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.
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 L-398A vs. Lumu + iPhone
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.
Marco24. 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. :)
Johnny24. 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.
Neill24. 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.
Johnny24. 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. :)
Chris24. June 2014
What a great blog post! Thanks!
Johnny24. June 2014
Thanks for your feedback, Chris!
Atle Rønningen24. 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!
Johnny24. 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.
Tracy Clayton25. 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.
Johnny25. June 2014
That’s really great to hear, Tracy!
Thank you very much for your kind feedback.
Giovanni25. June 2014
Thanks, very informative post!
Johnny25. June 2014
Thank you, Giovanni. Glad you enjoyed it!
Metering for Film | Johnny Patience25. June 2014
[…] The most common questions I receive in regards to shooting film are usually about metering and exposure. […]
Rebecca Lily25. 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.
Johnny25. 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. :)
Ray25. 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.
Johnny25. 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.
Jim25. 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.
Johnny25. 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.
Jesse26. 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!
Johnny26. June 2014
Jesse, thank you very much.
I wrote you back about your question. All the best for you too!
Mary Smyth26. June 2014
Great article, Johnny.
As usual easy to understand and very informative. Thank you.
Johnny26. June 2014
I’m happy you enjoyed it, Mary.
Thank you very much for your kind feedback!
Fabiela26. 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.
Johnny26. 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.
Matt27. 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.
Johnny27. 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.
Steven29. 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!
Johnny29. 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.
Christian Augustin29. 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?
Johnny30. 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.
Project Update ~ Cruising Grand » Bill McCarroll Photography30. 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 […]
Christian Augustin30. 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. ;)
Johnny30. June 2014
Thank you, Christian.
Paul30. 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.
Johnny1. 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.
Stian1. 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! :-)
Johnny1. 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. :)
Alberto Puertas Soto1. 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?
Johnny1. 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.
Daria2. 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.
Johnny2. 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! :)
Chirag Wakaskar3. 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!
Johnny3. July 2014
Thanks for your feedback, Chirag. I’m very happy you enjoyed it! :)
Mark4. 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.
Johnny5. 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.
Jen8. 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!
Johnny9. 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.
Alena9. 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!
Johnny10. 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.
Evan Pacleb10. July 2014
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.
Johnny11. 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.
Ben11. July 2014
Best most comprehensive article I’ve read on metering for film.
Johnny11. July 2014
Thanks very much Ben, I appreciate your feedback!
Eric12. 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?
Johnny12. 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.
Sara14. 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?
Johnny14. 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).
Kelvin18. 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!
Johnny19. 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.
Ally24. July 2014
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?
Johnny25. 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.
Ivo27. 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.
Johnny27. 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.
Daniel27. July 2014
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.
Johnny28. 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.
Ally10. August 2014
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.
Johnny11. 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.
Daniel Balteanu13. August 2014
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)?
Johnny14. 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!
Daniel Balteanu14. August 2014
Thank you, Johnny. Definitely I will share them.
Johnny15. 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.
Yvonne Sanders25. 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).
Johnny27. 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.
Tauron30. August 2014
Will you do a write up about the zone system and spot meters?
Johnny30. 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”.
Salvatore30. 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?
Johnny31. 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.
Björn9. September 2014
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?
Johnny11. 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. :)
Björn12. September 2014
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…
Johnny12. 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.
Scott12. 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!
Johnny13. 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.
Jonathan14. 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.
Johnny16. 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).
Daniel Balteanu22. September 2014
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!
Johnny23. 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.
Daniel Balteanu23. September 2014
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.
Johnny23. 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.
Aaron23. September 2014
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!
Johnny24. 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.
Marc Upson8. 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!
Johnny8. 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!
Tauron16. October 2014
When you’re shooting Tri-X 400 indoors do you normally shoot at box speed?
Johnny16. 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).
Brian20. November 2014
Johnny you have taught me more about exposure than a three year BA (Hons) in Photography ever did! Your the man.
Johnny21. November 2014
Brian, I’m very happy you found the post helpful!
Thank you very much for your kind feedback.
Millie18. December 2014
Johnny, based on your experience, would you be able to advise the best film for indoor photography in low light situations?
Johnny18. 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.
Rich30. December 2014
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
Johnny30. 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).
Rich30. 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.
Johnny31. 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.
Marc31. 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!
Johnny31. 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. :)
Luke8. 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.
Johnny9. 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!
Matthew12. January 2015
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.
Johnny13. 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!
Liam13. January 2015
Fantastic, the most helpful website entry I’ve ever read.
How would you meter at night time using your light meter?
Johnny13. 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.
Linden15. January 2015
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.
Johnny16. 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!
Hakan Unal26. January 2015
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.
Johnny26. January 2015
Hakan, thank you for your question.
Yes, I do with Kodak Tri-X 400. Please have a look here and here.
Hakan Unal27. January 2015
Johnny27. January 2015
You’re welcome, Hakan.
Maz30. 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?
Johnny2. 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).
Clarissa10. 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!
Johnny11. February 2015
That’s great to hear, Clarissa. Thank you very much!
Regan18. 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.
Johnny18. 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.
Peter24. February 2015
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.
Johnny25. 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.
Steve28. February 2015
I just discovered your website after purchasing a Hasselblad 500C/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 and your experiences with your Hasselblad. I’m excited about this period of discovery and about using a completely manual camera for a change.
Johnny28. February 2015
Steve, thanks very much. That’s really great to hear!
Congratulations on your purchase, I’m sure you’ll love your Hasselblad. An all mechanical camera is a lot of fun to shoot and even though it takes time and some practice, I way prefer the experience over anything other camera. I hope it’ll be the same for you.
Peter1. 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.
Johnny1. March 2015
No problem, Peter. :)
I recommend using an external light meter only and not using both an in-camera meter and a handheld meter. The ISO speed for the meter needs to be set manually and I suggest using half box speed per default, as mentioned under “Meter Settings” and “My metering method” in this article.
If you shoot in manual, you can disregard your camera settings in regards to ISO and the internal meter.
Russell25. 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?
Johnny25. March 2015
Russell, thank you very much for your question.
I usually meter for the shadows and rate the film at half box speed, which adds a full stop (not two). This is a different approach than spot metering for a digital image. The purpose is to give the film enough exposure for shadow detail as you don’t have to worry about your highlights due to the latitude of color negative film.
If you use an incident meter you will get a reading for neutral grey (zone “V”). Caucasian skin tones usually fall in zone “VI”. Depending on the contrast of the scene and the light, you might end up with an identical reading if you just add three stops. But it’s easier and more reliable to take a shadow reading with an incident meter.
Laszlo25. March 2015
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
Johnny26. March 2015
Thanks for your kind feedback, Laszlo.
You don’t have to tell the lab anything, just overexpose the film and let them process it as normal (no pushing or pulling).
Alex27. March 2015
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.”:
1. 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?
2. 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?
3. 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?
4. 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.
Johnny29. March 2015
Thanks for your questions, Alex.
1. The most reliable way to meter a scene would be to take a shadow reading. Shading the bulb is a little helper and as long as you don’t cover the bulb with your hand, you should get an identical reading.
2. In my third example I am already standing in the shadow, therefore I am automatically taking a shadow reading. The whole scene is overexposed by two stops.
3. You always point the bulb at the camera, not at the sun or the subject. The idea behind this is to measure how much light falls onto your subject.
4. Yes, with Kodak Tri-X. But you have to be careful. Please have a look at the comments above.
Jasmine30. March 2015
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!
Johnny30. March 2015
Jasmine, thanks very much for your feedback.
I always shoot in manual and only use an incident light meter. I would suggest for you to try the same as it simplifies the process a lot. I almost always shoot wide open and use the shutter speed to adjust my exposure.
Chris McKechnie8. April 2015
Your work is amazing and the knowledge that you are sharing with the world is astounding and truly appreciated.
I myself have been behind the camera a very long time, but new to the film side of things. I was considering picking up a Hasselblad 500 series or Pentax 645n camera… leaning towards the 645n since it’s more like a DSLR in terms of its ergonomics.
I was wondering what you tell the lab (I will be using RPL as well) when you send your film in for development. Do you tell them to push it 2-3 stops on the development side? Then when they do the scans, what do you tell them to do?
Thanks so much!
Johnny9. April 2015
Thanks very much for your kind words, Chris.
I’m really happy to hear that you’re getting back into film. Both cameras are great and I’m sure you’ll enjoy either one.
You don’t have to tell the lab anything, just let them process your film as normal (pulling the film would reverse the overexposure, both pushing and pulling also change the look of the results).
RPL scans my film on the Fuji Frontier using my Color PAC, which you can also use for your own work if you like.
Chris McKechnie9. April 2015
Thanks again Johnny! Happy shooting!
Johnny10. April 2015
You’re most welcome, Chris. :)
Debby11. April 2015
I’m relatively new to film photography (after years of shooting digital and far too many wasted hours in LR post-processing to get that desired film look)! I recently acquired a Contax Aria and am excited to get started on this film journey. This post has been extremely helpful for me. It’s taken me some time to get my head around metering and exposure, but I feel like I’ve got the hang of it now!
Just one question – you say that you don’t tell the lab that you’ve pushed or pulled the film i.e they should process as normal. So, why do labs ask if you’ve pushed or pulled the film? And in what circumstances would you say you have if the processing then reverses the over/under exposure?
Johnny11. April 2015
Debby, thanks very much for your feedback.
I’m really happy to hear that you found this post helpful. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with shooting digital. But I completely agree with you, there’s no point in trying to artificially recreate the look of film. It’s better to use the right medium based on its strengths and weaknesses.
What I tried to share for the tutorial is that you shouldn’t overexpose your film and then have the lab pull it to compensate. That would reverse the effect. Color negative film has a lot of latitude and it makes things very uncomplicated to just make use of that.
Pushing film comes into play if you have to underexpose and need to compensate in development. Tri-X 400 shot at 1600 requires a two stop push to get from ISO 400 to ISO 1600. Pull processing compensates for overexposed film by under-developing it during processing. This is basically obsolete with modern color negative film as it can be overexposed by several stops without a negative effect.
Chris McKechnie11. April 2015
Oh and one last question sir. How do you keep such accurate focus? You using just the WLF or some type of prism?
Johnny12. April 2015
Haha, thanks Chris! ;)
I always use the WLF with the Hasselblad – and I usually take my time. 5 seconds more per shot to get it right in camera can save you 15 minutes of post production.
Theresa12. April 2015
Thanks a lot for this post, I just got a Mamiya M645 J and was really worried about the maximum shutter speed of 1/500s.
Johnny13. April 2015
Theresa, thank you. Don’t worry about that and enjoy your new camera!
Callie14. April 2015
Hi Johnny, thanks for the great post.
This may be a silly question but if I were to be shooting a roll of Portra 400 wanting to rate it at 200 would I set my external meter at 200 and my camera’s ISO at 200 or 400? Thanks!
Johnny15. April 2015
Thank you very much, Callie.
Your question isn’t silly at all, have a look here. :)
Tom Abi Samra18. April 2015
I shot a roll of Ilford HP5 35mm film, and when I came to scan it on my portable film scanner, they turned out overexposed even with -2 EV exposure compensation. Are the pictures still useable, and if yes, how can I retrieve the images.
Thank you in advance for your help!
Johnny19. April 2015
Tom, thanks for your comment.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you without seeing the negatives and the scans.
HP5 should be able to handle multiple stops of overexposure without problems, but I would suggest metering manually over using the exposure compensation dial to avoid problems like this in the future.
John Carter19. April 2015
This was an extremely interesting and informative post though it has left me with some questions.
When I shoot HP5 with my Mamiya 7 I’ve been using a spot meter and implementing the zone system by exposing shadows for zone III so -2 stops. This is incorrect and instead I should be over exposing based on what you have said here?
Johnny20. April 2015
Thanks very much for your question, John.
What you’re doing is the classical approach to shooting B&W film and it’s by no means wrong. That’s what the zone system is there for.
I wanted to share a very simple approach for color negative film, not true B&W film and definitely not slide film (even though I shoot Tri-X 400 the exact same way as Portra 400 and you would be able to do the same with HP5).
Color negative film handles overexposure way better than underexposure and I suggest making use of the latitude to simplify the process and achieve better results.
Nick5. May 2015
Really great post, clear and concise, thank you!
I just had a couple of questions (apologies if these have already been asked).
Where you have stated “overexposed by 1 stop” or “overexposed by 4 stops” does one of this stops include the result of shooting at a stop slower than box speed? And if that’s the case, in the example of the 4 stop difference, why after metering for the shadows did you choose to overexpose by a further 3 stops?
Thanks for your time,
Johnny6. May 2015
Nick, thank you for your kind feedback and your question.
Exposing at box speed means taking a regular incident meter reading (not a shadow reading) with your film rated at its nominal speed. Overexposing 1 stop means rating the film a stop slower than the nominal value (for example ISO 200 instead of ISO 400). Overexposing 4 stops would also be counted from box speed upwards.
If you rate the film at half box speed and expose for the shadows you overexpose 2-3 stops, depending on the contrast in a scene. I use my exposure to control the look of the results, the more you overexpose the more contrast and saturation you introduce.
James21. May 2015
I assume when you’re shooting the film at a different ISO to its box value, you’re not instructing the lab to do the same (i.e. you’re not asking them to push, or pull, the development) – you’re leaving them to develop at the original box speed, right?
Johnny25. May 2015
Thanks very much for your question, James.
That’s correct, the lab does not compensate in development. Have a look here and here please.
Barb31. May 2015
Hi, Johnny. I think it’s awesome that you keep coming back here to answer these questions. Thanks so much. I have two questions. My scans look great but my lab (a reputable one) tells me consistently that they’re a little underexposed, so I started messing around with the way I meter and rate my film. I’ve tried every variation of rating, bulb in/bulb out, 1-2-3 Method, etc.
Recently, I’ve been rating Portra 400 at 100 and even 50 and metering in the shadows and the lab still says they’re under. This is regardless of the camera I use. I want to get back to a simpler way of metering that doesn’t leave me confused and second guessing myself all the time. Here are my questions.
Question One: Is the Sunny 16 Rule a reliable way to test the accuracy of a meter? If so, my meter is accurate and that’s not the problem.
Question Two: When you use your hand to shade your meter, how many stops is that? I’ve noticed that depending on how and where I place my hand—flat, cupped, over the center, toward the front, etc., the readings vary by as much as three stops. How many stops should I expect?
Johnny1. June 2015
Barb, thanks very much for your kind feedback.
I think the best way to test the accuracy of a meter would be with another meter. If you rate your film at 50 and your negatives are still underexposed, I would check the meter first and then worry about the metering method.
If your meter is accurate, try one consistent approach for a whole roll and see how your negatives look. My guess would be that your meter is accurate and that you might not be holding it parallel to the ground facing the camera, but that’s just a wild guess.
How you shade the bulb shouldn’t matter, you should definitely not see a 3 stop variance here for sure (unless the general contrast of the scene changes). If you do, it’s very likely that you are holding your hand too close to the bulb. All you want is a shadow on it, try not to shield the bulb completely.
Elizabeth2. June 2015
I am a film photographer and have been shooting film as a preference instead of digital. I normally work in the dark room and don’t come across too many under exposed photos. I am now traveling and scanning my own negatives to make postcards of my travels. I shoot with an old Nikon FG. It has a light meter in the camera. I also have a spot meter as well.
I took a zone systems workshop and was trying to get the same results off memory and failed. When I went to scan my negatives they were under exposed. Or the highlights very blown out, even though my negatives looked great. I am now using just the meter in camera and the results are easier to scan but by no means do I feel like I’m getting the best scan as I still have too much exposure work to do in camera raw.
My first question regarding your article here: do you set your camera to half the ISO as well? Or just your meter? Second question: how can I scan my negatives to be density correct. I read another article where they scan the film base and save it as a preset for that film, and while that improved it, it didn’t solve it.
I appreciate any help and feedback and input of suggestions you can give. Thank you for your time.
Johnny3. June 2015
Thanks very much for your question, Elizabeth.
If you use an external meter you have to shoot in manual and can disregard your camera settings. But it’s really important to judge your exposure based on your negatives and not based on your scans. If your negatives look great, the problem isn’t your camera or your meter, it’s very likely your scanner or the workflow.
But there’s a million things that can go wrong during scanning, especially if you don’t use pro grade lab equipment with the respective software. Density correction is done in your scanning software (often just via “brightness”).
James3. June 2015
Thanks for the clarification, much appreciated!
Well, just to let you know that I’m purchasing a film camera again on Saturday (my first in nearly 7 years!) due partly to your great site and pictures reminding me how nice film is to use, and partly to the fact I just had two slides (Ektachrome 100, if I recall) I shot in 1993 while in Yellowstone and Monument Valley scanned and printed large by a good photographer and printer here where I live.
All I can say is… WOW!
I own some pretty decent full-frame digital gear, and don’t get me wrong, it’s very good and definitely has it’s place, but those film images just had something else, something different, which really popped, and really made them stand out from the digital images I had printed alongside. I just had to get some of that going again in my life, which is how I found your site. I used to just project these when I wanted to view them back in the day, but I reckon that a good modern scan/print workflow, if it’s done to the standards I’ve just experienced, beats even that. There’s still that beautiful way the grain forms texture and density, a good scan/print takes away none of that. Frankly, I couldn’t be more happy.
Anyway, now I’ll probably shoot negative stock rather than positive, having seen some of the lovely images from modern film stocks being produced now. We really do seem to be in a golden age of film, and I hope many more people switch back, or run alongside digital, so that Kodak and Fuji keep making the films for us all. Personally I’ll stick to 35mm, as the slides were printed A3+ with no noticeable grain, and with more modern stock I’ll hit A2 or beyond easy if I need to, I reckon. There is something inherently more exciting about shooting film, I think, and more ‘real’ feeling – however nebulous that sounds, I personally feel it’s increasingly important in an era where nothing is ever more than fleeting data. That’s fine for some things, but not in an art form, somehow?
I’ll try your incident light meter technique – I always used to spend a long while using a spot-meter, but it would be nice to just use a simple incident if I can get away with it, to be honest!
All the best, and thanks for the great images, and the informative, passionate, site.
Johnny4. June 2015
James, thank you so much for your great feedback.
I’m so happy to read that you’re getting back into film! I completely agree with you, film is something very special and I’m always so happy when people appreciate its qualities. You are right, the grain and gradients of film give an image so much depth and make it look so natural. A digital print looks almost “fake” in direct comparison.
Modern color film stocks are amazing, it’s completely mind blowing how much exposure latitude these films have, especially Kodak Portra 400.
Thanks again for your wonderful comment. That really made my day!
James8. June 2015
No worries at all, I’ve found your site very inspirational!
Just to let you know, I ended up with a lovely Nikon F3, Nikkor 50 f/1.4, and Zeiss 28 f/2.
Currently shooting my first roll of Portra 160 and couldn’t be happier!
All the best,
Johnny9. June 2015
That’s really so great to hear, James! Enjoy your new camera! :)
Helen11. June 2015
This might seem to be a dumb question. But when you talk about overexposing 4-5 stops (400H for example), does that mean I need to set my meter reading to ISO 100 instead?
Quite confusing with all the calculations.
I love your blog, such a treat after a long day of work. :)
Johnny12. June 2015
Thanks very much for your question, Helen.
If you follow this tutorial you will overexpose your film by about 2-3 stops. You would have to set your meter to ISO 50 instead of ISO 200 to overexpose 4-5 stops (or just shoot at a slower shutter speed).
Thank you for your kind words about my blog. Glad to hear you’re enjoying it! :)
Laura Leslie16. June 2015
One word. AMAZING.
Thank you for sharing this.
Johnny16. June 2015
Thank you for your kind feedback, Laura! I’m happy you enjoyed the post.
Raynor Czerwinski16. June 2015
First of all, your work is absolutely beautiful. You obviously have a deep connection with your subjects, which in turn shows your presence and awareness. I always liked the saying that pictures are given, not taken… and you can clearly see that symbiosis in your work.
Secondly, I am blown away by the fact that you answer every single question on your blog! Even the same questions asked by different readers, all with patience, openness, and candor on your part! :-)
As far as I can tell by the fantastic images on your website, you mainly shoot in early to late morning? And dare I say it, but even midday? perhaps with some overcast light? A guess here, but your portfolio from Andalusia looks like most of it was photographed after 10am… is that possible?
The reason I’m asking this is that I’ve been photographing landscapes exclusively with Velvia 50 for about 9 years now, and with Velvia 50 (as you know) I would not dream of using this emulsion at these times of day. In fact, I generally only have about 3-10 min during sunset/sunrise where this film really sings (I live in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains at 9000 feet, so the light is incredibly fast and high contrast). There is of course the blue hour, but damn does Velvia get intensely blue in these times.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Velvia 50, but it is finicky. The fact that I have to be within 1/2 stop in accuracy for foreground and sky to get the print quality I want has helped me become incredibly sensitive to light quality, grad placement (I use the Mamiya 7ii system), and metering.
It’s funny, but when I leave home to go and photograph, I generally go to lower altitudes and higher latitudes e.g. Iceland, Scotland, etc… here I can get away with a few hours a day of shooting, equal to a months worth back in Crested Butte.
So my question is, with Portra 160/400 is it possible to get some great images at most times during the day? Is it possible that I could use your formula of exposing Portra 400 at 12:30pm in slightly overcast light at 9000 feet and actually have some usable images? Is it possible that I could use this magical emulsion you love to extend my meager daily photographic harvest to perhaps a few hours a day?
Wow, this is quite freeing if this is a possibility. I feel as if I’ve been in boot camp for the last 9 years (learning a ton and quite happy that I did this), but perhaps the drill sergeant does not have to be over my shoulder shouting “Drop and give me (Velvia) 50!!” Ha!
Thanks for your time Johnny, and I took the liberty of sending a small credit to Richards Lab in your name for the insights you have helped me achieve. :-)
Johnny17. June 2015
Raynor, thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a kind and comprehensive feedback.
I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed my work and I completely agree with you about pictures being given to you, not taken.
In regards to the shooting conditions, I don’t have set recipe that I follow. I usually prefer the light in the early morning or at the end of the day. But as you’ve pointed out correctly, I shoot pretty much in all conditions (even at midday) as I usually can’t plan that ahead of time.
Your time window with Velvia 50 at 9000 feet sounds crazy, I could never do that! But I have to say that you have really figured that film out, your work is beautiful.
Color negative film and slide film require a completely different approach. With Velvia you have to be very careful and meter really precisely (as you will know) while you don’t have to worry about your highlights when you shoot color negative film. I would suggest to try Portra 400 over Portra 160. It has more exposure latitude than any other film I know, it’s extremely forgiving and I love the color palette. I’m looking forward to seeing your pictures with it!
Richard19. June 2015
I have been following you and Rebecca’s work for some time and have learned (hopefully) a lot from your blog posts. I really want to try and shoot architecture and interiors with Fuji 400H and was wondering if you would have any suggestions towards the following:
1. If I overexpose the images (exposing for the shadows +2), should I instruct my lab in any way towards scanning in a certain way?
2. Shooting under different lighting conditions, such as tungsten, cloudy, shade etc. is it necessary to use filters or can the lab be instructed to take this into account when scanning. Not sure if post-processing with programs such as Lightroom is the way to go.
Don’t know if I am asking the correct questions here, but hope you could point me in the right direction. Thanks in advance.
Johnny20. June 2015
Thanks for your question, Richard.
You don’t need to instruct your lab to do anything differently when you overexpose. They should just process and scan the film as normal.
Film has a fixed white balance and needs color correction (during scanning, not in Lightroom). Natural light is no problem, artificial light (especially tungsten) usually doesn’t look that great, even if it’s color corrected. I would consider shooting a tungsten balanced film in these conditions (for example CineStill 800).
It’s great to hear that you’re enjoying Rebecca’s and my work. Thank you!
Tom5. July 2015
Last year I got a Fuji GW690 to (re)start film photography. I’ve shot some Tri-X 400 and two rolls of Portra 400 and was very unhappy with the results of the Portra. I guess that it had to do with my metering system cause I metered as I do in digital.
Now after reading your excellent post, I went to France (Ardèche) and took some rolls of Portra 400 and Tri-X 400 to experiment with. Once I have them developed and scanned (I first have to finish the last roll), I’m looking forward to show you the results. :-)
Do you have any hints for scanning the negatives? I don’t own a scanner yet, so a friend of mine will scan them on an Epson V850.
All the best!
Thank you for your post Johnny.
Johnny7. July 2015
Tom, thank you very much for your feedback.
I’m glad to read that you found this post helpful, please feel free to share some of your pictures with me once you have them back, I’d love to have a look.
It’s really important to consider that the work you do in camera (including metering) is only responsible for half of your results. The other half is done by your lab once you have your film scanned.
I don’t recommend using a flatbed scanner for color negative film. You will be able to achieve much better results if you work with a professional lab and have an experienced technician work on your scans.
David Eads9. July 2015
Reading your blog post on metering is intriguing.
I have been shooting film since about 14 years of age, having learned from an old photo-journalist, and don’t plan on crossing over anytime soon. I am primarily using a Nikon FE2 and F100 with all primes, although I enjoy medium format, as well. Incidentally, your approach to this is great.
I am traveling to Machu Picchu this fall and plan on shooting B&W with my FE2 and color with the F100. Definitely using Portra 400 now, and then, and using your metering system. My primary question here is regarding B&W.
My plan is to use a deep yellow filter with Tri-X to get some hopefully dramatic skies, etc. I realize that you don’t use filters, at least not regularly. If I adjust my meter at 200 and shadow the bulb to get one more stop, with blue skies and hopefully clouds, will I achieve enough contrast to not even need my yellow filter?
Thanks for your advice and inspiration.
Johnny11. July 2015
David, thanks so much for your kind comment.
You’re right, I don’t use filters at all. Overexposing Tri-X will give you a little more contrast, but if you’re looking for dramatic skies you would possibly be happier using your filter (especially if you’re used to the results).
I usually just push Tri-X a stop if I am looking for more contrast. :)
Cem13. July 2015
First I would like to thank you sharing your experiences on shooting film on your blog. It has helped me a lot improving my personal preferences!
I’ve read your article on “metering for film” and have some questions on that. I am mostly shooting medium format portraiture on color negative film (Portra 400) using a reflective spot meter. I do (as you described) cut down the film speed on Portra 400 and rate it at 200. Then I spot meter for the darkest area on my portrait subject which would give me a zone V reading in that area. Some other articles that I’ve read suggest that I have to stop down 2 more stops on that dark area to get better shadow detail on zone III.
My question now is, does this kind of metering become obsolete since I am reducing my film speed to 200 anyways (overexposing) or does it have something to do with my reflective metering method? I’m also afraid of overexposing my portrait subject by several stops thus I would also ask if this method of metering is any good for portraiture.
Keep up the great work and thank you!
Johnny14. July 2015
Thanks very much for your question, Cem. I’m happy to hear that you’re enjoying my blog!
Incident metering has a couple of general advantages over reflective metering. To stick with your example, the darkest point at your subject won’t always be zone “V”, this will vary with each lighting situation and even with the color that your subject is wearing. A matte black reflects less light than a shiny black surface, for example. Reflective metering is also very unreliable in difficult lighting situations (e.g. back lit scenes, strong contrast, fog, snow – as mentioned in the comments above) and might give you inconsistent results.
An incident meter will always give you a reliable reading and you can use it for any type of photography. With modern color negative film you also don’t have to worry about the zone system. Portra 400 has an enormous exposure latitude and about 18 stops of dynamic range.
Hana27. July 2015
many thanks for the article, it was just what I was looking for! I’m a beginner in film photography and mostly learning from articles now. I’m absolutely amazed and cannot believe I never thought of using film earlier. I started with photography rather late and film was talked about as something only the ‘old masters’ or very technical people would understand – it scared me a bit.
I have a question – when you say your camera is limited at 1/500 and you can’t go further… you would “pick the setting that is closest to the reading and err on the side of overexposure” – does that mean you’ll just leave it at 1/500? My apologies my English isn’t my first language and sometimes slang or technical terms would fail me. :)
Johnny28. July 2015
Hana, thanks very much for your comment.
That’s exactly right, if the meter reading suggests a shutter speed of 1/2000 I just leave my shutter at 1/500. Don’t be discouraged by the technical side of shooting film. Once you’ve figured out the basics it’s a lot easier than shooting a digital camera.
