How to Get the Correct Exposure When Shooting Film

When you're shooting film, you don't have the benefit of being able to check that you got the correct exposure after you take a shot like you do with digital. This great video will give you a couple common methods to ensure you get the exposure just right when you're shooting film. 

Coming to you from Jay P. Morgan of The Slanted Lens, this helpful video will show you a few common ways to find the correct exposure for film, from using a dedicated light meter to the Sunny 16 rule. Personally, I just use a phone app to get me in the ballpark if I can't eyeball the exposure. It's not the same as an incident light meter, but it generally gets me close enough. Whatever you do, though, it is quite important to get your exposure correct, as unlike digital, you're paying for every frame you take. As Morgan notes, negative film tolerates overexposure remarkably better than digital does, so err on that side of things if you're in doubt. Once you've shot with film for a while, you'll get pretty used to eyeballing the exposure (which will help your digital work too). Check out the video above for the full rundown. 

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user-187388's picture

Good video. The sunny 16 rule I have actually tried using a digital camera and it worked fine.That is where the the sun was shining full on on the subject matter. He mentioned the 18pc grey factor.You could have a grey card in your bag when shooting film and meter off of that, but if I had a model in the shade like his model was, I would just point my film camera at the grass at her feet and do a reflective reading off of that. The green grass has a similar value as the grey card. Incident meters are great. I still could shoot a wedding I think based on experience and knowledge on film without referring to a light meter.Film is very forgiving. This title is misleading in a sense. Correct exposure being talked about here is the correct exposure value. Bryan Peterson talks about "correct creative exposure". Google his youtube videos on this. It involves adjusting aperture and shutter speed to get the look you want.Depth of field, blur, frozen action etc.I also used to like the rule that said when using film that you could avoid camera shake if you did not go slower with your shutter speed than the focal length of your lens. Eg 28mm don't go slower than 1/30th of a second. 50mm lens don't go slower than 1/60th second.

barry cash's picture

EV is always a very accurate way of determining exposure more so than a light meter based on a few facts. One experience of knowing your medium film or sensor, then knowing what you can get out of the EV either color wise or mood. The complete EV charts can be found on line and they are tried and true and have never failed me but a light meter has.

Green grass we used to use that in the film days with some cautious intuition it can get you close to the exposure but it works better with B&W. Now pointing at her feet will get you the correct landing zone if you want to render her skin on her ankles or her shoes with some interpolation but if you want the skin on her face or the color of her eyes you might be Colore enough to correct in post however in camera you be gambling.

Let’s go at it this way the sky is you light box, here face even in the shade will have some gradient of lighting from one side to the other unless the face is evenly lit straight on. So to capture the light fall off you would need to meter both sides of the face a determine what side you use for a base exposure adjusting the exposure for her skin tonality light skin or dark skin then make the exposure correction accordingly.

The shutter speed of the exposure triangle when shooting a person is always best set at a minimum of 2x the focal length for 25 mpx or film but for higher mpx sensors like 50 or 100 mpx I use a much different shutter speed hand held I want to be at 1/800 sec if I must I will move my ISO up to 1600 even 3200 to maintain the sharpness.

Now if you have a histogram in camera that’s either reading live or reading rhe captured image even though most of the time it a jpeg histogram you can get close if you go in close for your base exposure then shoot accordingly.

Shooting a wedding I would use a fast lens and crank up the ISO measuring the light for say shooting outdoors in full sun or in the shade and adjust between the two. My method is once I have the correct exposure for say the shade it doesn’t change I can shoot all day at the same setting with minor adjustments and be spot on. Ideally and I don’t know why most wedding photographers don’t adaopt this practice you would have two identical Camera's.

I agree 100% with using a digital camera as a light meter. I use a Canon A590 point and shoot (about $30 on ebay). It gives me a histogram and that makes getting the correct exposure a snap. In addition, I get a record of the shutter speed, f stop and date / time. The ISO of the Canon is set to the ISO of the film for me. Your results may vary. It's very satisfying to develop a roll of film and see all of those perfectly exposed negatives. And, they are a joy to scan.