Light meter

Light meter

A light meter is a device used to measure the amount of light. In photography, a light meter is often used to determine the proper exposure for a photograph. Typically a light meter will include a computer, either digital or analogue, which allows the photographer to determine which shutter speed and f-number should be selected for an optimum exposure, given a certain lighting situation and film speed.

Light meters are also used in the fields of cinematography and scenic design, in order to determine the optimum light level for a scene. They are used in the general field of lighting, where they can help to reduce the amount of waste light used in the home, light pollution outdoors, and plant growing to ensure proper light levels.

Use in photography

The earliest type of light meters were called "extinction meters" and contained a numbered or lettered row of neutral density filters of increasing density. The photographer would position the meter in front of their subject and note the filter with the greatest density that still allowed incident light to pass through. The letter or number corresponding to the filter was used as an index into a chart of appropriate aperture and shutter speed combinations for a given film speed.

Extinction meters suffered from the problem that they depended on the light sensitivity of the human eye (which can vary from person to person) and subjective interpretation.

Later meters removed the human element and relied on technologies incorporating selenium, CdS, and silicon photodetectors.

Selenium and silicon light meters use sensors that are photovoltaic. These sensors generate a voltage proportional to light exposure. Selenium sensors generate enough voltage for direct connection to a meter. Silicon sensors need an amplification circuit and require a power source such as batteries to operate. CdS light meters use a sensor based on photoresistance. These also require a battery to operate. Most modern light meters use silicon or CdS sensors. They indicate the exposure either with a needle galvanometer or on an LCD screen.

Many modern consumer still and video cameras include a built-in meter that measures a scene-wide light level and are able to make an approximate measure of appropriate exposure based on that. Photographers working with controlled lighting and cinematographers use handheld light meters to precisely measure the light falling on various parts of their subjects and use suitable lighting to produce the desired exposure levels.

There are two general types of light meters: reflected-light and incident-light. Reflected-light meters measure the light reflected by the scene to be photographed. All in-camera meters are reflected-light meters. Reflected-light meters are calibrated to show the appropriate exposure for “average” scenes. An unusual scene with a preponderance of light colors or specular highlights would have a higher reflectance; a reflected-light meter taking a reading would incorrectly compensate for the difference in reflectance and lead to underexposure.

This pitfall is avoided by incident-light meters which measure the amount of light falling on the subject using an integrating sphere (usually, a translucent hemispherical plastic dome is used to approximate this). Because the incident-light reading is independent of the subject's reflectance, it is less likely to lead to incorrect exposures for subjects with unusual average reflectance. Taking an incident-light reading requires placing the meter at the subject's position and pointing it in the general direction of the camera, something not always achievable in practice, e.g., in landscape photography where the subject is at infinity.

Another way to avoid under- or over-exposure for subjects with unusual reflectance is to use a spot meter: a reflected-light meter that measures light in a very tight cone, typically with a one degree angle. An experienced photographer can take multiple readings over the shadows, midrange and highlights of the scene to determine optimal exposure, using systems like the Zone System. Many modern cameras include sophisticated multi-segment metering systems that measure the luminance of different parts of the scene to determine the optimal exposure.

When using a film whose spectral sensitivity is not a good match to that of the light meter, for example orthochromatic black-and-white or infrared film, the meter may require special filters and re-calibration to match the sensitivity of the film.

There are other types of specialized photographic light meters. Flash meters are used in flash photography to verify correct exposure. Color meters are used where high fidelity in color reproduction is required. Densitometers are used in photographic reproduction.

Exposure meter calibration

In most cases, an incident-light meter will cause a medium tone to berecorded as a medium tone, and a reflected-light meter will causewhatever is metered to be recorded as a medium tone. Whatconstitutes a “medium tone” depends on meter calibration andseveral other factors, including film processing or digital image conversion.

Meter calibration establishes the relationship between subject lighting andrecommended camera settings. The calibration of photographic light meters iscovered by .

