Metering for Film

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Tutorial | 132 Comments
Metering for Film

The most common questions I receive in regards to shooting film are usually about metering and exposure. I have covered a lot of other topics in the blog posts Film is not dead and The secrets of Richard Photo Lab, but I wanted to share a dedicated write-up about metering as this subject often seems to cause a lot of confusion.

Metering film vs. digital
A lot of people worry about their exposure when they start out shooting film. Not being able to see your results until you get your scans back and learning to trust your own abilities instead of instantly reviewing an image or histogram on the back of your camera takes time and getting used to. Most of the concerns I hear from photographers who mainly shoot digital are based on the experience that one stop of exposure changes your results drastically. That’s different with film and therefore exposure is in general much easier with a little bit of practice.

Exposure range vs. fixed value
Instead of a “fixed value” that delivers a perfectly exposed image, you work with an exposure range when shooting film. With digital, your ISO setting simply states how sensitive the sensor is to the amount of light that falls onto it. With color negative film, the ISO rating usually states the minimum value at which you will be able obtain a properly exposed negative. Portra 400, for example, requires to be metered and exposed for at least ISO 400 (“box speed”), but it can be exposed from about ISO 800 to ISO 25 (-1 to +4 stops) with decent results (normal processing, no pushing or pulling).

Overexposure and Underexposure
Overexposing doesn’t make your images brighter, it makes your negatives more dense. Underexposing doesn’t make your results darker, it produces muddy colors and washed out blacks. Because color negative film usually gives the most pleasant results when overexposed, a lot of film photographers rate their film at half box speed (ISO 200 instead of ISO 400) and expose for the shadows, which results in 2-3 stops of overexposure. In digital terms this sounds adventurous, but with film it’s not a problem. Film has so much latitude that losing highlight detail is usually not a concern.

Exposing for the shadows
An incident light meter always shows a reading for neutral grey, which is zone “V”. Instead of zone “V” you assign zone “II” to “IV” by literally holding your meter into the shadow (the darkest part of the picture). As mentioned above, the reason isn’t to get a brighter result. With digital, blown out highlights are a problem if you expose too bright. With film, it’s the other way around and you need to make sure that you get enough exposure for the shadow detail. Underexposure is the most common problem I see when discussing unsatisfying results with fellow photographers.

Meter Settings
An easy way to make sure your film gets enough exposure is to rate it at half box speed. That gives it one full stop of exposure more and leaves a bit of headroom for mistakes. You do this by setting your meter to ISO 200 if the film speed on the box reads ISO 400. All the fuss about how to meter with bulb in and out and pointing the meter up, down or at whatever angle doesn’t make sense for me at all. I think that’s far too complicated. In theory, metering with a retracted bulb reduces the amount of light that falls onto the cell of your meter, and with pointing it down a little you take the proportion of the sky back a bit. In reality that’s not necessary.

Incident vs. reflective metering
The easiest and most reliable way to meter when shooting film is to shoot in manual using an external handheld light meter. Do not rely on your internal meter and don’t shoot in any kind of auto mode, especially when you’re just starting out. A lot of internal meters are not precise and this metering method isn’t ideal. You need to know how much light falls onto your subject (incident metering) and not how much light is reflected by your subject (reflective metering, e.g. your internal meter). This is especially important in difficult light.

My metering method
I meter all color negative film the same. I use a very simple analog incident light meter (Sekonic L-398 A), nothing fancy or expensive. I rate my film half box speed. If I shoot Porta 400, that means I set the meter to ISO 200. Then I meter for the shadows, which means I bring my meter into the part of the scene that has the least light. If I don’t have a shadow anywhere close, I shade the bulb of the meter with my hand. I hold the meter in a standard 90 degree angle to the ground, which means nothing else than parallel to the subject, with the bulb facing the direction of the camera. That’s it.

Here are a couple of examples for different lighting conditions. All of these images were metered exactly the same way.

Hasselblad 503CW + Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80 (Kodak Portra 400, overexposed by 2 stops)
The strongest shadow area of the scene is right next to the chair, that’s where you hold your meter.
Hasselblad 503CW + Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80 (Kodak Portra 400, overexposed by 4 stops)
For a landscape/cityscape you take a normal reading and shade your bulb with your hand to get the shadow value.
Hasselblad 503CW + Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80 (Kodak Portra 400, overexposed by 2 stops)
If you are already standing in the shade you just take a normal reading.

Scanning and density correction
If you meter using this method and your shots turn out too dark or too bright, it’s very likely that your lab doesn’t scan (density correct) your images right. Try checking your negatives against the light and see if they look properly exposed. If they look ok, talk to your lab. If your lab isn’t the problem, check if your meter and the shutter of your camera are working properly.

The following two shots are metered the exact same way. You can see that one is really bright and airy while the other one is bold and contrasty. The different look is caused by the light being different and the images being scanned differently, not by me metering or exposing differently:

Hasselblad 503CW + Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80 (Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400, both overexposed by 2 stops)

Shutter speed limits
Most older film cameras only offer full stop shutter speed increments and very many of them are limited to a shutter speed of 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second. This would make these cameras unusable with a digital sensor without the use of ND filters. I don’t ever use filters, and my Hasselblad has a maximum shutter speed of 1/500. When I’m shooting outside in daylight, I very often would have to set my shutter to 1/2000 (+2 stops) or even 1/4000 (+3 stops) according to the meter reading. I can’t because of the physical limitation of my camera. I usually don’t stop down, I just pick the setting that is closest to the reading and err on the side of overexposure.

Most color negative film can be overexposed 4-5 stops with medium format and 2-3 stops with 35mm. I expose my B&W film (Tri-X 400) the exact same way, even though it’s probably wise to be a bit more careful with B&W if you don’t like a lot of grain and contrast.

Which meter to use
It really doesn’t matter which meter you use as long as it works properly. I would in general recommend to buy a new meter over a used one, just because you know it’ll work. I use an analog Sekonic L-398A because it doesn’t require batteries. Be careful when buying older analog meters off Ebay, they often don’t work properly. An inexpensive digital alternative is Lumu. I really like the concept and I backed their project on Kickstarter. Lumu is a little device that you can plug into your iPhone. It works just as well as any other external meter and it saves you having to carry around an extra item.

Sekonic vs. Lumu
Sekonic L-398A vs. Lumu + iPhone

Guessing exposure
One very nice aspect of using an external handheld meter is the fact that you will learn very quickly how easy metering really is when shooting film. If you shoot on a regular base it will probably only take you about 4-5 rolls until you can guess your meter reading for most lighting conditions. I usually meter once per scene (not once per shot) and only double check if I’m not sure. That makes shooting film very easy and enjoyable. And it can also save a lot of worries because you can safely buy unmetered cameras, which is a huge advantage if you like to shoot old Leicas.

There is a little more to the zone system, metering and exposure than I’ve mentioned in this blog post. But I wanted to share an easy, practical and enjoyable approach that makes it fun to shoot film and helps prevent the most common misunderstandings – especially for photographers who are used to shooting digital.


  1. Marco
    24. June 2014

    Another excellent write up Johnny! It is fantastic that you take time and share your knowledge in a way that even people who are new to film photography can understand. :)

  2. Johnny
    24. June 2014

    Marco, thanks very much for your kind feedback.

    I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed the post. I agree, I think the differences between film and digital can be confusing when you’re new to film photography. It’s sometimes hard to find reading material that makes life a little easier in that regard.

  3. Neill
    24. June 2014

    You read my mind. I was just about to ask you about the stuff you just posted, like the 1/1000 limit on my film camera.

    Thanks, as always full of great info.

  4. Johnny
    24. June 2014

    Thank you, Neill!

