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Lighting 101: Using The Meter


Welcome to the language of light! In the Lighting 100 series of videos you will be taken through the basic concepts you need to understand and master in order to creatively use light to tell visual stories. In episode 101 Ryan reveals the need for, and the use of the light meter, an often overlooked and misunderstood tool. But through the proper use and understanding, it can allow you to shape light in a whole new way.

At the end of this video I show a couple of helpful tips for working with the Sekonic L-758Cine, and make mention of additional tips on my blog. After the jump you will find the tips I demonstrated in the video as well as three additional tips you might find useful:

Sekonic L-758Cine Tips:

Tip 01: Highlight Priority Mode (Shown in video)
Use this tip to quickly and easily determine what you aperture should be set at based off of an important highlight in the scene. When you expose at this value, the metered highlight will retain detail. couldn't be simpler!

Here is how you do it:
1. Set Custom Setting #1 to 1. This will set the ISO 2 button to be a filter factor button. (With the meter off, press the MODE button while turning on the meter. CS will display in the upper right corner to let you know that you are now in the custom settings mode.) Power off the meter, and then turn it back on.

2. Determine what your EV is for the over exposure of your recording medium. (From mid tone to highlight.) The Sekonic Profile Chart II is very helpful for this.

3. With the meter turned on, and set to the correct camera profile, press the ISO 2 button and turn the jog wheel to the correct EV setting based off of step 2.

4. Take a spot reading of what you want to place at the top of the histogram / shoulder. (This will be your brightest highlight.)

5. Press and hold ISO 2, it will give you a mid tone reading that will keep your highlight at the top without clipping.

Tip 02: Change Trigger Position In Spot Mode (Shown in video)
This will make taking readings much more ergonomic when in the spot mode of the 758Cine. It also has the added benefit of preventing you from mistakingly taking a false reading when in the Incident mode. (If the button stays the same in both modes, and the meter is left in spot mode, you could potentially take a reading thinking you are using the incident meter,  but you are getting a reading from the spot meter. And that reading is going to be WAY OFF ...)

Here is how you do it:
1. With the meter off, press the MODE button while turning on the meter. (CS will display in the upper right corner to let you know that you are now in the custom settings mode.)

2. Use the jog wheel to get to setting #17. (The smaller number of the two numbers in the center of the screen.)

3. Now press the MODE button until  #2 is displayed. (The larger number of the two numbers in the center of the screen.)

4. Press the POWER button to turn the meter off.

Tip 03: Determining Contrast Ratios (Shown in video)
Wouldn't it be great if you could quickly and easily determine the contrast ratio of important lights, and have the meter do the math for you? (No need to remember that T2.8 is 3 EV away from T8 which will give you a ratio of 8:1.)

Here is how you do it:
1. Using the incident mode take a reading of just the key light.

2. Press the AVE/EV button.

3. Now take a reading of any other light / area- (The Fill light for example).

4. The meter will now display the contrast ratio of the two lights.

*Additional suggestion: Make a label for the back of the meter that has the EV to Ratio conversions on it. Now you never have to remember an additional set of numbers. (EV 1 = 2:1 / EV 2 = 4:1 / EV 3 = 8:1 / EV 4 = 16:1)

Tip 04: Determining the Dynamic Range of a Scene
As digital cameras are ever increasing in their capability to record a greater dynamic range, I am finding that I am using this feature less and less. However it VERY useful for whenever I have to use a format that is limited in it's dynamic range. This is a quick and simple way to see  how much range a scene has so that you can make adjustments as needed.

Here is how you do it:
1. Using the spot meter mode take a reading of the darkest area of the scene.

2. Press the AVE/EV button.

3. Now take a reading of the brightest area of the scene.

4. The meter will now display the total range of the scene.

Tip 05: Finding the Mid Tone Value of a Scene
If you can't place a grey card in the key light, you can't use your incident meter, and there isn't anything in the scene that you recognize and mid tone, then this tip is for you! This is a quick and easy way to figure out what your aperture should be in difficult situations. (I could have also used this tip in the Plate Example I gave in the video.)

Here is how you do it:
1. Using the spot meter mode take a reading of the darkest area of the scene and then press the memory button.

2. Now take a reading of the lightest area of the scene and then press the memory button.

3. Press the AVE/EV button.

4. The meter will now display the mid tone value.

*Additional Suggestion: Use this tip even when you are not stuck in a tough situation. This will help you train your eye to recognize what mid tone is in every day scenes.