Caroline28. July 2015
I wanted to say that I am a avid reader of your blog from Estonia and you inspire me a lot. You make even the most difficult technical bits and pieces so enjoyable and fun. I always went around using a meter because it seemed scary and too mathematical for me. But now, as I am turning my eyes more and more back on film photography instead of digital, thanks to you, I might even pick up metering and start liking it. I used to just guess my light.
Thank you a lot for writing and doing what you do, it is amazing and inspiring.
Keep up the good work!
With love from Estonia. :)
Johnny29. July 2015
Thank you for your kind words, Caroline.
I agree with you, the technical background of photography can oftentimes be intimidating and for many people this collides with their artistic side. But I think it’s worth it to invest the time and work on your foundation – because it get’s everything technical out of the way.
Once you get consistent results you start to relax about metering and exposure and will be able to just guess in most situations (if you’re already doing that please keep it up!). You can shoot completely intuitively then and nothing stands between your vision and your end result.
Michael10. August 2015
I’m new to film and your simple approach and explanation to metering has really helped me to lose my fear of metering wrong and helped me understand the zone system a little bit better. I haven’t found such a great explanation around the web, thank you so much!
Now, I haven’t read all the comments, but I wanted to know if you overexpose by 2 stops even on an overcast day. If so, how do you meter this? Do you just take an incident meter reading and point the meter to the sky with your ISO set to half box speed and overexpose another stop manually or is it unnecessary to overexpose by 2 stops?
When you send your film for development to the lab, do you let them develop your film in a special way?
Last question, when you shoot B&W is it advisable to overexpose only by 1 stop, you mentioned in the article that B&W is a little bit more sensitive.
Best regards from Germany.
Johnny11. August 2015
Michael, thank you for your feedback and your questions.
I use the same metering method for all lighting conditions, no matter if I am shooting in direct sunlight or on an overcast day. The meter should always point towards the camera, not towards the light source.
Please read through the rest of the comments, you will find the answers to all of your questions there. Feel free to add another question if this doesn’t help you, I’m happy to answer it then.
Sara11. August 2015
Your post was fantastic and extremely helpful in understanding metering and exposing! I have borrowed a friends Contax for the week and I am anxious to go out and shoot! Being a perfectionist, I want to make sure that my rolls turn out!
If you rate Portra 400, or Fuji 400H for that matter at ISO 200, and then meter for the shadows, are you using the exact shutter speed reading from the light meter, or are you overexposing another stop on top of that “shadow” meter reading?
Johnny12. August 2015
Thanks very much for your kind feedback, Sara.
I usually pick the shutter speed that’s closest to my meter reading and err on the side of overexposure. But I am relatively limited as the fastest shutter speed of my Hasselblad is 1/500 (vs. 1/4000 with the Contax 645). So even if the meter suggests 1/2000 I shoot at 1/500.
Enjoy your week with the Contax, I’m sure you’ll love it. :)
Matt12. August 2015
Johnny. This is a fantastic article and one I’ve read several times over the last 18 months or so. I’m about to pull the trigger on a 500CM and your last reply caught my attention. I shoot wide open on my D810 at 1.4 and often need speeds on a sunny day of 1/8000.
On my Nikon FE, I only have 1/1000 so I use an ND filter to allow for the light at 1.4. So… you can see where I’m going with this… I’ll want to shoot at 2.8 with the 80mm Planar. You say above that even if your meter tells you 1/2000, you’ll still shoot at 1/500. What will that do? And what if the meter tells me to shoot at 1/4000? Shall I ever need a filter? Or will it just work if I stop the ISO down to 200 with Portra 400 for example as you’ve mentioned above.
I hope this hasn’t sounded all broken record. Just trying to get my head around it. I shoot fully manual on my DLSR’s and 35mm cameras but this is another jump again and I want to be as prepared as I can be. Many thanks and again, stellar work.
Johnny13. August 2015
Matt, thank you for your question. I really appreciate your feedback!
What you describe is exactly my experience with shooting digital cameras.
With color negative film (especially 400 speed films like Kodak Portra 400 or Fuji 400H) you have so much exposure latitude that you can usually shoot wide open in direct sunlight. As I’ve mentioned in this post and the comments, I don’t ever worry about that but I am a little more conservative with 35mm vs. medium format.
I shot an exposure bracket over 10 stops with Portra 400 last year and all 10 stops turned out to be usable. What you can actually see is that the Noritsu scanner hits its limit before the film does.
Ilya17. August 2015
Excellent article, lots to think about.
I shoot with a Nikon FE, and usually try to use the zone system combined with my DSLR meter or the built-in meter (which I know is a little bit off) to find the right exposure, so your article made me rethink my approach.
I wanted to ask what zone would you use specifically when you mean ‘expose for the shadow’. You have mentioned zones II (-3) to IV (-1) from medium grey. That’s a fairly wide range. Do you choose based on how high is the brightest part of the image?
How far can you go without needing a Graduated ND filter to bring back the highlights? Is it based on the typical film range about -3 to +6(+7) or so?
What I have been doing so far is finding the brightest part of the scene and setting that at +3, which is effectively exposing for the highlights. Or I would set the blue sky or green grass to 0 (zone V) which is the classic approach. Both probably result in an underexposed negative.
Johnny17. August 2015
Ilya, thank you for your feedback and your question.
The zone you meter for by exposing for the shadows changes with the light and the contrast range of a scene. You will get a different shadow reading in direct sunlight at noon vs. an overcast day, that’s not consistent.
I don’t worry about the highlights, personally. I let them fall where they will. I also don’t use graduated filters. Exposing for the highlights is a concept for slide film and digital cameras. With color negative film you have to worry about shadow detail, not blown out highlights.
Forest Kelley24. August 2015
A few points were unclear to me when you were talking about examples of exposure compensation. I’d love some clarification just to be sure I’m interpreting your points correctly.
For example, below the photograph of the street, you say “overexposed by 2 stops. If you are already standing in the shade you just take a normal reading.”. If you are taking a normal reading, why is that then an overexposure?
Example: “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.” I know this is a loose range, but does this 2-3 stops include the 1 stop from the film being rated by 1/2. I assume not since shadows would usually be 2-3 stops darker on their own.
Example: “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.” Why assign zone II to zone V if you were just taking about zone V? Why not say assign zone III to zone V?
Johnny24. August 2015
Thanks very much for your questions, Forest.
A lot of these points have already been discussed in the comments:
Taking a normal reading while you’re standing in the shade equals a shadow reading. You have to account for the contrast range of the whole scene and set in perspective where you are taking a meter reading.
The 2-3 stops include the 1 stop from rating your film half box speed. It’s a loose range because this also depends on the contrast of the scene (as mentioned above you will get a different shadow reading in direct sunlight at noon vs. an overcast day).
Zone “V” would be a reading for neutral grey at box speed. Depending on how you rate the film and the contrast range of the scene this will change (half box speed would bring zone “V” to zone “IV”).
It’s important to keep in mind that the zone system was invented for B&W sheet film and assumes a 10 stop range from pure black to pure white. This concept is basically obsolete because of the wide latitude of modern color negative film (have a look at this exposure bracket for Portra 400).
Eleanor2. September 2015
I am a year late into finding this blog, but have read and re-read it over and over again, and so thankful that I found it! I combed through the whole year’s worth of comments and clarifications and just am in awe of your graciousness and willingness to share your knowledge base and wisdom.
I find your generosity so refreshing, and I simply cannot wait to get my hands on my secondhand Nikon F6. I am traveling at the moment so I haven’t yet unboxed it. But I have already stocked the Fuji 400H, Portra 400, and Ilford B&W, and I will have a Lumu waiting for me when I get home as well, I have no idea what happened to my Sekonic light meter. I have written for myself, line by line, steps 1 through 4 on getting a planned 3+ stop overexposure for my films. I am absolutely astounded by how compact and easy it was to understand this article!
You have absolutely given such a gift to your readers here, the world is a better place because you have shared your own gifting.
Many, many thanks,
Johnny4. September 2015
Eleanor, thank you so much for your kind feedback.
Your words are very humbling. I believe in sharing knowledge and helping other people succeed. I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed the post and found it helpful. Thank you for taking the time to read the comments too.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy your new camera very much! :)
Robert8. September 2015
Mind = blown.
I’m from the digital realm and shooting my first film camera and I really am having a hard time wrapping my mind around this concept.
I’m going to re-read this and then shoot as you describe. I can’t believe your bracketing images look the way that they do… it’s… well… unbelievable! :)
Very good article, thanks for writing it.
Johnny9. September 2015
You’re right, Robert – this is hard to believe at first, especially when you’re coming from digital. But it helps a lot with the uncertainty that you might feel not being able to check your images on the back of the camera right away. That usually takes some time getting used to.
Thank you for your kind feedback!
Lily11. September 2015
You really are Johnny Patience to answer the same question over and over. Thanks for all that you do to make this world a thriving creative community.
Johnny12. September 2015
Thank you for your kind words, Lily. Glad you found what you’ve been looking for!
Florian20. September 2015
You wrote that you use the Sekonic L-398 A. Did you notice any effect of the strong magnetic field on the film and/or camera? Do you also have an other light meter for low light situations?
By the way I like your website and your photos very much.
Greetings from Germany,
Johnny21. September 2015
Florian, thank you for your question.
The Sekonic L-398 A won’t interfere with your film cameras or your film, but hard drives, memory cards and possibly sensors shouldn’t get too close. I’ve never had any problems with that, though, and you would have to get pretty close to the meter for this to affect anything.
I usually just use my Lumu now instead of the Sekonic. It’s very portable and works great in all lighting conditions.
Gabriella22. September 2015
Thanks so much for your blog post! I am very excited to try to out these helpful techniques that make it easier to shoot film. I am so glad to find more and more pioneers of film photography and to discover better and easier ways to produce more quality imaging. Thanks again! :)
Johnny23. September 2015
Thank you for your feedback, Gabriella. I’m sure you’ll enjoy shooting film a lot.
I’m glad you found this post helpful! :)
Johnny Schroepfer29. September 2015
First, thank you so much for taking the time to provide insight into your creative process as your images are beautiful. I’ve read most of your blog and almost every comment in this post as well and just had a few questions for you.
I’m attempting to pick up film again and it’s safe to say I’m new to the process and have been shooting digital for years. I currently have a Hasselblad 500 C/M and I picked up a Sekonic meter you suggested above. With that said,
1. You mentioned using Richard Photo Lab and being able to use your Color PAC. Can you provide a bit more insight into what a Color PAC is and how I would “use” yours as a starting point?
2. Assuming I’m using Portra 400. I would rate the film at 200, set the ISO on my camera to 400, and shoot. That simple? Seems so simple that I’m missing something!
3. General Landscape: How do you meter for something you’re shooting so far away? For example, the coast of California or some mountains in Seattle… would I meter a few feet in front of my Hasselblad, with the bulb pointed towards the camera of course!
Thanks so much for your help and I look forward to future posts and I’m a huge fan.
Johnny29. September 2015
Johnny, thanks for your kind words and your questions.
1. I share a lot of information about the process in my blog post about Richard Photo Lab, please have a look. Using my Color PAC is free, there is a space on the RPL order form and you can just check it and note “Johnny Patience”. RPL will scan your film exactly with the same preferences then.
2. Yes, it’s that simple – but you have to set the meter (not the camera!) accordingly.
3. Metering for a landscape/cityscape is my second example above. You take a normal reading (where you are standing) and shade your bulb with your hand to get the shadow value if you cannot meter for the shadows.
I’m happy to see you’re shooting a Hasselblad too!
Ashoke6. October 2015
The secret of metering film has been (over) exposed! This blog has given me hope!
Johnny6. October 2015
Thank you, Ashoke! Glad you found it helpful.
Johnny Schroepfer9. October 2015
One other question regarding the Sekonic L-398A. I’ve noticed some tutorials take the reading, align the red arrow with the foot candle reading and then set the black arrow to align as well while others simply skip the red arrow alignment and just match the black arrow on the dial with the foot candle reading.
Any tips on how you meter with the L-398A?
Johnny9. October 2015
I’m not sure if I understand your question right, Johnny.
The red arrow labeled “H” is the arrow you would use when your “high” slide is inserted in the light meter, otherwise you use the black arrow. The other red arrow on the outside of the dial is just a helper to remember your reading.
If your meter reads “160” (without the “high” slide), you would set the black arrow to “160”, then find your aperture (e.g. 2.8) and then set the shutter speed accordingly (e.g. 1/125).
Kelvin9. October 2015
Amazingly clear and informative write up.
Exactly what I’m looking for as I’m debating on switching to film. So for B&W, as you’ve touched on a bit, would I generally overexpose a stop less than color?
Johnny10. October 2015
Thanks for your kind feedback, Kelvin.
Yes, as a rule of thumb that’s correct. With B&W it really depends on the film stock and the speed. Generally ISO 400 speed film stocks handle overexposure very well (B&W and color, not slide film).
Kara11. October 2015
Hi! I always come back to your posts, especially this one. They’re clear and insightful. Thank you!
I came across a lighting situation today that stumped me. I’m still learning. I had two cameras with me and my light meter. One was a Pentax645N with Fuji 400H rated at 200 and the other my full frame Nikon. We were at a wedding in the blue ridge mountains and I was standing in the shadow of the front of the mansion. The sun was behind the house and was illuminating the view of the mountains in front of it. Since I was already in the shadow I took my light meter, bulb out, and took a reading.
When I used that reading in my digital camera it was VERY overexposed. I ended having to stop down quite a bit and then I got nervous about using the film camera and getting a bunch of blown shots. What did I do wrong?
Johnny11. October 2015
Thanks for your feedback and your question, Kara.
You didn’t do anything wrong, that’s the desired effect. But this won’t work with a digital camera. Your film scans will be perfectly exposed without blown highlights. Nothing to worry about! :)
Kelvin13. October 2015
Cool! Thanks Johnny.
Keep up the great work.
Johnny14. October 2015
Thank you too, Kelvin!
Gabi Bucataru14. October 2015
Fabulous post! Thanks much, Johnny!
One quick question. I see a lot of Sekonic L-398A on Ebay, some of them new. Is there anything I should know about knock-offs vs. real ones?
Johnny15. October 2015
Gabi, thanks for your kind feedback.
I’ve never seen any knock-offs anywhere. Personally, I would still prefer a new one just to make sure it’s accurate. The L-398A is analog and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Emily17. October 2015
I’ve been shooting film again lately and couldn’t figure out what the deal was with my blacks being all washed out. Thank you!