    I’m very happy to hear that you found this article helpful. The shutter speed limits are nothing to worry about. :)

  5. Chris
    24. June 2014

    What a great blog post! Thanks!

  6. Johnny
    24. June 2014

    Thanks for your feedback, Chris!

  7. Atle Rønningen
    24. June 2014

    Very interesting read Johnny. And relevant! I’ve been experimenting with an app on my Android phone but not sure if I trust it. Will check out the Sekonic. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Johnny
    24. June 2014

    Thank you, Atle!

    Glad you enjoyed the read. Yes, using an external incident meter is definitely a good idea. It’ll save you a lot of worries down the road.

  9. Tracy Clayton
    25. June 2014

    Thanks for the tutorial. I really enjoyed this post. Well written, easy to understand. Makes me want to shoot more color film. Guess who’ll be taking the Kodak Portra out of the fridge this week.

  10. Johnny
    25. June 2014

    That’s really great to hear, Tracy!
    Thank you very much for your kind feedback.

  11. Giovanni
    25. June 2014

    Thanks, very informative post!

  12. Johnny
    25. June 2014

    Thank you, Giovanni. Glad you enjoyed it!

  13. Metering for Film | Johnny Patience
    25. June 2014

    […] The most common questions I receive in regards to shooting film are usually about metering and exposure. […]

  14. Rebecca Lily
    25. June 2014

    Great write up, Johnny! Very concise and easy to comprehend. Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into sharing your knowledge. Metering is a topic that causes a lot of confusion when coming from digital – I’m sure this post will help many photographers.

  15. Johnny
    25. June 2014

    Rebecca, thank you so much.

    I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed the article and found it easy to understand. Thank you very much for all of your help, always. :)

  16. Ray
    25. June 2014

    Johnny, one of my favorite and most relevant postings for me. Being relatively new (again) to film, I learn something new every time you post something, and this one was chok-ful of great tips and amazing explanations.

    My biggest take-away from this one: shade the bulb when no shadows exist. So simple, yet so many (including me) would have never thought of that. It’s something I will begin doing as of today. Just awesome.

    Also, your section on “Scanning and density correction” is a must read for all film shooters. Great info in there and explains a lot of why RPL is my (our) goto guys!

    Thanks for always having great posts / examples for us.
    The Larose

  17. Johnny
    25. June 2014

    That’s awesome, Ray – thank you for your kind feedback!

    I’m really happy that you found the post relevant and informative. You know yourself how shooting film can be so much easier than shooting digital. But it’s often the little things that prevent you from getting technically sound results, like metering and understanding that exposure and brightness aren’t the same.

  18. Jim
    25. June 2014

    Glad to see this post for two reasons. First it’s very informative. Second, I’ve been checking this site regularly since I discovered it some months ago. Was getting worried that you had abandoned it. Love your images and the quality discussions you provide.

  19. Johnny
    25. June 2014

    Haha! Thank you, Jim! :)

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the read and I take your concern as a compliment. ;)

    You are right, my pace isn’t the fastest. I aim to share one blog post per month and I also try to be selective with what I publish. I shoot film exclusively and that requires more time from the moment I take a picture until I am able to post it.

  20. Jesse
    26. June 2014

    Thanks Johnny for this, it’s really really helpful! And I also appreciate the suggestions for types of meters to use.

    All the best!

  21. Johnny
    26. June 2014

    Jesse, thank you very much.

    I wrote you back about your question. All the best for you too!

  22. Mary Smyth
    26. June 2014

    Great article, Johnny.
    As usual easy to understand and very informative. Thank you.

  23. Johnny
    26. June 2014

    I’m happy you enjoyed it, Mary.
    Thank you very much for your kind feedback!

  24. Fabiela
    26. June 2014

    Great read Johnny, I wish this article was written last year when I started shooting film.

    Metering was a very difficult subject to understand when you can’t rely on the internal meter of a camera which is over 30 years old!

    I too, chose to use an external incident meter and have realised from my test rolls that film is more forgiving than digital. You can shoot two stops over or under exposed and still get a decent result from your scans!

    Low light is much more challenging with film, especially when there is unsufficient sunlight. With full sunshine, you can shoot between 1/500 and 1/4000 and the result will be the same.

    I’m sure this post will be very helpful for photographers starting with film.

  25. Johnny
    26. June 2014

    Jann, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    I agree, it’s better not to rely on an internal meter. An incident meter might seem a little more complicated at first, but it usually doesn’t take long before you benefit from the advantages.

    The results with 1/500 and 1/4000 shot at the same aperture won’t look the same because film saturates differently with lower shutter speeds and overexposure. You also introduce more contrast the more you overexpose. But the results will in general be usable.

    With underexposure it’s not that easy and I would definitely not recommend to shoot two stops under. You will get very muddy looking colors and the images will look flat.

    Metering is very important, especially because you control the look of your results with your exposure. This can’t be fixed later so it’s important to get it right in camera. But film is forgiving and if you err on the side of overexposure you should in general get pleasing results.

  26. Matt
    27. June 2014

    Hi Johnny, great post.

    Just a quick and fairly dumb question, but when you ‘shade’ your meter, i.e. when you can see shade in the scene but can’t get to it to meter for it. Where do you position your hand in relation to the sun and meter?

    I assume you are just trying to create the same fall of the shadow as if you actually had the meter in the shadow in the first place.


  27. Johnny
    27. June 2014

    Thank you for your kind feedback and your question, Matt.

    You’re exactly right, you recreate the shadow that would naturally fall on the meter. But it doesn’t really matter how you do it, you just bring your hand between the sun and the meter so that the shade of your hand falls onto the bulb.

  28. Steven
    29. June 2014

    Hi! Awesome article. Can you please explain to me why down rating from ISO 400 to ISO 200 is considered overexposing? I can’t wrap my brain around it. I keep thinking in digital, if I make that switch on my digital, I end up a stop underexposed. Why is that rule different for film? Thanks in advance!

  29. Johnny
    29. June 2014

    Steven, thanks very much for your feedback.

    That’s not different with film. When you set your ISO from 400 to 200 on a digital camera, your sensor will be less sensitive to light and your images will get darker.

    When you set your meter to ISO 200 while you’re actually shooting ISO 400 film, you add a full stop of exposure as the sensitivity of the film doesn’t change. You just pretend that your film is less sensitive to light than it actually is.

    The equivalent would be leaving your ISO setting at 400 with digital and changing the shutter speed to a slower value “pretending” you set your sensor to ISO 200 – while it’s in reality still set to 400.

  30. Christian Augustin
    29. June 2014

    Interesting read, and shading the incident light meter with the hand is a really good tip (never thought about that).

    Estimating exposure can be done with the “sunny 16“ rule (and accompanying corrections due to lighting conditions). I second the Sekonic – this one is really nice! The Lumu I found too complicated (requiring the Lumu to be plugged into the phone, the phone to be unlocked and the app to be started before metering can take place).

    But heavily overexposing the Tri-X? This is news to me. Do you use the same development as for normal exposure of the Tri-X, or do you “pull develop” the Tri-X?

  31. Johnny
    30. June 2014

    Thank you very much for your feedback, Christian.

    I find the “Sunny 16″ rule slightly misleading – especially when you’re just starting out. You would have to shoot an equivalent of 1/12800 on a sunny day with Portra 400 at f2.8 accordingly, which is neither practical nor accurate. :)

    I think the Lumu is a great alternative because it’s so portable and inexpensive. But I prefer the Sekonic too, personally.

    I do expose Tri-X just the same (without pushing or pulling), have a look here. But I don’t recommend doing that. B&W film has less latitude and should in general be shot more carefully.