Equipment used to make this video: (Click on text to purchase)
Zeiss ZF.2 Lenses: 28mm / 35mm / 50mm / 85mm
Red Epic
Red Pro Primes
5.6" TV Logic Monitor
Cool Light 1200 LED
Ronford F-15 Fluid Head

Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot!
Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer


  1. First off Ryan I want to say that I really enjoy your video's and your in depth share on Lighting,

    It would be really fun/awesome to see you do some simplistic fundamentals of lighting videos. ie. explaining best ways of using key fill and such... as I am somewhat new to Cinema lighting(I am more of a editor) so some things I found a little hard to grasp But I am getting there! Broke college kid trying to get hands on lighting stuff :)

    again thank you for sharing your on field experience!

  2. Jeffrey,

    Thanks for your suggestion. I'm headed in that direction, and I'll be adding some content like that. As soon as I can, I'll get it up. :)

    For now, check out the other videos that I have in this lighting blog, as I have several videos showing setups from other projects I've worked on. Hopefully, that will help until I can get more content up.


  3. Hi Ryan,
    Love your site, and thanks so much for your uber-generous shares of Cinematic Know How. Much appreciate the time and effort that goes into assembling this stuff, and my hat is off to you, Sir!

    Keep up the great work.
    Cheers, Luge

  4. Thanks Luge, I'm glad you have found it useful and helpful. :) I'm hard at work developing more content for this coming year. :)

  5. Hi Ryan, I just purchased the 758cine to get more in depth with my lighting, I am finishing school and have been using the analog sekonic for a couple years. There is nothing on the cine meter and your video was perfect to give me an in depth look at using sekonic for cinematography.

    With my Scarlet on the way, I want to program the meter and see how it handles. In the future, could you do a tutorial on how you would check the dynamic range of the camera using the meter and chart, and once programed, is it accurate to look at these values on the meter while lighting to expose for the camera (Red).

    I really enjoy learning off of a skilled cinematographer such as yourself, thanks for the tutorials, I will keep checking back to see what your up to.


    1. Daniel,

      Thanks for the kind words of support. I will be making a video exactly like what you described. I'll post the video on my blog as soon as it is ready. :)


  6. Hi Ryan!

    Fantastic tutorial you got there! Definitely learnt a trick or two from it. Just a quick question: do you consistently get similar readings when you meter a evenly lit Kodak Grey Card Plus with both the incident meter as well as the spot? I've done numerous tests and it seems my spot read is usually 1/3 stop lower (ie. T4 on incident and T4 1/3 on spot). While this discrepancy isn't huge, it's indeed disconcerting knowing that they should be both similar. Do you think it's a calibration issue with my meter. Am using the L-758C as well...

    1. Derrick,

      Thanks for the complement - I'm glad you found the tutorial helpful. :)

      Yes I do get consistent readings from my Spot and Incident meter. But that is because I have calibrated my meter. I've done that by creating a camera profile using the Sekonic software. You can also calibrate it manually by going into the custom setup menus. All of this is covered in the manuals that come with the meter. However, I know it can get confusing, which is why I'm working on a tutorial video for creating a camera profile / calibrating the meter. I hope to have it online in the next month. :)


  7. These are great videos Ryan. You know what's nice, in that one example, Ryan has his face and then a head bust (mannequin), a white shirt, a black back drop, a white back drop and some other items and then to show all the different Tstop readings (FANTASTIC!!!). This is how lighting tutorials should be done with many items in the frame. I'm so happy to see this. To many times you see people teach lighting with an all white backdrop, or solid photographic backdrop and that is not realistic for videographers. A real film set doesn't look like that; one solid back drop. It has furniture, walls, carpet, different set dressings, and they are all different colors and they effect how you light. It's nice to see that Ryan has several things in the frame when he teaches. The one thing that I find, which people get hung up on, is to match all the color temperatures in a scene. That is just not realistic either. Think about it, if you walk into your actual living room at home, there could be a table lamp with one color temperature bulb, a ceiling lamp with another color temperature bulb, the outside window light is another color temperature and depending upon the time of day and the list goes on and on. It's all relative to the look you want to achieve. You see so many Youtube lighting tutorials about matching all the lights and one hand that is a "rule" but on the other hand it is a rule that can be broken and should at times. I'd like to see a tutorial on that, color temperature does not always have to be exact or the same in a scene because it is all relative to the look you want to achieve. Knowing the rules but then breaking them for the sake of creativity. I love the videos Ryan, they are so well done. I just watched some of the others.

  8. Nice observations and thanks for the support / complements. I've very glad that these tutorials have been helpful. They are the kinds of things I wish I had available to me.

    You are correct- it is VERY important to know what the rules are, how they work, and most importantly, when and how to break them. There have been many times over the years where I have mixed color temperatures. It all comes back to style & taste. I'll see what I can do about making a tutorial along those lines.

  9. I added an important update about creating profiles with the Sekonic DTS Version 3 software that is important to read, if you are currently using, or creating custom profiles. Read more here: