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What Is a Light Meter in Photography? How and Why Use This Device? (Guide)

What Is a Light Meter in Photography? How Does a Light Meter Work? (Guide)

Welcome to my guide on using a light meter in photography!

The truth is:

It takes time and experience for a photographer to master the art of intricacies of light. 

The definition of a perfect photograph consists of a balanced variety of light elements such as highlights, shadows, and different color ranges of tones.

Ideally, you’d want to get all these light elements perfectly in a photograph without the need for long hours of post-editing, right?

That’s why today, we’ll cover the following:

  • What is a light meter used for in photography?
  • What does it do, how does it work, and why use it?
  • Is it a must-have for a photographer?
  • Steps on how to operate it

Without further ado, let’s get started.

What is a Light Meter?


Have you seen a photographer holding a small gadget while taking shots? 

Most likely that gadget is a light meter.

As the name implies, it is a light measuring device that has the ability to precisely measure the brightness of the subject and its background in order to capture an even range of tones.

It is a great tool that helps photographers figure out the optimal combination of shutter speed, aperture size, and ISO sensitivity. With the use of an exposure meter, you can avoid under and overexposed images.

Basically, it ensures an accurate and specific way to measure light exposure especially if you are taking shots outdoors. 

Through this device, you’d be able to accurately determine where the dark and bright areas would fall to specifically measure light exposure.

There are two main types of it that are used in photography:

  • Reflective Light Meter

This is an in-built meter found on cameras, mostly the latest models. It measures the intensity of light that is reflected from the subject based on the camera’s position.

  • Incident Light Meter

This is a hand-held device that you need to purchase separately. It’s most commonly used by photographers when taking landscape or portrait photographs.

It measures the light that reflects directly into the subject.

What Is a Light Meter Used for In Photography

You may wonder: 

Where is it best to use a light meter?

If you are a beginner or professional photographer, using an exposure metering device will help you get optimal results without spending too much time figuring out the overexposure or underexposure to light in the shots.

It’s best to use it if you cannot get the right values in your camera’s setting to compensate for the exposure level especially if your shoot if the lighting in your shooting place is quite unfavorable.

These are the two genres where using this tool is essential:

  • Landscape Photography

When using it for landscape photography, the only thing that you need to consider is where the sun or the light source is. Make sure that the light source is not directed to the lumisphere so as to avoid an underexposed image. 

The brightest, darkest and the middle tone are the three points that are measured in a landscape photo, the average recording of the reflected light will be used.

As soon as you read the results, you may now set the camera’s aperture and shutter to make it match so the exposure of the area is accurate.

  • Portrait Photography

The use of an exposure meter is more flexible when it comes to portrait photography because you can easily produce a lighter or darker image just by manipulating the placing of the gadget.

If you wish to have a lighter image, you’ll just have to increase the value of what the meter read, and is you prefer a darker image, decrease the value of the meter reading.

To have an accurate reading, you’ll just have to hold the metering device in front of the camera when you are to do a portrait photo.

Is Light Metering Device A Must-Have?


Nowadays, newer versions of cameras make use of built-in light meters that fixes light exposures instantly without the need for a separate equipment tool.

How awesome is that?


If you are an active photographer but your camera doesn’t have an exposure meter feature, this device is a good-to-have but not necessarily a must-have. Do expect to have a lot of trial and error though (just to come up with the perfect light exposure).

Basically using this gadget will lessen the guessing work because it will immediately show you if the light and dark elements are balanced.

While it might be an expensive toy (because of the microprocessor that it uses), for a lot of photographers it’s a worthy investment. 

Good news:

If you are still starting out your career in photography and you don’t have a budget to invest in a whole bunch of photography equipment, there is a light meter app that you can use.

This metering app is for android and IOS users.

There may be doubts about its functionalities but those who have tried using it attest that it is accurate and efficient just like the actual photography tool.

The values that you can get when you use an actual metering device compared to the light meter app are the same making it a reliable option in the absence of the actual tool.

There are also a lot of different kinds of brands in the market right now, with various price tags, so you might find one that suits your budget best. 

How To Use A Light Meter? (Guide)

You now know why use a light meter, but how do you use it?

Let’s face it…

For you to be able to maximize the use of your exposure metering device, you must be knowledgeable on how to use it properly. 

Even if you’ve invested in the best light meter for photography, it will be useless if you’ll not use it properly.

These are the steps on how to operate one to come up with a good light exposure that will improve your shots:

Step 1: Set-up your camera. Make sure you’re using the manual mode (go to camera settings to set it).

Step 2: On your camera’s setting tab, set your preferred ISO and aperture settings. Input the values of ISO and aperture in your camera to the gadget.

Step 3: Set-up the light meter. Twist the knob located around the white dome to prepare its sensor.

Step 4: The way how you would position the tool depends on the kind of photography that you are taking. If it is a portrait photograph, let the person hold the metering device just below its chin. If it is for a landscape photo, let a person hold the device near or in front of the subject.

Step 5: Point sensor from the white dome-shaped area of the meter the lens of the camera. This pulls the light reading so you would know the exposure that you need to correct.

Step 6: Once the light meter has provided you with the values to correct the exposure based on the location of the subject, you may now go to the settings of your camera to change it.

Light Meter Guide: Final Thoughts

If you feel you can benefit from what this device can offer, you may check its price and availability on these online platforms:

(I’m offering a few options to you, so that you can purchase your new “toy” at a good deal.)

Bottom line:

A light meter is a convenient photography accessory that aims to help you enhance your shots.

With the advancement of technology, developers are able to incorporate the metering functionalities to modern cameras but the portable metering device is still an essential tool for photographers up until now because of its efficiency.


I’d like to hear from YOU:

  • Have you ever tried using a light meter before?
  • What do you think about its functionality?
  • Why use a light meter, your thoughts?

Any questions, comments, suggestions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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