  32. Project Update ~ Cruising Grand » Bill McCarroll Photography
    30. June 2014

    […] Johnny Patience, whose advice I value when it comes to shooting film. His recent blog post, “Metering for Film” was my inspiration to shoot Tri-X in a different way than I have in the past […]

  33. Christian Augustin
    30. June 2014

    The sunny 16 rule has to be taken with a grain of salt (it needs experience, so you’re right that it is not for beginners). And there’s no written law that you can’t use “half box speed” with this method too – if in doubt, overexpose. ;)

  34. Johnny
    30. June 2014

    Thank you, Christian.

  35. Paul
    30. June 2014

    Thanks for the article, very informative. Although, in this case Portra 400 is one of the films that has the most latitude of all films out there, but what happens with other type of film that can be less forgiving such as Ektar or even Velvia or Provia?

    I think in those cases the Sunny 16 rule can be very accurate and not misleading. Of course you can’t shoot under direct sunlight at f2.8 and 1/12800 with a ISO 400 film, but it’s all about compensation, 2.8 is not the only f number on most lenses. I love how some films react to overexposure, but I think it’s better to know what films can handle better overexposure.

  36. Johnny
    1. July 2014

    Paul, thanks for your feedback.

    The examples I gave in this blog post are meant for photographers who are having difficulties with metering and exposure. Shooting film can be a very steep learning curve because it’s so different from shooting digital. There are a million articles already that discuss this topic in depth, I find a lot of them overwhelming and very theoretical. I wanted to share an easy, practical and enjoyable approach that makes shooting film fun.

    I picked Portra 400 mainly for the reason that it’s my favorite film, but also because it has the most latitude over any other film stock and is therefore likely to give you good results even if you don’t meter spot on. The same metering method would apply to Fuji Pro 400H and other pro film stocks. I’ve mentioned before that I shoot Portra 160 around box speed, for example, because I like the look better. Learning how different film stocks respond to exposure, light and color comes with more experience.

    Velvia and Provia are both color reversal film, not color negative film. They need to be exposed precisely and are much more difficult to shoot. That’s why I didn’t mention slide film and only touched on one stock of true B&W that can be shot similar to color negative film.

  37. Stian
    1. July 2014

    Hi Johnny and thank you for another great post!

    I have just bought a Hasselblad and a 150mm lens for portraits, and this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I understand that overexposing is also a bit dependent on the quality of light? So in direct sunlight the results would look better with less overexposure than if shot in the shade, is this correct? I was therefore wondering if shooting with Portra 400 and flash if I should limit my overexposure to just half box speed and meter for the flash as usual?

    I don’t know if you have any experience shooting film and flash, but if you do, any feedback would be much appreciated! :-)


  38. Johnny
    1. July 2014

    Thank you for your kind feedback and your question, Stian.

    Exposure mainly changes the look of your results, how much you overexpose really depends on what you would like to achieve. Overexposing Portra 400 2-3 stops looks the most pleasing in my view, no matter what light it’s shot in. But that’s personal taste. I like Portra 160 shot at 100 in dull/flat light and I like Portra 400 overexposed by 4-5 stops in bright sunlight when I’m shooting a scene with mild contrast and a great color palette.

    Congratulations on your Hasselblad! I’m sorry, I have no experience with film and flash. :)

  39. Alberto Puertas Soto
    1. July 2014

    Great post Johnny. Thank you for your time.

    I’m considering buying the Lumu light meter. I would love to hear your opinion about its accuracy in different lighting situations. Is it always as accurate as your Sekonic? How about backlit situations?

    Best regards.

  40. Johnny
    1. July 2014

    Alberto, thanks very much.

    The Lumu is very accurate and the meter readings are exactly identical with the Sekonic at all times. If you’re looking for a simple inexpensive incident meter you won’t be disappointed.

  41. Daria
    2. July 2014

    Johnny, thank you so much for all the knowledge you share here with us!

    I just bought my first ever medium format camera without knowing how to even load the film into it. ;) I spent the whole day figuring out things and getting to know it very well. Now I am so excited to go out there and start shooting with having a better idea about exposing. :) I’ve been shooting digital for 5 years but always had a huge passion for film. Thank you for giving me the confidence to start.

  42. Johnny
    2. July 2014

    Thank you very much, Daria.

    I’m really glad to hear that you found this post helpful. I ‘m sure you’ll enjoy your new camera and shooting film a lot! :)

  43. Chirag Wakaskar
    3. July 2014

    Excellent article Johnny! I love how you have everything explained in a more practical manner for users new to film as well as photography in general!

  44. Johnny
    3. July 2014

    Thanks for your feedback, Chirag. I’m very happy you enjoyed it! :)

  45. Mark
    4. July 2014

    I rarely make comments on websites but I felt compelled to do so here. I want to thank you so much for your generosity in sharing your knowledge with us. These are information that I tried so hard to look for in the Internet and you just revealed it all in one article. Thanks a million!

    Just a question, do you find overexposing Portra 400 makes skin tones turn yellow? I actually find this in my images and need to correct it in Lightroom. Fuji Pro 400H does not seem to do this. That’s why I am torn between using Fuji for skin tones and Portra for everything else.

    Your photos are a joy to look at. Have a great day.

  46. Johnny
    5. July 2014

    Mark, thank you very much for your kind feedback.

    I’m delighted to hear you found everything in this post that you have been looking for.

    I’ve never had problems with Portra 400 personally, not with my lab and not when I scanned film myself. I regularly overexpose Portra up to 4-5 stops.

    I have seen yellow color casts with Portra before. That usually happens if someone applies a Color PAC to their work that was made for Fuji Pro 400H, which has a much cooler color palette and is therefore often warmed up. As Portra is already warm, this can then look yellow. But this shouldn’t happen with a properly color corrected scan.

  47. Jen
    8. July 2014

    This was a great read! Thank you for sharing. I am looking forward to following along with more of your blog. I just bought my 1st medium format, a Pentax 645, so this was perfect timing as I am diving back into film after 11 years!

  48. Johnny
    9. July 2014

    Congratulations on your Pentax, Jen!

    And thank you very much for your kind feedback. I’m sure you’ll love shooting medium format film after such a long absence. I am happy you found this post helpful.

  49. Alena
    9. July 2014

    I am so glad I’ve found your website! I’ve been shooting digital for a while now and am also starting to shoot film, so I have learned so much from your posts!

    I’ve got a question if that’s ok? You mentioned that color film can be overexposed 2-3 stops with 35mm as opposed to 4-5 stops with medium format, so would the same method work for 35mm (setting ISO 200 instead of 400 and then exposing for the shadows), or do I need to be more careful here?

    Thanks in advance!

  50. Johnny
    10. July 2014

    Alena, thank you for your feedback and your question.

    You can use the same metering method for 35mm and medium format. Color negative film can usually be overexposed more than that, I just wanted to give an example that works with most film stocks.

    Every film responds differently to overexposure and not all stocks have the same latitude. 35mm has less latitude than medium format in general, because the negatives are much smaller. That’s the same within medium format, 6×4.5 (e.g. Contax 645) has less latitude than 6×6 (e.g. Hasselblad).

    It’s a common misconception that you should shoot a slower film in direct sunlight. Portra 400 is faster than Portra 160, but it handles overexposure much better. That’s why I prefer to shoot Portra 400 in direct sunlight.

  51. Evan Pacleb
    10. July 2014

    Hi Johnny!

    I have a quick question about shooting in sunlight… preferably direct sunlight. I hope you can help me out!

    My film camera (Nikon FM2n) only goes up to 1/4000 in shutter speed. But I’m going to the beach in a couple of weeks and I’ll be sure to be taking pictures in direct sunlight during the middle of the day.

    Do you have any tips? I’m not sure if should overexpose? I’m scared that my pictures are going to be too bright even though I’ve read that overexposing film is forgiving. I’m a first time film user and I just want the best results!