Johnny18. October 2015
Thanks for your feedback, Emily.
That’s right, faded blacks and/or dull colors are usually caused by underexposure. Glad to hear you found this post helpful!
Michael Mancilla5. November 2015
Thank you so much for all of your valuable information, I greatly appreciate it. I want to use film and I have purchased a medium format camera as I would like to use 120 film, one quick question if you don’t mind.
Your method is great, but, does it work the same if I want to shoot cityscapes at night or sun down to catch the building lights, water fronts, for example Long Beach, CA.
Thank you for any input you can provide.
Johnny6. November 2015
Thanks very much for your kind words, Michael.
Yes, this metering method works reliably in all lighting conditions. Please note that you need to account for reciprocity failure if you don’t have enough available light.
Ted7. November 2015
Thanks for the insightful post, Johnny!
I just have a question though… how is over-/underexposing different from pushing/pulling the film?
Johnny9. November 2015
Ted, thank you for your question.
Your exposure determines how much light you get onto the medium while you’re shooting. Both pushing and pulling happen afterwards during processing and are usually done to compensate for over-/or underexposure (by changing the development times).
If you don’t have enough available light to shoot a film stock at box speed, you can shoot it a stop faster (for example Tri-X 400 at ISO 800) and then push it a stop to compensate. Pulling is the same logic reversed but usually not necessary because most modern color negative and B&W film stocks handle overexposure very well.
Kara19. November 2015
I asked you a question a few comments back and I finally got my film back and you were right! Thank you! Most of my shots looked pretty good! I am surprised how different the ratings are for film compared do digital.
I do have another question I’ve been trying to clear up and have gotten confused with reading too many things. When you say you rate your film at half box speed (for example) does that mean you set the camera ISO settings at half or do you leave the camera settings at whatever speed the film is but set the ISO to half box speed on the meter? I’ve been doing both. So if I shoot Portra 400 I tell the camera it’s 200 film and tell the meter it’s 200 film too.
Thank you! Love your posts!
Johnny21. November 2015
Thank you, Kara. I’m happy to hear your results came out great!
I recommend using an external light meter only and not using your in-camera meter and a handheld meter at the same time. If you shoot in manual, you can apply the reading of your external meter and disregard your camera settings (and the internal meter of your camera). If you have to set the values for some reason they should be identical.
Joseph22. November 2015
This is great, thanks.
Coming back to film this has jogged my memory (and probably saved me many thin negs). I’ve got a bunch of old Portra NC in the fridge and I want to do it justice.
Johnny23. November 2015
I’m glad to hear you found this post helpful, Joseph. Enjoy shooting your Portra, 400 NC is one of my favorite film stocks ever made.
Charles Stephens25. November 2015
Great article, just getting into film.
I get it! Meter for the shadows; if no shadow create the shadow with your palm. Also followed up with Richard Photo Lab and advises no pulling in the processing for colour film. Really makes sense.
Johnny26. November 2015
Thank you, Charles. :)
That sums it up nicely. And you’re right, the lab needs to process the film as normal.
Wirasathya26. November 2015
Thank for your blog, it has really helped me so much understanding metering.
I am still bit confused, my camera only has 1/500 shutter speed and I find it hard to shoot in bright light. Sometimes I set my aperture to f22 or f16 and the shutter to 1/500 and I can’t get the DoF I would like to get. If I use Portra 160 and overexpose 2 stops (which is 100) so I just need to set my meter to ISO 100 and meter the shadow? Will I be able to set the aperture to f5.6 or below?
Thank you, sorry if that is a dumb question. :)
Johnny27. November 2015
Wirasathya, thanks very much for your question.
Whether or not you can shoot wide open in bright sunlight depends on the lens and the film you’re using. Have a look at the exposure bracket for Portra 400 that I shot on the Hasselblad (wide open at f2.8).
Two stops from 160 would be 40 and not 100, though. I wouldn’t overexpose Portra 160 more than 2 stops, personally. Portra 400 handles overexposure way better.
Shaan van Inde28. November 2015
Would you say that Kodak T-Max 400 would benefit from a one stop overexposure?
Johnny29. November 2015
Thanks for your question, Shaan.
Yes, pretty much every 400 speed color negative and true B&W film will benefit from overexposing it a stop.
William Gonzales16. December 2015
Excellent pictures and blog! Thanks!
Do you let you lab know that you are pulling the film so they compensate the time when developing?
Johnny18. December 2015
Thanks for your kind feedback and your question, William.
The lab processes as normal. Have a look here, here and here please.
Tamara Lewis29. December 2015
I have been trying to get this question answered for a long time with no success. And I apologize if someone already asked it. But if I’m shooting Fuji 400H (for example) and I want to shoot it at ISO 200, do I set the ISO in my camera to 200 and then also enter ISO 200 into my handheld light meter and meter for the shadows? Or do I keep the ISO in my camera set at 400 and only enter ISO 200 into my hand-held light meter?
Johnny29. December 2015
Tamara, thanks for your question.
I recommend using an external meter only. Please have a look here and here.
Adrian3. January 2016
Thank you for sharing, very interesting article.
I’m having a lot of problems with my M3 using the Voightlander VC meter and Fujifilm. I don’t think that I am metering properly, all my photos look overexposed. Have you ever used the VC meter, if so your opinion and input would be great.
Thank you in advance and I always enjoy your articles!
Johnny4. January 2016
Thank you, Adrian! Glad to hear that you enjoyed reading it. :)
I have no experience with that particular meter, but I recommend using an external handheld meter over a reflective meter. If your pictures look overexposed, please take a look at the negatives and investigate the scanning process. Overexposure doesn’t mean that your results will look too bright.
David Schmaus10. January 2016
Really glad I found this post! Thank you for taking the time to educate. I tried to read all the responses so I wasn’t asking a duplicate question.
If you are over exposing say Porta 160 by 3 stops are you telling the lab to compensate during negative development or are you having them develop it at 160 and “fix” it during the scan?
Johnny12. January 2016
David, thanks very much for your feedback and your question.
The lab processes as normal, but there’s nothing they have to fix during scanning. All you’re doing is making use of the latitude of your film. Be a little more cautious with Portra 160, though. Portra 400 handles overexposure much better and has better latitude.
Fabiola22. January 2016
Johnny- someone posted this link in a film group yesterday and as soon as I saw your name attached to it I KNEW I had to read it. Always thankful for your guidance, insight and willing to educate those hungry to learn about film!
Johnny23. January 2016
Thanks very much for your kind feedback, Fabiola. Glad you enjoyed the post!
Julio Medina24. January 2016
Hello Johnny, great post!
I was reading this because I’m going to start shooting film and don’t want to waste too many rolls learning to expose properly. I live in Perú and film related things are really expensive (and photo gear in general) but I really want to shoot it anyway, I really like it. I just bought a Pentax Super Program and a couple of rolls of Acros 100 (because a friend came from the USA and got them cheap) and that’s pretty much all I can spend for now (considering lab developing) so, an external meter is really not in my budget in the near future.
So my question is, Is it really bad to trust the camera’s meter? I’ve read all your responses and you really emphasize using an external meter but I can’t afford one. Even cheap second hand ones from Amazon will cost a lot with shipping and taxes.
Another option I was considering was using the Sunny 16 rule but again I read you don’t consider it to be that reliable. So how do you think I should approach using film and exposing it properly (at least until I can get an external meter)? I was also thinking maybe to follow the camera reading but leaning towards the overexposed side?
Well, I hope you can help me with this, and excuse me if my English is not so good at times.
Johnny25. January 2016
Julio, thanks very much for your comprehensive feedback and your questions.
I admire that you decided to shoot film purely for the love of it, especially if the costs are such a big concern. I completely agree with you about the approach, I would also prefer to shoot less volume than not shooting film at all.
I think I would try to double check your camera’s meter against a handheld meter and make sure it works properly if you have a chance. If you rate your film at half box speed and use the internal meter you will see how the images come out. That should work ok for most situations if you account for the light, but as you’ve seen – I would not recommend it if you have an option.
I would love to see your images at some point if you would like to share them. I’ve dreamed about photographing in your country many times.
Dan6. February 2016
Just discovered your blog. I’m getting back into film after taking the digital detour and was searching to better understand pushing/pulling/exposure variations etc. Thanks for the great easy-to-follow instruction and explanations!
Johnny7. February 2016
Thank you, Dan! I really appreciate your kind feedback.
Norbert Woehnl8. February 2016
I’m a fan of your film work, and I wanted to thank you today for not only providing this tremendous resource for film photographers, but also for taking the time to diligently respond to all the comments which makes this page an even richer pool of knowledge than it already was with your original article.
I got more seriously back into film as of last year when I found a mint Mamiya 6 and matching 50mm and 75mm lenses in Tokyo, Japan. So far, I always shot color film at box speed relying on the camera’s internal meter (with one of my proudest results so far visible in my website link), but over time I also got back some disappointingly underexposed shots. So I definitely want to step up my game and will try to follow your approach on my next trip to Japan this spring. :)
Thanks again, and best wishes
Johnny9. February 2016
Norbert, thanks so much for your kind words. I’m really happy to hear that. :)
I really enjoyed looking at your pictures, thank you for sharing the link! Japan is a destination I always wanted to photograph too.
I think your results look great. But you’re right, color negative film generally benefits from overexposure and you will be able to achieve even more consistency if you apply a reliable metering technique. I hope you’ll enjoy your next trip!
Viktor27. February 2016
I wanted to ask when you shoot in overcast light or on a cloudy day without shadows, do you shade the bulb with your hand to get the shadow? Thank you.
Johnny28. February 2016
Thanks for your question, Viktor.
Yes, that’s exactly right. If you don’t have a shadow, you just shade the bulb with your hand.
Chandler2. March 2016
Does this metering method apply to motion picture film exposure as well, or is exposure for stills and motion picture film two different things? Are there any differences between still film and motion picture film that aren’t talked about in regular discussion?
Johnny3. March 2016
Chandler, thank you for your question.
I have no experience with actual cinematography, but I am assuming you’re referring to shooting CineStill film. CineStill is based on Kodak’s Vision 3 film and has a lot of latitude. You can expose it the same way as discussed.
The only thing that I can think of when shooting CineStill film would be halation (which occurs due to Remjet removal) and white balance (Tungsten vs. daylight), but I think that’s part of the regular discussion.
Chris Lamb3. March 2016
Thank you for such an interesting and well illustrated article. What a great site – I appreciate your effort and enjoy your photographs.
Johnny4. March 2016
Thank you for your kind comment, Chris.
Shawn Lowe4. March 2016
Love your blog post. I’m also impressed with how you reply to every single person. Well done!
I have a Pentax 6×7 and brought it on a trip with 9 rolls of film (Kodak Portra 400 & Fuji Pro 400H). I didn’t realize that overexposing my film was as important as it is. So unfortunately, I came back home with 90 underexposed shots. Pretty devastating but I learned so much I guess, haha. Can’t wait to go shooting again and start overexposing. Thanks so much for your help!
One question about incident metering for landscapes. How does one take an accurate reading if the subject is so far in the distance (i.e. infinity focus). Because doesn’t the light meter need to be facing the camera from the subjects point of view? I just don’t understand how incident readings work for landscape photography. Might be a dumb question…
Johnny6. March 2016
Shawn, thank you for your kind words.
I’m really so sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience. It’s not necessary to overexpose, but it’s essential to meter correctly to get good and consistent results. If so many of your pictures were underexposed, I would definitely check your meter (and metering method).
I’ve mentioned landscapes in my examples above, please have a look at the rooftop shot from Provence. For a landscape/cityscape you can take a normal meter reading and shade the bulb with your hand to get the shadow value.
Rick26. March 2016
Thank you for a great series of posts! You’ve inspired me to take some film out of the freezer.
Following up on Shawn’s question about metering for distant scenes, am I correct in thinking that if the distant scene is in sunlight and you are in shade (or vice versa), you want to be “metering in the light of the subject”? So if you are in shade with subject in sun, just take a reading in the shade without using your hand to shield the meter, since you are in shade to begin with? Otherwise, wouldn’t you be double-compensating?
Johnny27. March 2016
Thank you very much for your question, Rick.
That’s absolutely correct, please see my last example above. If you are already standing in the shade you just take a normal meter reading.
Johnny27. March 2016
I came across your blog several months ago while living in Paris and you inspired me to revisit film as I found myself trying to replicate film look using digital cameras. I’ve been shooting with a Hasselblad 500CM and 80mm f/2.8 using your metering advice and absolutely love it. I’ve also recently picked up a Leica M6 and Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2. That said, I have a few questions and I thank you in advance that I think may help the larger thread!
1. You mentioned that you tend to always shoot wide open with both of your cameras but you’re more careful with 35mm. Can you elaborate of what you’re careful about and/or how you resolve these common issues?
2. You’ve consistently mentioned how the lens is the most important part. What made you trade in the Carl Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM for the Summicron-M 50mm f/2?
3. Some of my images come out a little washed out after following the advice above (Hasselblad 500CM, 80mm, Portra 400 at 200 ISO, etc.) – any advice? I feel I’m so close to my desired output.
Thank YOU for your advice and wealth of resources, it truly has inspired me and helped me grow.
Johnny27. March 2016
Thanks again for your feedback, Johnny.
I’m glad to read that you’re enjoying your setup as much as I do. I read your blog post and had a look at your pictures, I think they came out really great! :)
I’d like to answer your questions:
1. The larger your negatives are, the more exposure latitude they have (with the same film stock). 35mm film has less latitude than medium format, medium format has less latitude than large format. I regularly shoot medium format 4-5 stops over but I try to avoid shooting 35mm with that much overexposure (2-3 stops is no problem). If I don’t have a choice I just go for it, but I tend to shoot at the end of the day when the light is a little softer, so I usually don’t run into that problem very often.
2. Yes, I still think that that’s right. I’ve tried a lot of 50mm lenses on my Leicas and I really enjoyed both the (“new”) Nokton ASPH VM and the Carl Zeiss Sonnar. The Nokton renders very close to the Leica Summilux but has a lot of barrel distortion (which is not correctable in the darkroom). The Sonnar is very difficult in directional light and high contrast situations. The Summicron is almost exactly in the middle between these two. It’s by far the best 50mm lens I’ve ever shot. It’s technically very good and optically superior to most other lenses without being clinical or too perfect, like the Summilux. I also prefer f/2 over f/1.4 for B&W darkroom prints. I think too much blur doesn’t look good in print (and I like to shoot wide open).
3. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your pictures at all. What you might see is a little bit less contrast due to mild flare in the one or the other shot. You could help this a little bit by shooting with a lens hood.
David Willis5. April 2016
Just wanted to say that I’ve just discovered your work and am loving your blog posts too.
I just have a question regarding the metering at half box speed (apologies if its been asked and answered before but I still cant quite get my head around it). If as example I rate a 400 film at 200, I input 200 ISO into the light meter and take a reading, do I then input all the setting into the camera or do I keep the camera set at 400 ISO but input the meter reading for the other settings.
Hope this makes sense.
Johnny8. April 2016
David, thanks for your question.
Yes, it makes sense and has been asked and answered a couple of times already. Please have a look here, here and here.
Steven Branstetter27. May 2016
Please excuse if this question has been asked. I love how simple you put things, so maybe you can help me from going crazy about metering. I have a Leica M6 and wanting to know the best and easiest way to understand metering. Do I use my in camera meter? And if so, what is the best way to go about it using it. I do have a Sekonic 358. For weddings and family sessions how would I use it? Can you provide for B&W and color?
Thanks so much,
Johnny30. May 2016
Thank you for your kind feedback and your question, Steve.
I do not recommend using an internal meter, a handheld incident meter will give you the best and most consistent results. Please read the blog post and the comments again, we’ve discussed in detail how to hold, set and read a meter (please see “My metering method” for reference).
This method works the same in all lighting conditions – no matter if you shoot landscapes, bridal portraits or a family session. Please feel free to add a question that hasn’t been discussed and I’m happy to help.
Jeff31. May 2016
Thanks so much for this information, I really appreciate it.
I have one question though, you said you rate at half box speed so 400 would be 200. But do you rate Portra 160 at 80 or 100? I’m new to shooting 160 but I live in Texas so it is insanely bright all the time.
Would Portra 800 be 400 or would you do somewhere in the middle say 1/3 over at 640? Look forward to the answer.
Johnny2. June 2016
Jeff, thanks for your comment and your questions.
Rating the film at half box speed applies to all of the film stocks you’ve mentioned. This would mean Portra 160 at 80, Portra 400 and at 200 and Portra 800 at 400 (one full stop).
As I’ve mentioned above, it’s a misconception that you need to shoot a slower film in direct sunlight. Portra 400 is faster than Portra 160, but it handles overexposure much better. I shot Portra 400 in Death Valley at noon (4-5 stops over) and the film handled it great.
Daniel6. June 2016
Just wanted to start off by saying what an amazing website you have. Very informative and I am learning so much from just reading your articles. I am trying to get into medium format film and can’t say how much your articles have helped guide me.
I do have a couple questions about rating film. Can I use the ASA dial on the back of the camera and set it half box speed and expose for the shadows or would you recommend leaving that alone and use a handheld meter setting it to half box speed and expose for shadows.
In addition when developing the film at the lab, would I need to tell the operator to develop it at box speed or half box speed and would I need to tell them any additional information? Sorry I’m new to film as well as the whole developing process.
Thanks so much!
Johnny7. June 2016
Thank you very much, Daniel. Thanks so great to hear!
Please have a look here, here and here about rating the film and here, here and here about processing it.
Daniel9. June 2016
Thanks Johnny for the reply! Just picked up some presets from you wife as well as a Contax RX based on what I’ve seen with her work and the Aria.
I’ve read a lot about RPL but haven’t sent them my work yet but I wanted to see if I could use your PAC, would I need to tell RPL anything specific in the order form to be able to use your PAC?
Thanks again for your reply on my earlier post,
Johnny10. June 2016
That’s so great, Daniel. I’m sure you will enjoy both! :)
Please feel free to use my color PAC for your film scans. Just select “use Color PAC” on RPL’s order form and write “Johnny Patience” in the field. Please make sure to also check “Frontier”, as that’s the scanner I ask them to use for my work.
Pedro Matos15. June 2016
Hi Johnny. Great article. Just one question: if I rate the film half box speed, should it be developed at box speed or at this “new” speed? I’m thinking about B&W film development. Thank you.
Johnny15. June 2016
Pedro, thanks for your question. You develop the film at its normal speed, there is no need to adjust the development times.
Daniel15. June 2016
Thank you Johnny!!!!
Keep up the inspiring work
Johnny16. June 2016
Thank you kindly, Daniel! :)
Tracey Taylor21. June 2016
I have a question about overexposing 400 ISO colour film. If I set my Light meter to 200 ISO, do I also need to set the ISO in the camera to 200? Or only in the light meter?
Johnny21. June 2016
Thanks for your question, Tracey. Please have a look here.
Adam White23. June 2016
Like the post. I really do. But for metering when it concerns B&W, do meter for the highlights or stick to the shadows. I have seen it spun both ways. Do not know if anyone has asked this yet?
Johnny25. June 2016
Thanks for your question, Adam.
Definitely meter for the shadows with B&W, metering for the highlights would be for slide film. I shoot Tri-X 400 the exact same way as color negative film, but I would be a little more careful with slower emulsions. This has been discussed in the comments too, please have a look.
Josh Rush28. June 2016
I know this is an older post, but I found it very helpful. Was curious what your thoughts are regarding the Sekonic L-398A vs. Lumu after a few years of use?
Johnny28. June 2016
Josh, thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you found the post helpful!
I prefer the Lumu over the Sekonic for a while now. It’s very portable and I have my phone with me all the time, so it saves having to carry another device in my camera bag.
Adam White29. June 2016
Thank you for the answer Johnny. I tend to stick to 400 ASA/ISO for B&W… rarely do I use 100 speed anymore.
Johnny29. June 2016
Thank you for your reply, Adam.
With a 400 speed true B&W film you don’t have to worry about latitude. Just be aware that your exposure will affect the look of your final result in regards to tonal range, grain and contrast.
Baron Brooks1. July 2016
Johnny, one of the best write ups about exposing for film I’ve ever read.
Ok, just one question. When you use Kodak Portra 400 for example and you set your ISO to 200. Where is your light meter set for the initial reading in terms of ISO? 400 or 200?
Please advise and thanks so much.
Baron Brooks1. July 2016
Johnny, sorry… I read it again. Got it! In this instance the meter would be set to 200.
Johnny1. July 2016
Thanks so much for your kind feedback and your question, Baron.
That’s exactly right, you rate the film at 200 and let the lab develop as normal. Glad you found it! :)
Jarrod1. July 2016
Thank you for this write up. I have been shooting digital and 35mm for a little while now. Nothing too serious and nothing that the TTL metering could not handle. I recently started shooting 6×9 with a zone focus Zeiss folder which has required me to approach things from a completely different direction. My questions about your metering method and suggestions are these:
1. I mainly shoot B&W film (400 usually), is there a setting difference? I know that B&W has more tonal range than color does. Can I still take the 400 and meter for 200 and count that as a stop? Or, should I take advantage of more range a rate the film differently?
2. Any difference in metering incident vs. spot metering for the darkest area with detail? Once metered, I get a suggestion of shutter and f-stop (using a simple Sekonic L-318). I have read that you leave the f-stop suggestion alone (for DoF) and only adjust shutter speed to bring the shadow region into zone 5. Correct?
Thanks for your time. It is an adventure using this old folder!
Johnny3. July 2016
Jarrod, thanks very much for your comment and your question.
The problem with film isn’t so much the metering approach, but understanding how metering will affect your exposure and how exactly your exposure will affect your results (scans and prints).
This is especially important if you’re just starting out or switching over from digital. TTL metering reliably fails in very many lighting conditions and with film you cannot just check the back of your camera and redo a shoot, you need to rely on getting it right the first time. That’s why I strongly recommend using an external incident light meter.
1. I shoot 400 speed true B&W film exactly the same as color negative film. I love to overexpose and I love the results, in the darkroom as much as with scans. I have a separate in-depth blog post about B&W film coming soon and I will share my lessons learned once the article is ready.
2. Yes, there’s always a difference between reflective metering and incident metering. One method evaluates how much light is falling on your subject, the other method measures how much light is reflected by your subject. Try this with a matte black surface vs. a glossy surface for example, then make another attempt in directional light or on a foggy day.
I’m sure your enjoy your camera with either metering technique. Mine is just one possible way to achieve decent results, but by no means the only way.
Rodney Drewery6. July 2016
Greetings and a hearty “thank you” for this post!
Being relatively new to film, but somehow owning a small collection of medium format and 35mm film bodies, makes me ripe for mistakes. I have just recently learned to develop negatives on my own, but that’s not really something to brag about given my results. There’s a noticeable difference between my humble methods, and those of pro labs! But I digress. I am beginning to pay a great deal more attention to metering fundamentals and your post definitely shed some light (no pun intended) on what could be going wrong for me.
I have the same two light meters you mentioned in the post, and I do try to use them almost always. Almost. I do tend to rely on the internal meter of my Nikon F100 when I’m out with it, but for most every other film body I either use the “sunny 16” rule an educated guess. I have also started to jot down my settings for each frame in hopes that it will help correct the error of my ways.
Your post has earned a place on my must read again and often list. Thanks again.
Johnny7. July 2016
That’s so great to hear, Rodney. I’m glad you found the post helpful.
There’s definitely a learning curve with shooting film and I am still learning something every day, I think that’s the beauty of it. It’s a very humbling but very rewarding process I think. :)
Sean Chandler16. July 2016
Excellent article. Excellent tips.
I’ve shot digital for 10 years, but I’ve just been given a 1947 Leica iiic and have bought a used RZ67 Pro.
I’m on the fence regarding metering, and am considering a Lumu or used Sekonic 358. I’ve read that the display of the Lumu iPhone app can be confusing. Any thoughts on that?
If the meter tells me for example I need a shutter speed of 1/1000 – but the max. shutter speed on the RZ67 is 1/400, do I crank up the exposure comp dial to suit?
Thanks for any input.
Johnny18. July 2016
Sean, thanks for your comment and your questions.
I think the Lumu app is very easy to use, personally. But there’s really nothing that speaks against using a normal external light meter. I like the portability of the Lumu a lot and it doesn’t require any extra batteries either.
I recommend shooting in manual and not using the exposure compensation. You would set your camera to the shutter speed that’s closest to your reading. In this case you would leave it at 1/400 and let the film handle the increased exposure.
Tim30. July 2016
That truly was an insanely good article. It’s by far the best article I’ve seen about the subject on the web – and incredibly concise to boot. Thank you very much!
Using your hand to meter for shadows is ingenious. If I’m using slide film & metering for highlights, is there a similarly ingenious method you’d recommend?
Johnny31. July 2016
Thanks for your kind words, Tim. I appreciate your feedback and I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the post.
Color reversal film needs to be exposed precisely and is much more difficult to expose correctly than color negative or B&W film. It would require a whole blog post for itself to cover this well, that’s why I didn’t touch on the topic in this post. One of the problems with slide film is that it has very little latitude and the results heavily depend on the contrast range of the scene.
For slide film you basically reverse this method. You rate the film at box speed and meter for the brightest part of the image. It’s also a good idea to bracket your exposures until you can judge your film stock and the lighting situation.
Brian Hamill23. August 2016
I much enjoyed reading this, and was intrigued by the image of the chair, so much so that I put a copy into Tonality Pro to see where the shadows in the image were falling into the Zone system.
The darkest part of the image is of course not the area by the chair, but the area on the shadow side of the open window shutter – here the shadows fall into Zone II, whereas those to the right of the leg of the chair are Zones V, IV and III.
Had I been shooting that image, I would have aimed to produce an image broadly similar to yours, with a similar exposure. But I think I would have metered off the shadow side of the shutter and stopped down by 2 or 3 stops to move that area from Zone V to Zones III or even II.
I’d be very interested to know what you think of this approach, and whether there are better ways of doing it?
Thanks for a great post – the best I’ve found on the internet.
Johnny23. August 2016
Brian, thanks so much for your kind comment and your detailed feedback.
The idea behind using an incident meter and metering for the shadows is getting a well exposed subject. Therefore, you would ideally meter for the shadow areas closest to your subject.
But there’s a slight misconception in your train of thought. Pulling the image into Tonality Pro won’t give you any information about the exposure or what zones would apply. What you measured is the final result, density corrected and scanned to my preference, not the negative.
With film there are always two factors, how you expose your negative and how you scan it. You could scan a perfectly exposed negative for the highlights and the histogram of the scan would suggest your image is underexposed.
Brian Hamill24. August 2016
When I woke up this morning something was “niggling” me about what I had posted. And of course you’ve nailed it. Thank you.
There is so much to learn about film, and I’m finding your posts on the subject to be such a helpful resource.
Johnny24. August 2016
No problem at all, Brian. I’m happy you found it helpful. :)
Ryan30. August 2016
Hey Johnny, probably a dumb question, but I’m guessing when you’re shooting Portra 400, metering at 200, using those measurements, you’re telling the lab or developing at 200. Or are you keeping the development at box speed and letting the lab stop before over-development of the highlights?
Amazing post, going to try tomorrow.
Johnny31. August 2016
Ryan, that’s not a dumb question at all. But it has been asked a few times already. Please have a look here.
You also don’t have to worry about your highlights. Have a look at the exposure bracket I shot for Portra 400.
Ryan31. August 2016
Thanks so much, and then the ISO setting on the camera is basically non-essential because of the reading off the meter. Got it.
Thanks man, looking forward to more posts. RP
Johnny31. August 2016
Yes, you’re exactly right. Thank you too, Ryan!
Brandon1. September 2016
Just wanted to say thank you for this post. I have read over it a few times. And just read most of the comments.
I was having issues with washed out images and came across this post. I recently ordered the Lumu and I went out today and shot a roll of Portra 400 on my new Mamiya 645 pro. I can’t wait to see the results.
I was on vacation the past few weeks and shot 3 rolls of Tri-X using the in camera meter, so I am sure there will be lots of duds there, oh well. I read that when exposing for B&W it is good to use a spot meter off an 18% grey card as well. I think I will try your method at box speed for Tri-X and see how it turns out.
Your B&W stuff has such nice contrast. Is that being achieved mostly from creating a dense negative. Or, is this something that is more set up with your PAC at the lab to create your look?
I love the look of pushed Tri-X as well. I read that you want to expose for the highlights to maintain the deep blacks when pushing. What are your thoughts on this?
Johnny1. September 2016
Brandon, thank you so much for your detailed feedback and your questions. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the post (and the comments).