Exposure equations

For reflected-light meters, camera settings are related to ISO speed andsubject luminance by the reflected-light exposure equation:

:frac {N^2} {t} = frac {L S} {K}


* N is the relative aperture (f-number)
* t is the exposure time (“shutter speed”)
* L is the average scene luminance
* S is the ISO linear speed
* K is the reflected-light meter calibration constant

For incident-light meters, camera settings are related to ISO speed andsubject illuminance by the incident-light exposure equation:

:frac {N^2} {t} = frac {E S} {C}


* E is the illuminance
* C is the incident-light meter calibration constant

Calibration constants

Determination of calibration constants has been largely subjective; states that

The constants K and C shall be chosen bystatistical analysis of the results of a large number of tests carried outto determine the acceptability to a large number of observers, of a numberof photographs, for which the exposure was known, obtained under variousconditions of subject manner and over a range of luminances.

In practice, the variation of the calibration constants among manufacturersis considerably less than this statement might imply, and values havechanged little since the early 1970s.

recommends a range for Kof 10.6 to 13.4 withluminance in cd/m². Two values for K are in commonuse: 12.5 (Canon, Nikon, and
Sekonic [Specifications for Sekonic light meters are available onthe [ Sekonic] web site under“Products.”] ) and 14 (Kenko [
Konica Minolta Photo Imaging, Inc. left the camera business on March 31, 2006.Rights and tooling for Minolta exposure meters were acquired by Kenco Co, Ltd. in 2007.Specifications for the Kenko meters are essentially the same as for the equivalent Minoltameters.
] and Pentax); thedifference between the two values is approximately 1/6

The earliest calibration standards were developed for use withwide-angle averaging reflected-light meters(Jones and Condit 1941). Although wide-angle averagemetering has largely given way to other metering sensitivity patterns(e.g., spot, center-weighted, and multi-segment), the values forK determined for wide-angle averaging meters have remained.

The incident-light calibration constant depends on the type of lightreceptor. Two receptor types are common: flat (cosine-responding) andhemispherical (cardioid-responding). With a flat receptor, recommends a range forC of 240 to 400 withilluminance in lux; a value of 250 is commonly used. A flat receptortypically is used for measurement of lighting ratios, for measurement ofilluminance, and occasionally, for determining exposure for a flat subject.

For determining practical photographic exposure, a hemispherical receptor hasproven more effective. Don Norwood, inventor of incident-light exposuremeter with a hemispherical receptor, thought that a sphere was a reasonablerepresentation of a photographic subject. According to his patent(Norwood 1938), the objective was

to provide an exposure meter which is substantially uniformlyresponsive to light incident upon the photographic subject from practicallyall directions which would result in the reflection of light to the cameraor other photographic register.

and the meter provided for "measurement of the effective illumination obtaining at the positionof the subject."

With a hemispherical receptor, recommends a range forC of 320 to 540 with illuminance in lux; in practice, valuestypically are between 320 (Minolta) and 340 (Sekonic). The relativeresponses of flat and hemispherical receptors depend upon the number and typeof light sources; when each receptor is pointed at a small lightsource, a hemispherical receptor with C = 330 will indicate anexposure approximately 0.40 step greater than that indicated by a flatreceptor with C = 250. With a slightly revised definition of illuminance,measurements with a hemispherical receptor indicate “effective sceneilluminance.”

Calibrated reflectance

It is commonly stated that reflected-light meters are calibrated to an 18%reflectance, [Some authors (Ctein 1997, 29) have argued that the calibratedreflectance is closer to 12% than to 18%.] but the calibration has nothing to do withreflectance, as should be evident from the exposure formulas. However,some notion of reflectance is implied by a comparison of incident- andreflected-light meter calibration.