    Thanks so much! Keep taking pictures.

  52. Johnny
    11. July 2014

    Thank you for your question, Evan.

    I talked about that in the sections “shutter speed limits” and “overexposure and underexposure”.

    It depends on the film you’re shooting and the aperture of your lens. I shoot at f1.5 in direct sunlight with a shutter speed limit of 1/1000, so I wouldn’t worry about 1/4000 – assuming you’re shooting Portra 400. But that’s on the verge and I would make sure to meter the scene properly.

    Shooting at the beach in direct sunlight is as bright as it gets due to the sand and the water reflecting the light. If you’re not confident, just stop down a little bit. You can overexpose 2-3 stops, but this won’t make your images brighter, it will make your negatives more dense.

  53. Ben
    11. July 2014

    Best most comprehensive article I’ve read on metering for film.

  54. Johnny
    11. July 2014

    Thanks very much Ben, I appreciate your feedback!

  55. Eric
    12. July 2014

    Nice article! Thanks, but I have a few questions.

    If color negative film, especially Portra, has such a huge latitude, why is metering so important?

    Furthermore, if metering incident light gives you a better exposure than metering reflected light, why not just turn around and meter the light that’s falling on the subject with your camera’s meter?

  56. Johnny
    12. July 2014

    Eric, thank you for your questions.

    Metering is important to get a properly exposed image, which is more likely to give you pleasing results. You also control the look of your images (for example colors, contrast, grain) with your exposure.

    Portra 400 has a lot of latitude which can make your life easier, especially when you’re just starting out with film. But it’s not the only color negative film on the market and color negative film isn’t the only available film stock.

    Holding your camera differently wouldn’t turn a reflective meter into an incident meter. Using an external light meter is the most reliable way to meter.

  57. Sara
    14. July 2014

    Thanks for the advice!

    I have a question related to your Hasselblad. With my Contax it is simple to set the ISO to half box speed and meter that way, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to set ISO on my new Hasselblad. I’ve just metered like I normally would with the Contax but I never actually overexposed with the ISO. I have the 500C/M. Do you know if there is a way to set ISO on the camera?


  58. Johnny
    14. July 2014

    Thank you for your feedback, Sara.

    The Hasselblad V-System (500C/M, 501CM, 503CW etc.) doesn’t have an internal meter. You can purchase a metered prism and use that instead of your waist-level finder or use an external handheld meter.

    As suggested in the blog post, I prefer a handheld meter. You simply set the meter to ISO 200 instead of ISO 400 then (and not the camera).

  59. Kelvin
    18. July 2014

    Thank you for the very informative article, Johnny. What you wrote makes complete sense. I do, however, have two questions about metering for two backlit situations that I hope you can help me:

    1) When a semi-transparent subject, such as a leaf, is backlit by the golden evening low-angle sun. Since the subject is semi-transparent, if I meter for the shadow like I do for a backlit portrait of a person, I usually get overexposed results. I usually end up taking a reflective spot meter reading of the leaf.

    2) A classic sunset photo with the sun in the photograph almost ready to set below the horizon or behind a mountain. Again, I usually end up taking a reflective spot meter reading of the area of the sky right beside the sun.

    I am just curious what is your metering method on the above situations?
    Thanks in advance!

  60. Johnny
    19. July 2014

    Kelvin, thank you for your feedback and your question.

    It doesn’t matter if I am shooting a backlit scene or not, I always meter the exact same way. You only need to know how much light falls onto your subject. I would therefore meter both situations exactly the same way (as described above).

    If the light source is behind my subject, I am very likely already standing in the shade. In both cases I would bring the meter close to the subject, point it towards the direction of the camera and make sure you take a shadow reading.

  61. Ally
    24. July 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Thank you for adding tremendous value in the film community.

    Got a silly question here. When you say you overexposed by 3 stops for example, are you including the film rated at 200 as 1 stop (box speed = 400), then +2 exposure compensation – which gives you a total of 3 stops?

    Thanks Johnny!

  62. Johnny
    25. July 2014

    Thank you very much for your kind feedback, Ally.

    Yes, you’re exactly right – you always count from box speed. Rating a 400 speed film at 200 would be one stop and setting your exposure compensation to +2 would add another two stops. This would result in a total 3 stops of overexposure.

  63. Ivo
    27. July 2014

    Very inspiring Johnny! Great writing.

    Thinking about getting a 503CXi. Love the warmth of your photos. And also the attention you pay to details. Will visit your website a lot more in future.
    Thanks for pushing me further.

    Cheers, Ivo

  64. Johnny
    27. July 2014

    Thank you very much, Ivo!

    I’m happy to hear you enjoyed this post and my pictures. I’m excited for you to shoot a 503CXi, I’m sure you’ll love it. The Hasselblad is such a great camera.

  65. Daniel
    27. July 2014

    Hi there,

    I would like to join the rest of the guys and say how much I admire your work. Truly amazing. Superb tones. Perfect timing for me as I’m flying to Naples (Amalfi Coast) next week with my Hasselblad 501CM and 10 rolls of Kodak Portra 400.

    The advice in how to expose for film and get that beautiful tone in my photographs is very very valuable. Also I see that your are doing a free workshop in London. Any chance to have one of these organised in Ireland? Or maybe a coffee meeting?

    I wish you best of luck in your endeavours and I look forward in reading your posts.


  66. Johnny
    28. July 2014

    Daniel, thank you so much for your kind feedback.

    I’m so happy for! Your trip sounds great. Italy is one of my most favorite places to photograph and the Amalfi Coast is so beautiful.

    I don’t think I will offer a workshop in Ireland anytime soon, but I would love to meet up for a coffee if you’re around. Just mail me a little bit ahead of time when you’re in West Cork.

  67. Ally
    10. August 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Thank you for your prompt response! Now I think of you when I have a film question.

    I am coming from shooting a Contax 645. In manual mode the exposure compensation doesn’t work. It only works in AV or TV, so if my end result is to accomplish by +2 stops shooting Portra 400, and let’s say for example my meter reads 1/250 – would you suggest rating the film at 200 (+1 stop), and shutter to 1/125 (+1 stop) to give it two full stops?

    Or am I just overthinking? When I expose for the shadows that gives me an extra 1-2 stops, plus rating the film at 200. That should give me 2-3 stops… however I see that you know exactly how many you are overexposing in your pictures. Can you maybe clear the air for me? :)

    Thank you so much for your education. I truly appreciate your feedback.

  68. Johnny
    11. August 2014

    Thanks for your feedback and your question, Ally.

    You’re right, if you rate your film at half box speed and meter for the shadows you end up overexposing 2-3 stops (as mentioned in the blog post).

    It doesn’t matter how you approach this. If you want to make sure you’re two stops over, you can just take a regular meter reading instead of a shadow reading and set your shutter speed two stops slower than the reading suggests.

    I wouldn’t worry about using exposure compensation. It’s better to shoot in manual and use an external light meter, because it gives you a better understanding and more control over your results.

  69. Daniel Balteanu
    13. August 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Just back from my holidays from Amalfi Coast. After reading and re-reading your posts and looking at your stunning photographs I really want to give the guys in Richard’s Lab a try.

    Is it possible to share some information with regards to who you use for shipping your rolls, cost and also what scanning options do you use? Maybe it’s just me but I find the options a bit confusing: in the film scanning section it says single scan drum scanning or flatbed, also basic scan.

    I want my rolls developed and scanned with your Color PAC, if that is Ok with you. Is it possible to share your options or shed some light on the scanning options (maybe your options)?

    Thank you.

  70. Johnny
    14. August 2014

    Daniel, thanks very much for your kind feedback.

    I usually send my film with regular express mail (mark the package with “DO NOT X-RAY”). This takes about 3-5 days and costs around 15,- EUR. If I have an important order with a lot of film, I usually ship via UPS Express.

    Richard Photo Lab offers $50 off on every international order above $300, this covers the shipping costs. Additionally the currency conversion makes orders in the US much more affordable for Europeans.

    It looks like RPL is updating their site at the moment and their “processing + scanning” option is missing. It’s $23 for a roll of 35mm and $21 for a roll of 120, here is a PDF. I’m sure they’ll have that back up shortly.

    I have all of my work scanned on the Fuji Frontier SP-3000 and all of my scanning preferences are incorporated in my Color PAC. You’re more than welcome to reference it for your own work.

    Please share some of your pictures once you have them back. I hope you had a great trip!

  71. Daniel Balteanu
    14. August 2014

    Thank you, Johnny. Definitely I will share them.

  72. Johnny
    15. August 2014

    Thank you, Daniel.

    It looks like the reason that RPL took the scanning options off their website temporarily was the introduction of large Frontier scans, which I am very excited about.

  73. Yvonne Sanders
    25. August 2014


    Wow Wow Wow! Light bulbs are going off! Thank you so much for willingness to offer your knowledge and educate us film newbies!

    I recently got some of my first film scans back from RPL and learned a couple things: I need to overexpose more (some of my images were bordering on the “muddy” “brownish” cast), and I think I would like the look of Portra vs. Fuji better (not sure why, but I’m just drawn more to Portra. I think I like the tones of the greens and blue better).

    With that said, I have a couple questions if you might have the time to answer for me I would be most appreciative!

    1. I recently shot a wedding outside in full sun (not the “muddy” images referred to above). I was shooting with my Canon EOS 1V 35mm film camera with Fuji 400H. I set the ISO in the camera to 200 (1 stop over). But since it was full sun, I set my Sekonic meter at ISO 200, f2.8, and got a shutter speed of 4000. Then shot away! So should I have shaded the meter to get a slower shutter speed? My brain said, “mmmmmm, full sun, don’t need to overexpose, just use the meter reading”. I guess I was wrong?

    2. I also have a medium format camera, Mamiya 645 Pro TL (I know all the craze is Contax, but I just can’t find it in me to drop that much money while learning film). I know the lens is important for final image results. It came with A Mamiya-Sekor 80mm 1:2.8 N. I’m wondering if there is a Carl Zeiss 2.8 Lens that will fit the Mamiya to get the results of the Contax shooters or am I just completely off here in my thinking (you can totally tell by this question that I’m a “newbie”)?

    3. At RPL I don’t see your name listed in their client list for PACs. If I just ask them to use Johnny Patience’s PAC will they do that for me? And does that mean they will use the Frontier instead of the “Noritsu default, recommended”. Also will the Color look different between those two? Meaning, if I had a frame done on both scanners for comparison what differences would I see?

    You mentioned that you’re excited about RPL adding large Frontier scans, can you explain why? Is it a matter of being able to print large images for clients?

    4. Are you editing your scans in ACR or LR when you get them get from RPL? Meaning for example, the first three images above, did they look like that when you received your scans or did you then have to add editing in ACR or LR… they are stunning!

    I think that’s enough questions for now!

    Thanks again for this blog post… you saved me $3000 for a film workshop (just kidding).


  74. Johnny
    27. August 2014

    Yvonne, thank you for your kind feedback and your questions.

    This was a lot of ground to cover, so I will stick with your numbers:

    1. What you did wasn’t “wrong”, you overexposed by one stop and I assume the results came out fine. What I tried to share is just an easy metering method that should give you good results in all lighting conditions. Other than digital, color negative film needs to be exposed properly to get enough shadow detail and not to save the highlights. A lot of popular film stocks (especially Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji Pro 400H) also look very pleasing with 2-3 stops of overexposure.

    2. I think there is an adaptor that lets you use Carl Zeiss lenses from the Hasselblad V-System on Mamiya cameras. And while the Carl Zeiss 2.8/80mm is my favorite lens (I shoot it on my Hasselblad), I wouldn’t instantly dismiss the lens that came with your Mamiya. Most people shoot the Carl Zeiss f2 (not 2.8) on the Contax 645, maybe have a look at the Mamiya Sekor-C 80mm f1.9 first.

    3. Yes, you can just select “use Color PAC” on the order form and write “Johnny Patience” in the field. Please make sure to also check “Frontier”, as that’s the scanner I ask RPL to use for my work. You would definitely see a difference between Noritsu and Frontier, have a look here for a couple of examples and more information. I’m excited about large Frontier scans because of being able to print larger.

    4. I don’t apply any additional post processing to any of my film work, the results shown are exactly how RPL delivered them. My Color PAC doesn’t include any color tweaks either, only my scanning preferences.

  75. Tauron
    30. August 2014

    Will you do a write up about the zone system and spot meters?

  76. Johnny
    30. August 2014

    Thank you for your question, Tauron.

    That’s very unlikely. This tutorial was meant to be a relatively easy starting point. If you’re interested in the zone system, I would recommend reading Ansel Adams’ book “The Negative”.

  77. Salvatore
    30. August 2014


    I love your advice, I’m new to shooting film and everything looks way more attractive than digital!

    I still can’t figure out how film can handle such overexposure – is scanner dynamic range much lower than film, so that it’s not able to squeeze the huge film DR into a file? Or does film itself perform any sort of “auto-compensate reaction” to the light it is hit by within its latitude range?

  78. Johnny
    31. August 2014

    Salvatore, thank you very much for your feedback.

    Film is a chemical emulsion and the chemicals respond to light much more organic, alike the human eye. Highlights “roll off” beautifully instead of just clipping at a maximum value with a digital sensor.

    I’ve also tried to explain in the article that you always work with an exposure range when shooting film instead of a fixed value that represents the perfect exposure when shooting digital.

  79. Björn
    9. September 2014

    Dear Johnny,

    On Twitter I said to you that I have to buy a MF Camera now. :)

    Well, I bought a Mamiya RZ67 with the 110/2.8…

    But one thing I don’t understand, what did you mean with shading your bulb with your hand to get the shadow value? Should I hold my hands over the meter?

    Thank you!

  80. Johnny
    11. September 2014

    Thank you for your feedback, Björn.

    Matt had asked the same question. You create a shadow with your hand by bringing it between the sun and the meter so that the shade of your hand falls onto the bulb of the meter.

    Congratulations on your camera purchase! I’m sure you will enjoy it a lot. :)

  81. Björn
    12. September 2014

    Dear Johnny,

    Thank you for your feedback. I didn’t read all answers. ;)

    I’ve received the camera today and it looks and works great. I’ve shot 5 photos now with this method. I feel good – the mechanical sound and the feel with all that stuff I’ve fallen in love with it…

    Best regards.

  82. Johnny
    12. September 2014

    No worries about the reply, Björn. :)

    I’m happy that you enjoy shooting your new camera so much and that everything feels good and right for you.

  83. Scott
    12. September 2014

    Good write up man. A great explanation of the density vs. overexposure issue. That’s a really strange concept for someone who is mostly familiar with digital (speaking from experience!), and the idea that you don’t really have to be accurate with negative film (aka exposure range) is also bizarre at first, but once you realize what it means, it makes you SOOOOO happy!

    Personally, I find sunny 16 more than adequate. I never shoot with a meter (I took the batteries out of my M6 intentionally so I couldn’t, and my M3 doesn’t have one). But, then again, my style of shooting is much different. I shoot primarily at f/8 and smaller, unless the light calls for it, so typically only for portraits, indoors, or sunset am I opening up the lens to f/2 (or even f/4 for that matter). If you like to shoot at f/2.8 in bright sunlight, as you mentioned in a comment, it is certainly possible at 1/1000th. But you are indeed pushing the limits of the film, even with an amazing film like Portra 400.

    I would recommend film shooters to take a roll of your favorite films out and find a high contrast scene and just push the hell out of it to see what it can take. Just do the tests, and walk the film through extreme overexposure and underexposure. I did that when I first got into film and I was absolutely astounded by what I could do with it.

    The part I personally like best about sunny 16 (and why for film shooters I’m a big advocate for it), is that with practice, it’s very very fast. When the light changes, I’ve found that instinctively I’m reaching for the aperture ring (or shutter speed dial, but usually its the aperture ring) on my camera, even if I don’t have something I want to photograph right that second, because from experience, I already know about what the shadows and highlights are for given scenarios. My eye is trained to see and evaluate the light instinctively and make the adjustments preemptively in case there is a great moment I want to capture. It becomes a reflex with practice. And if I have doubts as to the light (meaning I’m not experienced in shooting in the light I am currently in), I just add a stop or two knowing the film can take it.

    This is especially useful for shooting cameras like old Leicas, because if you are zone focused as well, you literally just have to frame the shot and press the shutter button. It’s faster than any autofocus/auto-metering system on the planet. But, I’m also not after the bokehlicious look that requires precise focus and I’m not shooting medium format (which inherently has a shallower depth of field). I tend to stay a little more “editorial” in my style. So YMMV.

    Thanks for sharing!

  84. Johnny
    13. September 2014

    Scott, thanks very much for your feedback.

    For your shooting style (I assume street photography) and general approach the sunny 16 rule makes sense and is easy to apply. I still recommend a meter if you’re just starting out shooting film. I also agree with your recommendation, it’s the best thing to just try to explore the limits of your favorite film in regards to exposure and learn how it responds to different lighting conditions.

    But no matter how you approach learning exposure, we are talking about the same final goal: being able to judge most lighting conditions without using a meter.

  85. Jonathan
    14. September 2014

    Hi Johnny, great post!

    When you shoot B&W using this method, do you have the lab alter their processing time? There are a few posts elsewhere on the web where it’s suggested that if you overexpose (meter for the shadows), you should reduce the development time by 15-20% to compensate (develop for the highlights). I tried this on a roll of Tri-X yesterday which was metered using this method. However, the reduced development time resulted in very poor, low contrast negatives with underdeveloped highlights.

    It would be very useful to know what you communicate to your lab (if anything), and whether they alter anything to suit this metering method.



  86. Johnny
    16. September 2014

    Thank you for your feedback and your question, Jonathan.

    I do expose Kodak Tri-X 400 the same way without any compensation in development. But Tri-X has a relatively broad exposure latitude and I don’t recommend doing that with all B&W film stocks.

    If you would like to meter for the shadows with B&W film, I would recommend setting the meter at box speed (not half box speed).

  87. Daniel Balteanu
    22. September 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    I hope you’re keeping well. I finally received my photographs from Richard’s Lab. As I mentioned to you on my last post here, I asked them to scan my photos using your Color PAC. I have to say that I am very happy with them. To achieve this look I used the method that you have mentioned on this blog:

    I used Kodak Portra 400, my light meter was set at 200 ISO and took a reading for the shadows. Overall my film was overexposed 3 to 4 stops. I would love to get your feedback after you have a look at the photos.

    Thank you again!

  88. Johnny
    23. September 2014

    Wow, Daniel! Your shots came out fantastic! :)

    I’m so happy for you, you really did a great job (and so did RPL). Well done!

    I hope you had a great trip. I’ve always wanted to visit the Almafi Coast but didn’t have the possibility to do so yet. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photographs.

  89. Daniel Balteanu
    23. September 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Thank you for the feedback. Much appreciated.

    The trip was great however the work schedule was mental: early morning start and late night finish. Because of this I didn’t have too much time to use my Hasselblad.

    Thank you for your advice.

  90. Johnny
    23. September 2014

    Daniel, thank you again for your feedback. I hope that you will have a little more time for yourself on the next trip.

  91. Aaron
    23. September 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Great article on exposing for film! I took your advise and did some overexposure and liked the results. I was also playing with some E6 film, and found it didn’t produce great results with overexposure. Thanks again for taking the time to write these articles on film!

  92. Johnny
    24. September 2014

    Thank you for your feedback, Aaron.

    Please be careful! As mentioned above, this tutorial covers color negative film, not B&W or color reversal film (slide film, E6 process). Color reversal film needs to be exposed precisely and is much more difficult to expose correctly. If you shoot it like this, you will blow out the highlights.

  93. Marc Upson
    8. October 2014

    Minor warning from a printer: what works in the digital world doesn’t necessarily work in the darkroom, sometimes it may actually make things more difficult. Filling the shadows with details is great for the scanner but overexposing neg film for more than 2 stops starts to mash the grain and the contrast starts to go down, and as these two parameters are not adjustable on the enlarger… I’d say an acceptable range of overexposing (or over-processing) for traditional printing is in the 0,5 to 1 stop.

    Aaron, E6 film works the other way around and is far less tolerant: overexpose it for more than half a stop and the high lights will just go transparent. To saturate it more, you need to underexpose with values that are a quarter of of what you’d do with neg film. Knowing that, very fast, shadows go to solid black…

    Anyway, cool article!

  94. Johnny
    8. October 2014

    Marc, thank you very much for your feedback.

    I agree, this approach is oriented towards scanning and a digital workflow as only very few labs have a traditional darkroom anymore and then it’s usually for B&W only.

    You are exactly right about color reversal film.

    Thank you for your time!

  95. Tauron
    16. October 2014

    Great post.

    When you’re shooting Tri-X 400 indoors do you normally shoot at box speed?

  96. Johnny
    16. October 2014

    Thanks for your question, Tauron.

    That depends on the available light. If I have enough light I try to overexpose a stop, otherwise I shoot it at box speed (sometimes even a stop under).

  97. Brian
    20. November 2014

    Johnny you have taught me more about exposure than a three year BA (Hons) in Photography ever did! Your the man.

  98. Johnny
    21. November 2014

    Brian, I’m very happy you found the post helpful!
    Thank you very much for your kind feedback.

  99. Millie
    18. December 2014

    Johnny, based on your experience, would you be able to advise the best film for indoor photography in low light situations?

  100. Johnny
    18. December 2014

    Thank you for your question, Millie.

    If you’re shooting in tungsten light, I would go for CineStill 800. Alternatively you can shoot Portra 400/800 and push two stops. The same with Tri-X 400 if you’re looking for a true B&W film, alternatively Delta 3200.

  101. Rich
    30. December 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Good read thank you. I am new to MF with a 500CM and a used light meter (Minolta Flash Meter IV). I am getting inconsistent exposure results and wondered if (you heard of) a meter that can work fine when metering shadows but not direct sunlight. When I have to meter a scene in full sun, the whole negative is under exposed by about 1 stop. If I meter a scene that has a shadow and meter there, the exposure tends to be fine. Meter issue possibly?

    Thank you – Rich

  102. Johnny
    30. December 2014

    Rich, thanks very much for your question.

    It’s relatively rare for a digital meter to be off that much (not with older analog meters), but this is easy to double check by comparing it to a second meter.

    If your meter isn’t the problem, the most common issue would be shutter times (the exposure times you set according to the meter aren’t precise). This is a very common problem among unserviced Hasselblad cameras, but it usually shows with overexposure (“sticky shutter”).

    The third possibility for a problem would be the metering technique (where you meter, how you hold the meter etc.). I would check the first two and make sure it’s not a technical problem (also make sure you’re judging the negatives as you’ve mentioned and not the scans).