The Lumu is great, I love mine and I find it very easy to use. Using the in-camera meter won’t give you very consistent results over a broad range of lighting conditions, but I wouldn’t expect too many duds. An external meter is always the better choice and over time you’ll also be able to guess your exposure (I usually don’t use a meter anymore).
I’m glad to hear that you like my B&Ws. I have a dedicated blog post about B&W coming up soon.
The look I’m getting comes from the negative, not from my Color PAC. I control it in-camera via my exposure. If you tweak during scanning, you have to work harder in the darkroom to achieve a consistent look.
I don’t recommend exposing for the highlights (unless you shoot color reversal film). Well exposed shadows affect your tone curve. You can always scan (or print) for deep blacks, but information that’s lost because of underexposure will affect your results negatively. A dense negative is a good negative, all of my negatives are overexposed and I love rich blacks in my B&Ws.
Brandon1. September 2016
Thanks Johnny, I look forward to your B&W post.
So if the look you are getting is in camera. For something like your NYC shoot recently posted on your blog, would you tend to push by a stop or so to create more contrast? Or is the dense negative overexposed by a few stops doing the same as with the colour neg (creating more contrast and richness as you overexpose a little).
I would love to just shoot a bunch of stuff with different techniques to see what works best for me. The hard thing is with film, it all costs money and people don’t want to “waste” rolls I guess.
Thanks again for the great post. It is the best I could find regarding exposing film.
Johnny1. September 2016
Thanks again for your feedback, Brandon.
B&Ws get richer with more exposure which also affects the contrast of the results. Pushing is another means to control contrast and the tone curve.
I’ll share a lot more details about B&W in my upcoming blog post, let’s keep this one about metering and exposing for color negative film. :)
Claire Charles1. September 2016
Well done, the best article about metering I have read. But how do you shoot for the highlights, and when do you so?
Johnny2. September 2016
Many thanks, Claire! I’m glad to hear that you found this post helpful.
I don’t ever meter for the highlights. You don’t need to for B&W and color negative film.
Morgane9. September 2016
Not the first time I read this, certainly not the last. It feels good to have a refresher when confidence goes up and down.
I have to say I was always bothered by the fact I didn’t understand why you were metering for the shadows close to the chair and not the shutter, but now the question has been answered and I can breathe easy. :) Of course, you’d go to the one closest to the subject.
Thank you for helping us all out,
Johnny10. September 2016
Thanks for your kind words, Morgane. I’m glad this was helpful for you! :)
Kim16. September 2016
I find this article very useful, especially for me entering the analogue world with a lovely Leica M6 and a Sekonic 308 light meter, shooting Portra 400 and Tri-X 400.
I have some questions for you:
1) Concerning your trick for creating an “artificial” shadow over the white dome with yourself standing in direct sunlight: how open or close do you make that shadow? How far from the dome do you hold your hand?
2) I’m shooting 35mm as the only film format, and I take incident meter readings in the shadows, using the box speed with the Sekonic, then using its exposure reading without any further corrections. Do you think that will give me too underexposed results, when shooting 35mm, or is it what you actually recommend for 35mm? I’m not sure about reducing the box speed should be necessary also in my situation?
Have a crisp day. :-)
Johnny16. September 2016
Kim, thanks for your question.
The idea is to re-create something comparable to a natural shadow in your scene, so you will need to use your eye to judge it. In direct sunlight you can hold your hand a little further away, in diffused light you have to hold it a little closer to the bulb.
If you meter for the shadows at box speed you won’t get underexposed results if you hold the meter correctly. I recommend setting the meter to half box speed, though. You don’t need to meter 35mm and 120 differently, just keep in mind that 35mm has less latitude.
Frank16. September 2016
I am trying to understand density correction.
So the photos I’ve got back from my lab were quite contrasty and saturated, is that a possibility because the lab just did an auto scan and no density correction? I just asked them to process it and give me some JPG scans (low res 3-5 mb files each is what they offer).
Not sure if they would know what to do in terms of density correction (maybe it would cost extra) or if that’s something I could do myself if I got a scanner.
Johnny17. September 2016
Thanks for your question, Frank.
I can’t judge your scans without seeing them. Please feel free to mail me an example and I’m happy to give you feedback on your results.
Consumer film like Superia 200 has less latitude and slower emulsions don’t handle overexposure as well, I mentioned that a few times. They get very contrasty and saturated.
I recommend using a pro grade film stock and a pro lab. Density and color correction aren’t done right by most labs. You can’t recreate this at home on a flatbed scanner, you need a dedicated film scanner.
Adam White26. September 2016
Just re-read the post again. Yup found another question. Even though you say not to worry about the reflective meter in the camera, what if it happens to tell you (say on a Mamiya 645 AF) you’re +6 stops over. But you metered for the shadows on the subject.
What do you do about that? Do you trust the meter and hope for good images or do you bring it down some?
Figured I’d ask.
Johnny29. September 2016
Adam, thanks again for your question.
If you meter for the shadows on your subject and your in-camera meter tells you you’re 6 stops over, I wouldn’t worry about my film. I would worry about the in-camera meter. ;)
If you meter for the shadows with an accurate incident meter as described in this post, your results will come out great.
Frank4. October 2016
Hey Johnny, thanks for getting back to me.
I have a point and shoot canon camera with a slow 38-70mm lens (f4.5 – 6.7) and shot a roll at box speed with Superia 400. I then tried to hack the code on the canister to shoot it at 200 and the last roll to rate it at 25. There’s a couple of shots in the second batch that I like colour and exposure wise, but a few others were too contrasty and saturated.
So my question is, should I try a roll of Portra 160 or 400 and see what I think at box speed or I should I buy a film camera with proper controls and then set the exposure correctly per shot and see how that works with the last roll of Superia 400 that I have?
Johnny5. October 2016
Thanks for your question, Frank.
I’ve answered the film related part of your question in my last reply. I think the scans you shared with me looked ok color wise, but they weren’t density corrected very well.
I would invest in a camera with better manual controls first and talk to the lab. I don’t shoot consumer film and would go for a different film stock too, but that’s just personal preference. I know a lot of people that love Superia or Kodak Gold.
Frank6. October 2016
Thanks for checking them out and giving me your feedback, Johnny.
I’ll try either a roll of Portra 400 or getting a better camera and using the last roll of Superia I have for now.
Johnny6. October 2016
Sounds good, Frank. Have fun! :)
Laurent23. October 2016
Wicked article! Things are much clearer for me now.
One question: I understand how you overexpose a 35mm film by rating it at half box speed (e.g ISO 200 instead of ISO 400). But this does not work for a Hasselblad film camera, right?
I’ve been told that the ISO set button on my 503CX only works when using a flash. So how do you overexpose shooting your Hasselblad by 2 or 4 stops? Do you mean you adjust the shutter speed or the aperture, right?
Thank you very much, Johnny! :)
Johnny23. October 2016
Laurent, thanks for your question.
You are right, the ISO setting on your Hasselblad is only used for its flash sensor. The Hasselblad 503CX doesn’t have a built in light meter.
As mentioned in the post, I suggest using an external light meter, no matter what camera model you shoot. Just apply the settings from your meter reading to set your shutter speed and aperture accordingly.
I also recommend starting with metering for the shadows to see how your pictures come out and take it from there. It takes a bit of time to learn how much exposure you will need to achieve a certain look. This heavily depends on the scene and the light, not just your exposure.
Fabian23. October 2016
Does overexposure really increase the overall contrast?
Without any further adjustments in LR/PS all of my Frontier scans have lower contrast with overexposure. They get an airy look, yes. But one has to reset the black point in post to get decent contrast. I just don’t get it when people say that they introduce more contrast. The negative itself has a flat look when its overexposed.
Am I misunderstanding something?
Johnny24. October 2016
Thank you for your comment, Fabian.
Yes, you will definitely see an increase in saturation and contrast if you overexpose and do a straight scan of your negatives.
The airy look is a result of density correction. If your images look flat and lifeless despite overexposure, your lab is not density correcting your images properly.
Eames8. November 2016
This has to be the best information on metering for film online.
Clear, concise, and extremely informative.
Thank you Johnny.
(regards from Blue Mountains, Australia)
Johnny9. November 2016
Eames, thank you very much for your kind words. I’m happy that you found the post helpful! :)
Oriol24. November 2016
Once again thank you for being so generous for sharing your know-how. I also found your post about the zone system extremely useful.
This summer I overexposed all my photos taken in sunlight with Fuji Pro 400H by 2 to 3 stops and had great results. Now that winter is approaching, I decided to test a roll with 1, 2, or 3 stops of overexpose inside a forest, on a foggy day, and I found that the photos taken with just 1 stop of overexposure look better than those with 2 or 3 stops of overexposure.
Sorry if you have explained this already, but I would like to understand why this happened. And, what would you recommend for a snowed landscape, also on a foggy day? This must be tricky as for snow and sand you should overexpose a little bit more, is that correct?
I also tried Portra 400 two weeks ago and I do not know why, but I would say I prefer its rendition for mountains and forests. But this is probably more subjective…
Many thanks again!
Johnny25. November 2016
Thank you very much for your kind words and your question, Oriol.
I agree with your findings in regards to the amount of overexposure and share your preferences for muted light. I like to overexpose color negative film a lot in very bright sunlight, but shoot closer to box speed on overcast days or in fog (have a look here, these are just one stop over).
There’s no right or wrong, it’s really more about the look you would like to achieve. Saturation and contrast levels change with your exposure and I prefer a more muted earthy color palette with these kind of scenes too.
If you use an incident meter and meter for the shadows, you don’t need to meter differently in any lighting condition. Compensating in fog or snow only applies to reflective metering (e.g. your in-camera or a spot meter).
Wilhelm29. November 2016
Thank you for this insightful read. There is one thing I don’t understand. My english is good, but I’m not a native speaker, please help me out:
“Overexposing doesn’t make your images brighter, it makes your negatives more dense.”
Of course I looked up the word ‘dense’ but I still don’t quite understand. Could you describe what really happens to the negative? Thank you in advance.
Regards from Germany.
Johnny29. November 2016
Wilhelm, thanks for your comment and your question.
Film density is a measure of light-stopping ability. It refers to the thickness of the emulsion layer of a developed negative.
The more exposure your film has to handle, the stronger the chemical reaction to the light hitting the emulsion, the more dense the negative becomes after exposure and development.
Wilhelm30. November 2016
So “dense” means basically “dark & thick”?
Johnny30. November 2016
That’s spot on, Wilhelm. :)
Kai6. January 2017
Today was the first time I stumbled across your blog. :D
Really interesting what you posted about metering. Film forgives so many metering mistakes, that is great! When I shot film for the first time I estimated the exposure times and it worked. After 3 years with film I still use the same metering method like you and it works great.
Cool blog, man! I’ll follow you.
Johnny7. January 2017
Thank you very much for your kind words, Kai.
I completely agree with you, film is very forgiving (as long as you don’t underexpose). Glad to hear this method is working so well for you and that you’re enjoying my blog!
Karim22. January 2017
Hi Johnny, thanks for the wonderful article.
I have a question about high contrast metering scenarios. For example, I shoot in a studio with direct window light and if I meter the shadows, I get a reading that is a 6 stop difference to what the highlight falling on the face of the portrait reads.
In this scenario, what do I do? I develop and scan at a home so in my experience overexposing 6 stops leads to strange color shifts.
If I overexpose 2 stops, how do I achieve the airy look with home scanning? How do I correct the density properly? I have lots of experience scanning so any scanner lingo you need to use would be appreciated!
Johnny23. January 2017
Karim, thanks for your feedback and your question.
You are metering the contrast range of the whole scene, highlights and shadows naturally fall far apart. You can just meter for the shadows and let the highlights fall where they will.
You shouldn’t experience color shifts when you overexpose. You’ll get more saturation and contrast depending on the film stock, and your colors will generally turn out warmer. But you can easily correct that when you color balance your scans.
Color shifts usually occur if you shoot in mixed lighting conditions, especially if you shoot a daylight balanced film on the verge of underexposure.
Noemi16. February 2017
Absolutely amazing and clear article, perfect timing as I just starting exploring the world via a Hasselblad 500CM. Thank you so much, Johnny!
My only question is that when I check the iPhone light meter you mentioned here is around $250, so not that accessible price wise.
Johnny17. February 2017
Thank you for your kind words, Noemi. Glad you found this post helpful!
What you saw for $250 is probably the new “Lumu Power”. Their regular meter is now called “Lumu Lite” and it looks like they are currently out of stock. You can get it at B&H for $79.
Noemi17. February 2017
Thank you Johnny, you have no idea how much I appreciate you taking the time to reply (to me and to all the posts, which I am going through now, to avoid asking the same question twice and because it’s full of nifty info).
I’ll be contacting you separately to see if you still offer one on one training or are available for an informal coffee/chat. :)
I just ordered the original Lumu at B&H, thanks for pointing me in the right direction as had missed that note on Lumu’s website!
Johnny18. February 2017
No problem, Noemi. Thank you for taking the time to read the comments too. The following conversations on my blog often cover a lot more than my initial article and can be very helpful.
Enjoy your Lumu! :)
Lachlan18. February 2017
Have only been shooting Portra 400 at box speed on my Mamiya 7 and haven’t really been getting the look I want. I’m going to try shooting it at 200 now! Would you set the ISO to 200 on your handheld light meter as well? I have a Sekonic l-308s.
Johnny18. February 2017
Thank you, Lachlan.
This has been asked multiple times, please have a look here.
If you’re exposing your film correctly and are still not getting the look you’re hoping to achieve, I recommend talking to your lab and discussing your scanning preferences.
Lachlan19. February 2017
Thanks so much!
I might have to talk to them, I got great results from them with 35mm but nothing I’ve been overly happy with when shooting medium format.
Johnny20. February 2017
No worries, Lachlan.
If that’s a consistent pattern it might also be gear related. There would be no reason why your lab gets 35mm right but not medium format. If anything, I would expect it to be the other way around.
But that’s relatively easy to figure out. You can check the negatives first and then talk to the lab. In my experience it’s usually either the communication between photographer and lab, the metering method or a camera/meter/gear problem (which can usually be fixed with a service).
Chris13. March 2017
I just purchased a Pentax 645N and am awaiting its arrival. I find myself trying to emulate film when editing my DSLR images and figured why not give the real thing a go. A few quick questions which I am sure you have already answered. I apologize for the redundancy. Just wanted to seek confirmation.
