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Incident vs Reflected metering – which works better?

Posted on: May 14, 2017 at 9:09 am

It can sometimes get a little confusing when we hear technical terms such as ‘incident light’ and ‘reflected light’ metering. In reality, they are pretty simple to understand if you think about it. Incident light metering simply means that you measure the light intensity as it falls on the subject, and reflected light metering refers to measuring the intensity of light after it has bounced off the subject. Simple? So which is ‘better’?

If you’ve ever seen a professional photoshoot, you might have noticed the photographer or assistant taking light readings just in front of the models’ face. Since this is light that has not yet reached the subject, it is an incident light reading. In general, photographers prefer to use incident light readings because they are independent of the reflectivity of the subject. In other words, if you were using reflective reading, the same intensity of light would give different readings off a fair skinned Kashmiri vs a dark skinned African! In such case, photographers use a ‘grey card’ to get a neutral reading.

Once you get your metering right, it opens up huge creative possibilities just by altering the way you meter, the area of the composition you take meter readings from, and how you choose to portray the highlights and shadows of the subject.