try and fill your camera with the highlight area and then meter. This will limit the chance you confuse the app and make sure you’re metering for exactly what you’re trying to meter for.
If you are shooting in a scene with heavy contrast, MLMP has an Average function which, when turned on at the top of the screen, allows you to meter for two separate areas and get an average, middle reading of the two areas.
This is very useful if you want to preserve some shadow detail in a scene but don’t want to completely blow out the highlights.