1. With B&W film, are you metering for the highlight? I have read some articles that stated to expose for them with B&W film and expose for the shadows with color negative film. If so, are you just placing your light meter on the highlighted side of the face and if so, is the bulb side facing toward or away from the camera?
2. Regarding metering, am I correct to assume that if you are metering outdoors and the meter reads 1/4000 but your camera speed only goes to 1/1000 you just set your camera to its max shutter speed, in this case being 1/1000 and trust that the highlights will still expose properly because of the forgiving nature of film, regardless if it is color negative or B&W.
Johnny16. March 2017
Chris, thanks for your questions.
All of your questions have been answered in this post or the comments. You’ll find my approach with B&W film here.
Justine18. March 2017
Just wondering if the Sunny 16 Rule applies to indoor shooting as well. It would be handy to know as I don’t have a light meter yet?
Johnny20. March 2017
Thanks for your question, Justine.
I don’t recommend using the Sunny 16 Rule. I get a lot of emails from people who are just starting out with film and they are usually not happy with their results. I think a light meter would be a good investment.
Alex23. March 2017
Interesting approach and nice pictures in your blog. This is also the way how I shoot digital, ‘expose to the right’.
Just to get a better understanding. When I use spot metering in camera (what I do in backlight e.g.) and expose the shadows, the highlights already get overexposed by let’s say 1-2 stops. Are these 2 stops already included in your instructions above? Does your article mean, that you add +1 with exposure compensation, meaning you measure the shadows and give your exposure an additional +1 or +2 stops? Are you rating at half box speed to gain shutter speed?
Why don’t you set your in camera exposure compensation and use and external spot meter instead? This is not 100% clear for me.
Johnny24. March 2017
Alex, thanks very much for your kind feedback and your questions.
There are many different ways to achieve a decently exposed negative, I’m just sharing my approach here which has a few advantages over using an in-camera meter. Spot metering for the shadows will give you a similar reading, but it’s not as reliable.
My cameras don’t have an internal meter (or exposure compensation). Besides that, many internal meters in older film cameras are off by a mile and don’t work reliably. There are also other advantages in regards to incident vs. reflective metering in difficult light.
To sum it up, using an external incident light meter and metering for the shadows will work with any film camera in any lighting condition. It’s easy to learn and to understand and it will give you consistent results with every available film stock. After a while you will be able to reliably guess your exposure and won’t need a meter anymore.
Zuzana12. May 2017
Very good and nicely brief article, thanks!
One question: what if I use only in camera metering, should I set the ISO at half box speed and still meter for shadows? Wouldn’t there be too much light? I trying both Fuji Superia 200 and 400 now and cannot wait to see the results!
Johnny12. May 2017
Zuzana, thanks for your question.
I recommend using an external meter, please have a look here.
Faster pro grade film stocks handle overexposure better than slower stocks. Have a look at this exposure bracket for Portra 400. I would be a little more conservative with consumer film like Superia 200 to avoid too much contrast, but generally you don’t have to worry about 2-3 stops of overexposure with any color negative or B&W film.
Hannah Argyle12. May 2017
This is such a brilliant post and I can see I will read it many more times before having a go!
Thanks for your help, Johnny.
Johnny12. May 2017
Thanks so much for your kind feedback, Hannah. I appreciate it very much.
Glad you found the post helpful! I’m very much looking forward to seeing your images from your Rollei. :)
Achim1. July 2017
A 3 year old article… and you’re still getting so much feedback. Quite rightly so! Great one, thank you Johnny.
Johnny2. July 2017
Thanks very much, Achim. Glad you enjoyed it!
Sam Tanner4. August 2017
Dude, just found this article. I have been struggling for a while to get the correct exposure using my in-camera meter and guessing exposure compensation based on the contrast in lighting. This makes so much sense.
Thanks for sharing the knowledge!
Johnny8. August 2017
You’re more than welcome, Sam! Many thanks for your kind comment. Glad that you enjoyed my post and found it helpful. :)
Claire24. September 2017
I’m glad I came across your website. Very helpful! I also own the Sekonic L-398A light meter and love it to bits. One question I thought about was for the high slide that’s included with the meter.
Do you insert the high slide when metering for instance with landscapes in bright and sunny days with the application of you method (shading the bulb with your hand)?
Johnny25. September 2017
Claire, thanks very much for your question.
You use the high slide in when you meter in direct sunlight and you’ll likely need it even if you shade the bulb, just see if you get a reading without it or if you’re needle sticks all the way to the side. Make sure you set the value on the outer ring to line up with the indicator above the red “H” when you use the slide.
Ric Donato7. October 2017
4. March 2016
His question to Johnny, “One question about incident metering for landscapes. How does one take an accurate reading if the subject is so far in the distance (i.e. infinity focus). Because doesn’t the light meter need to be facing the camera from the subjects point of view? I just don’t understand how incident readings work for landscape photography.”.
I hear the above question quite often from landscape photographers. Truly it is a very easy concept to understand; to meter you do not need to go to that distant landscape subject. Our sun is considerably larger than the Earth, 109 time the diameter of Earth, and 93 million miles away. As sunlight hits the earth it is the same intensity where you are standing, 100 yards away, 100 miles away, etc.
Thus with your landscape scene in bright sun you at your location stand in the bright sun, use Johnny’s metering technique face the meter to the camera take a meter reading. When the distant scene is in shade, again at your present location use Johnny’s metering technique put the meter in the shade facing the camera take a reading.
As we can now see, in landscape shots we do not have need to go to that distant scene then meter. The same applies when you are out and about shooting, sun is sun, shade is shade, take a meter reading use that meter reading at all locations that have the same light. Of course we are talking incident not reflective metering.
My meters of choice are the Sekonic L-358 and the original Lumu (also a backer of their project). Many years ago I sold off all my pro level DSLR equipment after returning to film. Film is now 99% the other 1% is my iPhone. It is nice being off the digital upgrade cycle.
Johnny8. October 2017
That’s a great in-depth explanation, Ric. ;)
Thanks for your contribution!
Simon4. November 2017
Hi Johnny, thanks for sharing your knowledge. A great and easy to apply article that I found as soon as I received my first ever scanned negs and encountered too many underexposed shots (moved from digital so a classic film novice mistake of course). I’m waiting for my next batch of negs shot with intentional overexposure so hoping for good things.
Right, a question! Is your approach with 2-3 stops of overexposure also about achieving a look or is this how you achieve optimal exposure density to give you room for maneuver with later processing (e.g. scanning preferences, post scanning Lightroom or even darkroom)? I aim for a saturated and high contrast street photography style so I just rated half box speed and metered for mid tones to get those black shadows. Not sure how it will turn out but seemed to make sense.
You also describe above that you overexpose more on bright sunny days but rate closer to box speed on dull overcast days. You lost me here, seems totally counter-intuitive but I’m guessing there is a very good reason. Apologies this has ended up a long winded post but again, appreciate your generosity in providing such coherent advice.
Johnny6. November 2017
Simon, thank you for your comment and your question.
I’m sure your next batch of scans will come out great. Underexposure is the number one problem I see with film photographers when they first start out and I’m sure this exposure technique will help you a lot.
I find 2-3 stops over to be the sweet spot for most shooting conditions, if you have enough available light. I also like this range both technically and visually for the reasons you’ve pointed out. I don’t do any post work though, I prefer controlling the results in camera. The look you’re going for is always a mix between your exposure and the scanning/printing process.
If I were you and would prefer more saturation and contrast, I would still overexpose 2-3 stops but ask the lab to scan my film a little darker. With having my own work scanned brighter I lose some of the richness that overexposure results in. That’s exactly why I compensate in camera with more exposure.
If you translate this to dull situations you’ll probably understand why I take my exposure back in these shooting conditions. The results won’t be scanned as bright and therefore overexposing too much would lead to too much saturation and contrast. Try to think of exposure as a means to control the amount information your film carries, not only a means to control brightness.
Stephen8. November 2017
I use a Pentax spot meter for 5×4, taking readings for the highlights and shadows and a perceived mid-point. Most photographers are likely to pick a mid point that is too light, leading to under-exposure. Look at a typical studio grey card and it looks fairly dark.
Because I scan my films on a flat bed, I try to expose so that the darkest, general shadows are about one stop under the mid-point. Small areas of very dark shadow can be ignored. I then add one or more grads to reduce the dynamic range. This method over-exposes the film a little and produces predictable, scan-able results. The positive film always looks great on the light box too.
When I came back to film, under-exposing was the initial issue I had to manage and figure out. I was incident metering with a Sekonic but sold that and went to a spot meter, since when I’ve not looked back.
Johnny8. November 2017
Many thanks for your contribution, Stephen.
I appreciate it a lot, especially because slide film doesn’t get much attention in any of my articles but many people have asked about a recipe for positive film.
Dan9. November 2017
I found this article – and your other helpful writing – after owning up to the fact that I’d been shooting film wrong and was hating the results. Aside from it changing my game, I also get the fringe benefit of not having to be worried about having the “wrong” speed film loaded.
Johnny9. November 2017
Wonderful, Dan! That’s so awesome to hear. :)
Matt22. November 2017
Hi Johnny. Thanks so much for this write up and the other pages too. I agree with other folks that responding to every comment has made this a richer pool of knowledge than it was when you originally posted it.
I’ve recently entered the world of film photography after being a DSLR user for seven years or so, and have purchased an immaculate OM-1 from eBay :-) and a new Sekonic L398 A. Looking forward to seeing the results from my first roll due back from the lab this weekend.
Johnny23. November 2017
Thank you for your kind feedback, Matt.
Great to hear that you found my post and the following discussion helpful. I didn’t foresee this when I originally wrote the post, but it makes me happy that so many people contributed.
I’m sure you will enjoy your OM-1 and the Sekonic! I’d love to see some of your results if you feel like sharing them.
Choi25. December 2017
Do you retract the bulb of the light meter when you use it?
Johnny28. December 2017
Choi, many thanks for your question.
I mentioned that in the post under “Meter Settings”. :)
David Kil5. January 2018
So thankful that I found your blog. I did cycle thru many of the prior postings, but didn’t see a comment on this topic: ISO adjustments on the Sekonic.
I picked one up (thanks much to your guidance), and as I was testing the device – comparing it to what the camera bodies where telling me* (MP and M10), I did notice one thing… when I adjust the ISO setting on the Sekonic meter, and then take another sample, the reading doesn’t change. In other words, if the box speed calls for ISO 400, and I move the meter ISO setting to 200, should the meter read something different (perhaps faster shutter speed)?
Thank you for your appreciation of film, and to this community! Awesome to witness the exchange.
All the best, David
*I shan’t do this anymore because: one, the MP is older; two, your comments on digital metering; and three, it confuses me a lot. :)
Johnny5. January 2018
Many thanks for your kind words and your feedback, David. It’s wonderful to hear that you’re enjoying my blog so much and find it helpful.
I have to do this by memory because I don’t have my Sekonic on me right now – but I think how I remember it was that the scale of the meter moves when you adjust the ISO settings, while the reading (the needle) stays in the same place. The only time I recall the actual needle moving for the same reading is after inserting the “high” slide.
Jon5. January 2018
Great blog! I recently came across it and have been reading it a lot lately.
Here’s a scenario… you have some Portra 400 (@200) loaded up on an f/2 lens and it starts to become dark or even becomes night and you are still out shooting. Would you then set shutter speed to 1/60? Would you + or – on the EV to get an exposure under say a street light or neon signs, etc.
What would the difference be in +1 or 2 vs. -1 or 2 on the exposure compensation and would you still expose for the shadows? What color negative film stocks do you recommend for city street photos at night?
Thanks! Happy shooting in 2018!
Johnny6. January 2018
Jon, thanks for your question.
Ideally, you would set the shutter speed to the value your light meter tells you. I don’t use EV or exposure compensation for metering. Exposure compensation has the same effect, but the problem is that a built in meter will not always give you a reliable base value to start with.
For night shooting I usually use B&W film, but if you prefer color negative film you can push Portra 400 three stops or try Cinestill film.
Ally29. January 2018
I am new to film and find your articles wonderfully helpful. Thank you!
I have a Pentax ME Super. I have several rolls of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 on hand. I’m wondering if I can shoot at half box speed in auto mode?
Thanks in advance!
Johnny30. January 2018
Thank you very much for your kind words, Ally.
You can do that by setting the ASA/ISO speed to 200 instead of 400, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You will be able to achieve much more consistent results if you shoot the camera in manual and use an external light meter.
Either way, have fun!
Dave30. January 2018
Hi Johnny. New reader. I understand overexposing and thus adjusting your ISO to 200 when the box says 400. Do you then have the lab process the film at box or do you have to tell them to pull 1 stop? I guess that’s the point? You don’t push or pull the film, just merely overexposing 1 stop and metering for your shadows and let everything else fall into place? Please explain.
Thank you, Dave
Johnny31. January 2018
Thanks for your question, Dave. I did explain it a couple of times already.
Please have a look here, here and here about rating the film and here, here and here about processing it.
Margie Clay12. February 2018
Hi, just a question. What happens when you are shooting at ISO 200 and the light changes and you need to adjust your ISO to 400 or even 800. Can you do this on the same roll? Could you instead of rating the film differently, overexpose by one stop using your aperture settings or shutter speed?
How should I adjust the settings to take advantage of your process working in low light situations, say I shoot at 1600 or 3200? How can I adjust the development time when the charts just go up to 3200?
Johnny12. February 2018
Margie, thanks very much for your question.
I shoot Tri-X 400 between ISO 25 and 1600 on the same roll (including a one stop push, you can find my workflow for B&W film here). But film handles overexposure a lot better than underexposure, therefore you’ll run into its limits doing all this on the same roll.
If you need true ISO 1600 or ISO 3200 speed, I would recommend using a dedicated roll for that and pushing it multiple stops. I’m not a huge fan of pushed color film, but even Portra 400 can be pushed to 3200 without problems. Beyond that the only option would be to shoot at very low shutter speeds, I often shoot my Leica at 1/8s.
Of course you can just use your aperture or shutter speed instead of rating the film differently. How you get there doesn’t make a difference.
Kay24. March 2018
A fantastic article illustrating the completely different approach to expose for film instead of digital.