  103. Rich
    30. December 2014


    Thanks for the reply.

    After more testing today, I feel it is my metering technique at fault. Since I am typically photographing landscapes (with little experience), much of my metering involves direct sunlight (low winter sun now) and I was getting the underexposed negatives as I mentioned.

    I have been metering most of the time with the meter directly facing the sun as it is low in the sky now and found that if I meter at more of an angle I find the 1 stop I need for correct exposure. If the sun was high in the sky – like in the summer – the meter would be more at a 90 degree to the sun; I didn’t have this much of an issue this summer.

    I am guessing that incident meters are designed to be at more of angle to their light source than parallel. Seems silly that such a minor technique change could remedy this, but looking back at the scenes I am metering, they do present a challenge (low winter early morning sun). Good lesson learned I guess from mother nature.

    Thanks for the metering page, excellent information.


  104. Johnny
    31. December 2014

    Thanks for your feedback, Rich.

    I assumed you are metering for the shadows (as recommended in this blog post).

    An incident light meter will always give you a reading for neutral grey. If you have a direct light source hitting it, you will end up being several stops underexposed.

    It’s safe to meter for the shadows in all lighting conditions. This would help you get more consistent exposures.

  105. Marc
    31. December 2014

    Hello again, Johnny.

    We’ll after reading all your advice, tips and tricks I ordered a Minolta IVF. Why a IVF? It was the meter I always wanted and in my young days it was sold at an unaffordable price. At least for me in those days.

    A few more days more and my Rollei arrives and than I can get started experimenting. Just ordered a 80mm Planar.

    Ready to rock and roll.

    Happy New Year to you all! And a lot of nice shots in 2015!

  106. Johnny
    31. December 2014

    I’m excited for you, Marc! I’m sure you’ll enjoy your setup very much. Great to hear that you got an external meter from the very start. That’ll help a lot!

    Thanks again for your feedback. :)

  107. Luke
    8. January 2015


    Thank you so much for writing this tutorial. It should be on every film lab’s website and in every photography class in the world. It’s simple, clear, and every follow up answer you give makes it that much better. I can’t wait to put what I’ve learned to good use when I road trip across the united states in February.


  108. Johnny
    9. January 2015

    Thank you very much, Luke! It’s great to hear that you found this post helpful. I really appreciate your kind feedback.

    Have a wonderful trip to the States and please share some of your images when you’re back!

  109. Matthew
    12. January 2015

    Hi Johnny!

    First of all, I can’t thank you enough for making such a thorough and concise page of your thoughts on metering for film. Having read yours, which is so easy to understand and digest, it’s shocking to me how few others have accomplished this. Your pages here are an invaluable resource to those of us who adore film.

    A little about myself: I learned to shoot on film, put it aside for a while, and have worked with digital semi-seriously for a couple of years. Ironically, I found myself constantly trying to emulate film stocks in Lightroom, which is tedious and semi-boring. I am tired of digitally trying to get a look that I can accomplish acoustically, so to speak. I’ve rekindled the analog flames, and from a tradecraft perspective, nothing is more enjoyable, as you well know. Lately I’ve been tempted to take the plunge and give up digital all together.

    After having read your website top to bottom over the course of a few days, and then ruminating over them for another few, I have some questions about your metering methodology.

    1. How do you meter a scene in which you want to preserve detail in the sky? For some, I suppose, a graduated filter would do, but since you don’t use filters (I, too, am loathe to do so), I was wondering you would.

    2. For me, one of the nicest things about film, and printing in general, is the presence of true blacks in a composition. If you are metering for the darkest shadows in a scene, wouldn’t this preclude having total blacks (zone 0) in your final print? Yet I see examples of blacks (photo 1513, 7029 for examples) in your work. How do you account for this, metering-wise?

    3. Say you have a 35mm camera with a tested and working internal centre-weighted meter. Would there be any harm in half box-rating your Portra 400, setting the exposure compensation dial to a further +1 or +2 (preference depending), metering for the shadows, recomposing and firing? Have you tried this? Would this be a good method for more street or editorial-style shooting, where one may not have the luxury of stepping in to a scene unfolding before their eyes to take a reading?

    4. What advice would you give to those of us who desperately want to shoot exclusively film, but find the costs of developing and scanning through a fantastic lab like Richard to be daunting?

    Thank you so much.

  110. Johnny
    13. January 2015

    Matthew, thanks very much for your kind feedback and your questions. It’s great to hear such positive feedback and I’m glad that you feel inspired to shoot some film for your own work.

    1. You don’t need a graduated filter with color negative film. The film has enough latitude and if you would like to see more detail in the sky, just tell your lab to scan your film accordingly. A good lab would usually scan for the subject and understand a scene.

    2. Metering for the shadows doesn’t mean that you lose your blacks, it only makes sure that you have enough exposure on the medium. If a scene has blacks and the film is scanned properly, you will see them in your picture (have a look at the exposure vs. density correction brackets here).

    3. Yes, that would work in situations without difficult light (e.g. back lit scenes, strong contrast, fog, snow) – but I would not recommend it. It’s better to use an external meter and develop a feel for exposures. You will quickly evolve that way and learn that you usually only need to meter for the shadows once per scene (not once per shot). After a few rolls you will be able to reliably guess your exposures, which makes especially street photography with an unmetered camera very quick and enjoyable.

    4. I think the easiest way to reduce costs with shooting film would be to shoot less volume, but stick to working with a pro lab.

    Thanks again for your time!

  111. Liam
    13. January 2015

    Fantastic, the most helpful website entry I’ve ever read.

    How would you meter at night time using your light meter?

  112. Johnny
    13. January 2015

    Thank you, Liam.

    You meter the same way at night time, an incident light meter always gives you an ambient reading for neutral grey.

  113. Linden
    15. January 2015

    Hi Johnny,

    This is simply a fantastic resource, thank you.

    I bought a black Leica M-A in December, and I am completely smitten with it. Despite the purchase defying my “better judgment” it is about the only camera purchase I have ever made with zero buyer’s remorse to follow.

    I’m happy with my initial results. While traveling I used my iPhone with a simple app for metering (no attachment), which gave me the ballpark reading. But the approach I have been taking is to try to guess the reading each time first with my eyes, and then compare to the meter. I’m hoping it becomes more intuitive.

    The Lumu looks good. I do have a Sekonic meter, but I am more likely to pocket a Lumu than that meter when out shooting casually.

    Your “chair” picture I thought illustrated your point especially well. I can see how that image might look one or two stops faster, with the shadow becoming denser and less detailed.

    I love Portra, so this is all especially instructive.

    If you have a moment, I would be interested to learn how you would compare the latitude of T-Max, Delta and Neopan Acros to Tri-X? I’m playing around with all of them to learn more about what appeals. Why did you choose Tri-X aesthetically?

    I note in the comments above that you don’t want to get into the zone system explanation. Fair enough. But having read this article, I’m sure a follow up piece on other metering ideas would be well received.

    In any case, many thanks again for this article which I’m sure I will re-read a few times.

  114. Johnny
    16. January 2015

    Thank you very much, Linden. I’m really happy to hear that.

    First of all congratulations on your Leica M-A! I’m so thrilled for you! I just bought the very same camera in Paris at the end of October and I couldn’t be happier. It makes no sense logically, but I enjoy shooting it so much! :)

    Guessing exposures definitely becomes second nature over a relatively short period of time. How you do that is very helpful, you guess first and then meter the scene. I also stick to the same film stock most of the time and always shoot wide open, which makes it very easy to guess after just a couple of rolls because the variables don’t change.

    I think it’s difficult to make general statements about a certain B&W film. Other than color (c41), developing B&W film is not standardized and the developer has a huge influence on the tonality and the latitude of a film. As a general rule, slower emulsions usually have noticeably less latitude.

    I love everything about Tri-X. Especially the beautiful grain structure, the bold blacks and the smooth gradient in the mid tones. It has so many different looks based on how you expose and develop it. I love them all for different reasons. But most of all, it’s such a classic film.

    Thank you again for your kind feedback!

  115. Hakan Unal
    26. January 2015

    Hi Johnny,

    Thanks for the inspiring, educating and valuable knowledge you offer on your website. A lot of people can shoot 35mm and/or 6×6 following them. I hope they will. :)

    I’m an enthusiast, shooting film on Leica M6 and Hasselblad 503CW mostly. What I would like to ask you is, when shooting black and white, do you also overexpose by one stop and rate your film at ISO 200 instead of ISO 400 (box speed)?

    Thank you, all the best.

  116. Johnny
    26. January 2015

    Hakan, thank you for your question.

    Yes, I do with Kodak Tri-X 400. Please have a look here and here.

  117. Hakan Unal
    27. January 2015

    Thanks, Johnny.

  118. Johnny
    27. January 2015

    You’re welcome, Hakan.

  119. Maz
    30. January 2015

    Thank you very much, I’m so glad to have discovered your magnificent blog. You’re a great photographer!

    If I’ve understood correctly, what you’re saying is that it is desirable to expose film at least a stop or two under box speed. If I were pushing Tri-X 400 to 800, would I expose it at 400?

    Thank you.

  120. Johnny
    2. February 2015

    Thanks very much for your feedback, Maz.

    What I tried to share was that it’s safe to overexpose color negative film and that +2 stops of overexposure generally give you very good results (color, shadow detail, grain). It’s important to not underexpose.

    True B&W film can be overexposed, but you will also get very good results at box speed. You can push Tri-X 400 to 800 without having to rate it at 400. I expose Tri-X according to the look I would like to achieve (box speed for softer gradients, overexposure for a more punchy look).

  121. Clarissa
    10. February 2015

    Finally, after years of confusion on how shall I hold my meter, finally a concise and simple advice on how to meter! Yay. Thank you, Johnny. Can’t wait top pull my meter out with more confidence now!

  122. Johnny
    11. February 2015

    That’s great to hear, Clarissa. Thank you very much!

  123. Regan
    18. February 2015

    Thank you so much for sharing this information. I’ve been shooting Portra 400 in my Hasselblad 500C/M these past few days and I was growing frustrated thinking that I always had to shoot at small apertures due to the amount of light. I didn’t realize that I had a range I could play with and not blow everything out.

  124. Johnny
    18. February 2015

    Regan, thanks very much for your feedback.

    No, you don’t have to worry about that with color negative film. I shot an exposure bracket from “0” to “+10″ stops a few weeks ago with Portra 400 and not one image was blown out. Everything up to “+7″ was perfectly usable.

  125. Peter
    24. February 2015

    Hi Johnny,

    Thanks for such an informative article and superb examples of your exposure method for colour neg film.

    I’ve recently started shooting film (Portra 400) and have a question I hope is not too elementary!

    After nailing down your method of under rating the ISO by a stop and exposing for the shadows, what advice do you need to give your lab for best results (i.e. to maintain that smooth, soft, low contrast look)? Or is there little room for error during the development process?

    I would be having them developed only and scanning at home for digitization.

    Thanks in advance for any reply.



  126. Johnny
    25. February 2015

    Thank you for your kind feedback and your question, Peter.

    With color negative film there is relatively little room for error during the development process, just make sure you work with a pro lab using dip & dunk processors and fresh chemicals.

    That’s very different with B&W as mentioned above, the developer itself has a huge influence on the final look of an image.

  127. Steve
    28. February 2015


    I just discovered your website after purchasing a Hasselblad 500 C/M with the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80 and am just getting back into shooting film. A lot to re-learn and never having had a Hasselblad before, plenty to learn there as well.

    Your website is very helpful. Thanks for posting about metering, your experiences with your Hasselblad. I’m excited about this period of discovery and about using a completely manual camera for a change.



  128. Peter
    1. March 2015

    …one more if you’d permit me and this is the last one. ;)

    You’ve touched on this in another thread regarding “exposing for the shadows”, but I didn’t see an answer to a question running through my head regarding the light meter ISO. Is your light meter calculating based on the film box speed or do you tell the light meter what you have your ISO set to on the camera?

    I’m currently going with setting my light meter to the camera’s set ISO rather than the box speed (shooting Portra 400 so I set my camera and light meter to ISO 200) and metering the darkest part of the scene and using whatever shutter speed the light meter suggests for my chosen aperture.

    I’m only doing portraits with this at the moment so using directional soft light and sky light to keep things simple as I feel my way forward, so low contrast scenes. I’m liking the look of the +3-4 overexposed images which is why I went with setting the light meter to ISO 200 instead of 400. Look forward to seeing how they turn out and just wondering what you are recommending here regarding the light meter ISO setting.

    Thanks again for the reply, much appreciated.



  129. Russell
    25. March 2015

    Hey Johnny, great article!

    I have a quick question. So you meter for the shadows, then you overexpose 2 stops on top of that? Can I meter the skin and overexpose 1 stop to get Zone VI and add 2 stops of overexposure? Is that essentially doing the same thing?


  130. Laszlo
    25. March 2015

    Hello Johnny,

    I just found you website today and started to read your extremely helpful articles. Many thanks for these.

    As a beginner film photographer I am a bit confused regarding overexposure. So if I would like to overexpose my film by 1 stop (Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 what I currently have) I have to set my camera to 200. Should I tell anything to the lab afterwards, or just let them to process it normally as it was shot at 400?

    Many Thanks in advance.

    Best wishes from Hungary

  131. Alex
    27. March 2015

    Hi Johnny,

    Very useful info indeed! And I didn’t know about the Lumu tool. Great!

    Concerning your comment on Rich’s reply “An incident light meter will always give you a reading for neutral grey. If you have a direct light source hitting it, you will end up being several stops underexposed.”:

    Is this the way to go: shade the bulb of the meter with my hand? If I shade the bulb, is there a certain way to do it in a proper way, is there no danger to ‘over-shade’ it?

    In your third image example, you are standing in the shadow. You take a normal reading rated at ISO 200. This means 1 stop overexposure. But you write 2 stops overexposure. How do you explain this?

    You write “I hold the meter in a standard 90 degree angle to the ground, which means nothing else than parallel to the subject, with the bulb facing the direction of the camera.”.

    For me it is still not clear when I have to point the bulb of the meter in the direction of the camera and when not; especially when I want to meter the shadow of an object which is not close. I would rather point the bulb in the direction of the sun, so if the sun is in front of me I point the bulb not facing the camera and create shadow by covering the bulb. Or is this the general method, facing the bulb in direction of the camera?

    Concerning B&W film. Would you proceed the same way as you’ve described for color film? Rating at half box speed and overexposing by measuring the shadows.

    Your reply is much appreciated.

    Best Regards,


  132. Jasmine
    30. March 2015

    Hi Johnny,

    I can’t thank you enough for your teaching posts. After admiring film photography for a few years now, I finally purchased a film camera. Your posts have been the most helpful! There is a paucity of technical information on this particular type of film photography and I am so happy to have found your blog.

    I have a few questions about the metering, and my apologies in advance if they are very preliminary.
    – Do you rate half the film box speed both on your camera and on the incident meter?
    – When you overexpose by 2-3 stops over what the meter tells you, which parameter do you use to overexpose? Aperture? Shutter speed? My camera (Pentax) also has a dial to over/underexpose with +1, +2, etc… would you suggest using that function to overexpose?

    I sure hope to see more posts about film photography in the future! They really are invaluable!

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