Combining the reflected-light and incident-light exposure equations andrearranging gives

:frac {L} {E} = frac {K} {C}

Reflectance zeta is defined as

:zeta = frac {mbox {flux emitted from surface {mbox {flux incident upon surface

A uniform perfect diffuser (i.e., one following Lambert's cosine law)of luminance L emits a flux density ofpiL; reflectance then is

:zeta = frac {pi L} {E} = frac {pi K} {C}

Illuminance is measured with a flat receptor. It is straightforward tocompare an incident-light measurement using a flat receptor with areflected-light measurement of a uniformly illuminated flat surface ofconstant reflectance. Using values of 12.5 for K and 250 forC gives

:zeta = frac {pi imes 12.5} {250} approx 15.7%

With a K of 14, the reflectance would be 17.6%, close to thatof a standard 18% neutral test card. In theory, an incident-lightmeasurement should agree with a reflected-light measurement of a test cardof suitable reflectance that is perpendicular to the direction to themeter. However, a test card seldom is a uniform diffuser, so incident- andreflected-light measurements might differ slightly.

In a typical scene, many elements are not flat and are at variousorientations to the camera, so that for practical photography, ahemispherical receptor usually has proven more effective for determiningexposure. Using values of 12.5 forK and 330 for C gives

:zeta = frac {pi imes 12.5} {330} approx 11.9%

With a slightly revised definition of reflectance, this result can be takenas indicating that the average scene reflectance is approximately 12%. Atypical scene includes shaded areas as well as areas that receive directillumination, and a wide-angle averaging reflected-light meter responds tothese differences in illumination as well as differing reflectances ofvarious scene elements. Average scene reflectance then would be

:mbox{average scene reflectance} =frac {mbox {average scene luminance} } {mbox {effective scene illuminance

where “effective scene illuminance” is that measured by a meterwith a hemispherical receptor.

calls for reflected-light calibrationto be measured byaiming the receptor at a transilluminated diffuse surface, and forincident-light calibration to be measured by aiming the receptor at a pointsource in a darkened room. For a perfectly diffusing test card andperfectly diffusing flat receptor, the comparison between a reflected-lightmeasurement and an incident-light measurement is valid for any position ofthe light source. However, the response of a hemispherical receptor to anoff-axis light source is approximately that of a cardioid rather than a
cosine, so the 12% “reflectance” determined for anincident-light meter with a hemispherical receptor is valid only when thelight source is on the receptor axis.

Cameras with internal meters

Calibration of cameras with internal meters is covered by;nonetheless, many manufacturers specify (though seldom state) exposurecalibration in terms of K, and many calibration instruments(e.g., Kyoritsu-Arrowin multi-function camera testers [Specificationsfor Kyoritsu testers are available on the [ C.R.I.S. Camera Services] web site under“kyoritsu test equipment.”] ) use the specifiedK to set the test parameters.

Exposure determination with a neutral test card

If a scene differs considerably from a statistically average scene, awide-angle averaging reflected-light measurement may not indicate thecorrect exposure. To simulate an average scene, a substitute measurementsometimes is made of a neutral test card, or "gray card".

At best, a flat card is an approximation to a three-dimensional scene,and measurement of a test card may lead to underexposure unless adjustmentis made. The instructions for a Kodak neutral test card recommend thatthe indicated exposure be increased by ½ step for a frontlighted scene insunlight. The instructions also recommend that the test card be heldvertically and faced in a direction midway between the Sun and the camera;similar directions are also given in the "Kodak Professional Photoguide".The combination of exposure increase and the card orientation givesrecommended exposures that are reasonably close to those given by anincident-light meter with a hemispherical receptor when metering with anoff-axis light source.

In practice, additional complications may arise. Many neutral test cardsare far from perfectly diffuse reflectors, and specular reflections cancause increased reflected-light meter readings that, if followed, wouldresult in underexposure. It is possible that the neutral test cardinstructions include a correction for specular reflections.

Use in illumination

Light meters or light detectors are also used in illumination. Their purpose is to measure the illumination level in the interior and to switch off or reduce the output level of luminaires. This can greatly reduce the energy burden of the building by significantly increasing the efficiency of its lighting system. It is therefore recommended to use light meters in lighting systems, especially in rooms where one cannot expect users to pay attention to manually switching off the lights. Examples include hallways, stairs, and big halls.

There are, however, significant obstacles to overcome in order to achieve a successful implementation of light meters in lighting systems, of which user acceptance is by far the most formidable. Unexpected or too frequent switching and too bright or too dark rooms are very annoying and disturbing for users of the rooms. Therefore, different switching algorithms have been developed:
*difference algorithm, where light switch on lower light level than they switch off, thus taking care that the difference between the light level of the 'on' state and 'off' state is not too big
*time delay algorithms:
**certain amount of time must pass since the last switch
**certain amount of time of sufficient illumination.

ee also

* Selenium meter
* Photometer | Photodetector
* Colorimetry | Photometry | Radiometry
* Light value
* Photomultiplier tubes for detecting light at very low levels.
* PIN diode solid state electronic devices for detecting incident light.



* Ctein. 1997. "Post Exposure: Advanced Techniques for the Photographic Printer". Boston: [ Focal Press] . ISBN 0-240-80299-3.
* Eastman Kodak Company. Instructions for Kodak Neutral Test Card, 453-1-78-ABX. Rochester: Eastman Kodak Company.
* Eastman Kodak Company. 1992. "Kodak Professional Photoguide". Kodak publication no. R-28. Rochester: Eastman Kodak Company.
* [ ISO 2720:1974] . "General Purpose Photographic Exposure Meters (Photoelectric Type) —Guide to Product Specification". International Organization for Standardization.
* [ ISO 2721:1982] . "Photography — Cameras — Automatic controls of exposure". International Organization for Standardization.
* Jones, Loyd A., and H. R. Condit. 1941. The Brightness Scale of Exterior Scenes and the Correct Computation of Photographic Exposure. "Journal of the Optical Society of America". 31:651–678.
* Norwood, Donald W. 1938. Exposure Meter. US Patent 2,214,283, filed 14 November 1938, and issued 10 September 1940.

External links

* [ Meters Don't See 18% Gray] An article suggesting that photographic light meters are calibrated for 12% average reflectance.
* [ Exposure Metering: Relating Subject Lighting to Film Exposure] (PDF) A discussion of meter calibration and its practical effects.
* A Kodak guide to [ Estimating Luminance and Illuminance] using a camera's exposure meter. Also available [ in PDF] .

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • light meter — n. EXPOSURE METER * * * …   Universalium

  • light meter — n. EXPOSURE METER …   English World dictionary

  • light meter — light .meter n an instrument used by a photographer to measure how much light there is …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • light meter — light ,meter noun count a piece of equipment that shows you how bright the light is in a place, used for example when you are taking a photograph …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • light meter — ► NOUN ▪ an instrument measuring the intensity of light, used when taking photographs …   English terms dictionary

  • light meter — noun photographic equipment that measures the intensity of light • Syn: ↑exposure meter, ↑photometer • Hypernyms: ↑photographic equipment • Hyponyms: ↑cytophotometer * * * noun, pl ⋯ meters [count] …   Useful english dictionary

  • light meter — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms light meter : singular light meter plural light meters a piece of equipment that shows you how bright the light is in a place, used for example when you are taking a photograph …   English dictionary

  • light meter — šviesos matuoklis statusas T sritis Standartizacija ir metrologija apibrėžtis Baltosios šviesos apšvietos lygio ir jos pasiskirstymo matuoklis. atitikmenys: angl. light meter vok. Licht Messer, m rus. прибор для измерения уровня и распределения… …   Penkiakalbis aiškinamasis metrologijos terminų žodynas

  • light meter — šviesos matuoklis statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. light meter vok. Licht Messer, m rus. прибор для измерения уровня и распределения освещенности, m pranc. mesureur de lumière, m …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • light meter — light′ me ter n. pht exposure meter • Etymology: 1920–25 …   From formal English to slang

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