I have been a digital shooter for years and just started my first roll of 35mm Kodak Portra, so this article was very helpful for me! I see you mention in the comments that 35mm has less latitude than medium format. Would you still shoot Portra in 35mm at half box speed or would for example 320 be better when exposing for the shadows, to avoid overexposing the smaller negatives too much?
Would switching between 320 and 200 on the same roll pose any problems with developing?
Thanks in advance!
Johnny26. March 2018
Many thanks for your feedback and your question, Kay.
This approach will work well with 35mm and medium format negatives. Please have a look at the exposure bracket I am sharing here for Portra 400 in 120. Here is another one for Tri-X 400 in 35mm.
My recommendation would be to keep it as consistent as possible when you’re just starting out. Later you can switch your ISO rating mid roll – or just add or subtract a stop of exposure by changing your shutter speed or your aperture.
Neil25. April 2018
Always useful and incredibly well written articles. Been reading your blog recently and bitten by the film bug again. I am trying to simplify my workflow of picture taking. A separate meter, iPhone and my digital gear makes it a lot to carry as I am not ready to part with great Sony A7rII.
A few questions:
1. Have you tried using the iPhone directly as meter? I downloaded the myLightMeter app and it’s been identical with the readings from my Sony.
2. How do meter fast moving street scenes with film? Sounds like lot of work.
3. How is your success rate with exposure? 50%? 90%?
Johnny3. May 2018
Neil, thank you for your kind words and your questions.
There’s no big difference between metering with your Sony and your iPhone with an app. I tried TTL metering but as I shared in this post, it’s not as reliable as incident metering.
Shooting fast moving street sheets with film is relatively easy because you don’t have to re-meter every scene. You only adjust your settings when the light changes.
I don’t use a light meter anymore and I rarely misjudge a scene when I guess my exposure, but I have been doing this for quite some time now.
David Anstey8. May 2018
I have a Spotmatic and a Canon EOS 650 camera. What I’m taking from your discussion is that it would be best to use a Sunny 8 rule for the Spotmatic and to add two stops of Exposure Compensation to the EOS 650 with 400 ISO film and fire away in EV mode.
Would that be a fair assessment? I could get away with not overthinking it any more than that?
Johnny9. May 2018
Many thanks for your question, David.
As I mentioned in the discussion above, it would technically work in many situations without difficult light but I would not recommend it. There isn’t a shortcut to learning how your film will respond to different lighting conditions and that’s really key in achieving a desired look.
The goal is to be able to reliably guess your exposures and not having to rely on a meter at all anymore, which makes street photography and shooting unmetered cameras very quick and enjoyable.
Charlie15. May 2018
What an excellent series of articles. As a returner to film who never developed the right technical skills first time around I’ve found your posts amazingly helpful.
Here’s a probably silly question. Assuming 35mm Portra 400, metering at 200 with a incident meter and metering for shadow, what do you do if the scene is brightly/evenly lit with no shadow? Do you still create shadow for the meter or do you just meter in the bright light?
Thank you for your insight!
Johnny15. May 2018
Charlie, thank you for your comment.
Yes, you’re right – you would still create a shadow with your hand. The idea is to have consistent exposures throughout each roll to minimize variations in color and contrast. It makes the film a lot easier to scan and you will achieve a more cohesive look.
Charlie15. May 2018
Thank you for the reply, Johnny. It’s a scary concept to be this far over, but I look forward to seeing my results!
Johnny17. May 2018
Thank you, Charlie. I’m sure you’ll be happy with your results! :)
Frank23. May 2018
Great to see these discussions still going. Have been shooting film for a year now and loving it, so thanks for your inspiration and advice here.
I understand about getting enough shadow density when metering and this works well in good light as the highlights don’t get blown, but you push the shadows higher up the curve. I wanted to ask about metering in overcast/even lighting however.
The dynamic range is not that widely spread so if you overexpose too generously for the shadows/half box speed etc, do you effectively flatten out your contrast curve too much? Basically, when overcast should you be a bit closer to box speed and not overexpose too much if you’re trying to keep some contrast in the shot?
Johnny25. May 2018
Many thanks for your comment and your question, Frank.
Overexposure introduces more contrast and saturation, so that’s not really something you have to worry about in regards to contrast. But I do often expose a little closer to box speed in even light to match the more gentle mood.
Jennifer Xu12. July 2018
Thank you for this!
Johnny15. July 2018
Glad you enjoyed it, Jennifer!
Kim19. July 2018
I have some further questions about metering the following situations:
1) How is your approach for a sunset scene combined with an interesting foreground?
2) How do you handle a scene with backlit wet asphalt, where both the structure in the ground and the highlights in the puddles are of interest?
Have a crisp day. :-)
Johnny21. July 2018
Thanks for your questions, Kim.
If I understand you right, both scenes you’re describing would be backlit, but it doesn’t make a difference. You only need to know how much light falls onto your subject. Highlights on the water don’t have any highlight detail and are negligible.
If the light source is behind your subject, you are very likely already standing in the shade. In both cases you’d bring the meter close to your subject, point it towards the direction of the camera and make sure you are taking a shadow reading. Let the highlights fall where they will.
Nikolas23. July 2018
In the photo example of the chair overexposing by 2 stops, do you mean with the exposure compensation dial? Lets say I shoot Portra 400 at 200 and then move the dial to +2? And for sunny landscapes +4? Or does compensation have to do with the light meter? And should I tell my lab I shot a 400 speed film at 200?
Johnny25. July 2018
Nikolas, thanks for your question.
I did explain that a couple of times already in the comments/discussion. Please have a look here.
Kira15. August 2018
Hi Johnny! Thank you so much for writing these tutorials and blog posts – the way you explain things is so helpful.
I bought a used Mamiya 645 Pro but hadn’t started using it because I was confused about metering and viewfinders, and I was wondering if you could help? I quickly scanned over your other replies but I don’t think you’ve answered this question yet. You’ll probably be able to tell from my question that I’m completely new to film (LOL).
So when I bought the camera body, the seller was selling it for cheap(er) because the viewfinder “stopped metering and when attached, the camera only fires in manual exposure mode.” However, he still offered to give me the viewfinder anyway, but I’m not sure what to do with it. Should I buy a new viewfinder (I think the correct one is “Mamiya 645 AE Prism (Pro) Finder” – please correct me if I’m wrong), and do I still need a handheld meter? I think this viewfinder can meter, but would I still be able to rate at half box speed if I don’t use a handheld?
Thank you for your time! :)
PS: Is there a way to subscribe to your blog posts so I can get email updates whenever you post?
Johnny16. August 2018
Many thanks for your kind comment and your question, Kira.
If you’re using a handheld meter, you don’t need a working in-camera meter. As explained in this blog post and discussed in the comments, I don’t recommend using an internal meter. You can still rate the film at 200 instead of 400, but the results won’t be as consistent.
My blog has a RSS feed that you can subscribe if you like. :)
Matt21. August 2018
First, I recently stumbled upon your website. I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles.
Second, my question. You talk about metering, but what about developing? If you rate your film at half speed, do you develop as normal, or do you pull the development? I.e. process it as though it’s a 200 speed film instead of a 400 speed film.
Johnny22. August 2018
Matt, many thanks for your kind comment.
The film has to be processed as normal, you just overexpose it. Please have a look here.
Nick Bedford30. August 2018
Once you’ve learnt these techniques, the next best tool is lots of experience and a mental library of metering scenarios (foggy days, backlighting, night time, broad sunny conditions etc).
Though I don’t quite agree that camera meters shouldn’t be used, so long as you know how they work and where they can fail you.
My Leica M7 meter is reliable and I’ve tested it against two Sekonic meters, but it’s up to me to know where to aim it (down, or at a dark tone) and to be aware of how it can be fooled.
Johnny30. August 2018
Many thanks for your feedback, Nick.
I completely agree with you on the mental library. My goal is to help people shoot without a meter and using a handheld incident meter makes the concept a lot more tangible, especially for beginners. That’s also of one the reasons why I don’t recommend using in-camera meters.
If you know what you’re doing, your in-camera meter is fine. But then again, you don’t need a meter at all if you’re experienced enough.
Dave26. September 2018
Great post, Johnny!
What does “2 stops overexposure” for example refer to? To box-speed or your already adjusted speed? Could you give an example in ASA/time/f/f/stop etc.?
Johnny29. September 2018
Dave, many thanks for your question.
My reference (“baseline”) is always a regular incident reading (not a shadow reading) at the nominal ISO speed of a film (box speed). The same for development times, the reference point is always box speed. For Tri-X 400 that’s ISO 400.
If a nominal meter reading suggests a shutter speed of 1/2000 for ISO 400, two stops over would be 1/500. A shadow reading results in 2-3 stops of overexposure compared to a nominal incident reading.
Shilpa11. October 2018
This has really helped me so much to understand metering and the various film stocks. I have a 500cm which I absolutely love and I’m still early in the learning phase and trying to figure out which film stocks to settle on. My goal is to find a color film stock that I can use both indoors and outdoors for my motherhood sessions, and a black and white for indoors and out.
I started with Delta 3200 and had to use that on a super sunny day and ended up overexposing it nearly 4 stops (meter was reading 1/4000 and naturally I could only do 1/500) and I didn’t want to change my aperture (I shot at 2.8). Yikes. Those images came out SO grainy they were practically unusable (fine for IG thumbnails but not for clients).
Is there a B&W film stock that would reliably work for both indoor and outdoor use? My sessions can be cloudy, super sunny, dark (indoors), so narrowing down a film stock that could work in all those situations would be great. I just ordered some HP5 plus. I’m thinking overexposing 1-2 stops is probably OK but not 4/5 stops. For indoor work, if I am getting impractical meter readings (like 1/30 or 1/15) due to low light, is it recommended that I shoot at 1/60 and push the film 1 or 2 stops? Thanks so much! This is all so exciting and I absolutely LOVE shooting with an all-mechanical camera.
Johnny12. October 2018
Thank you for your kind feedback and your questions, Shilpa.
Delta 3200 takes overexposure well, but depending on the developer it can get pretty grainy depending on the lighting conditions you’re shooting in. It’s really an ISO 1000 film stock and Ilford builds in longer developing times for that reason. That’s why you’re seeing a more drastic effect, but most people shoot that stock for the grain.
My recommendation would be Tri-X 400. I shoot in a very similar range of conditions all the time and I push all of my B&W film a stop (more on that here). This approach works very well in sunny and very dim indoor lighting (and even with night shots). HP5 will be ok too, but I find Tri-X a bit more flexible.
For color film both Fuji 400H and Kodak Portra 400 will be able to handle what you’re planning to do. I prefer Kodak Portra 400 and I think it holds up a little better in low light situations and when pushed. Color film and low light isn’t my favorite combination, though – I prefer to shoot B&W when I don’t have enough light.
Glad to hear you’re loving the Hasselblad! It’s my favorite medium format film camera ever made.
Chris O'Connell26. October 2018
great article – thank you. Over exposure by 2-3 stops makes a lot of sense to me as I recently shot some Portra 400 and although I was metering at box speed and had taken a meter reading, I got so caught up in framing the shot I forgot to adjust to the suggested shutter speed and f-stop. However, the shot looks great, so I’ll be pursuing that when I next shoot colour. :)
This has made me think about B/W (and I’ve read your other article dealing with that) when I use my meter. I usually use it via spot readings, so for example in a dense woody scene I’ll spot meter sky, foliage, trees in shadow etc, and take the average exposure. I’m wondering therefore, if I’ve metered via spot for each component part of the scene, do I still over expose by one or two stops – or has the spot meter already made that compensation?
I ask because sometimes there are still some underexposed parts of the scene I’ve not quite got right – so I either didn’t ‘look’ hard enough or spot in the right places, therefore if I open up some stops on the average exposure, that might provide a solution. I’m meandering!! Having said all that, I’d really like to ditch the meter and get to the stage where I can just see the light for what it is – but I’m not there yet!!
Thanks for any thoughts. Chris
Johnny28. October 2018
Chris, thanks for your comment and your question.
My recommendation would be to ditch the spot meter first, it really makes your life unnecessarily complicated. You have to spend so much time evaluating a scene. Just switch over to an incident meter and remove as many variables as possible.
If you’d like to guess your exposure down the road, you need to know how much light is falling onto your subject (incident metering) and not how much light is reflected by your subject (reflective metering, e.g. your spot meter). This is especially important in difficult light, like fog, snow and backlit scenes.
Just meter for the shadows and let the highlights fall where they will. :)
Michael Bahu26. December 2018
Hey Johnny I’ve been reading your articles on your blog. They are really helpful! I do have a question for clarity.
I have been overexposing all my c41 film by 1 stop for a couple months now and that alone has been helpful for my colors and overall image quality. Especially when I realized I could shoot Kodak Ultramax at 200 and it looks like a cheap Portra 400.
Anyways you also overdevelop on top of over exposing. So if I’m understanding correctly:
I’d shoot Portra 400 at 200 asa to overexpose by 1 stop and then on top of that when I sent my film to my lab I would have them develop like normal + 1 stop “push”. Even though it’s not technically pushing it’s just over developing.
Is that correct? If so the effect of that should be better colors as well as better compensation for the overexposure in overall dynamic range?
Thanks for reading and I look forward to better understanding this. I really appreciate you putting this knowledge out there.
Johnny28. December 2018
Many thanks for your question, Michael.
I don’t ever push or overdevelop my color film – I only do that with B&W. This post is strictly about color negative film, please have a look here for B&W film.
I meter and expose both film types the same, but B&W gets an extra stop in development for a little more punch (more contrast and grain).
Greg24. January 2019
Hi Johnny! Love coming back to this article and rereading it and all the insightful comments.
I was curious if you’d still apply this same technique of over exposing if you were using a scanner like a V800 flatbed as opposed to a Frontier or a Noritsu — something with less ability to capture the dynamic range of the latter two.
Johnny25. January 2019
Thanks for your question, Greg.
As I’ve mentioned many times in the discussion, I’m not a fan of flatbed and DSLR scans. 2-3 stops over wouldn’t be a problem, but the overall quality of the results is not comparable to a scan with pro grade equipment.
Arek8. March 2019
Thanks a lot! That’s what I was looking for! I am planning to buy a Mamiya 645 and I am still browsing for the information of what type of film suits me the most!
Johnny10. March 2019
Arek, thanks very much. Glad you found the post helpful!
Peter20. April 2019
Quick question: so in the second scenario you take two readings, do you “average” them out to approximate a “true” shadow reading? I don’t quite understand.