Posted October 3, 2015 by Gavin Hoey in Videos

5 Questions about flash meters

One of the very first lighting accessories I brought was a flash meter, in fact the same meter gets used and abused almost every time I use manual flash. I’ve used my handheld flash meter with speedlights and studio flashes of all makes, I use it in the studio and on location. Honestly, I couldn’t work without it.

If you’re thinking of getting your own flash meter or already own one but are not sure how to get the best from it the video below should help answer some of the most common quesions.

Not a video viewer? No problem, try this instead.

1 Can’t I just use my camera meter?
Nope, you’re camera meter is designed to work with continuous light and can’t react fast enough to meter flash. However you can use your cameras LCD to review the photos and adjust the flash power based on what you see. This trial and error approach is OK but does have its drawbacks… see the video for more on this.

2 Do all meters work the same?
Well, they all meter the light so at a basic level they’re all the same. In my case I simply set the meter to match my camera’s ISO and shutter speed and when the flash fires I can read off the aperture.

Of course there’s plenty of advanced flash meters around that have features that might make life a lot easier for you. Some meters can measure the amount of ambient contamination in your shot, others can figure out lighting ratios and there’s even some which have pocket wizard radio triggers built into the meter itself.

3 How do I fire the flash?
That largely depends on the flash meter. On my Sekonic L-308s I prime the meter by pressing a button on the side and then fire the flash by pressing the “test” button on either the flash or radio trigger.

Other firing options include attaching a PC Sync cable from the flash to the meter or as I previously mentioned, finding a meter that has a built in radio system (such as Pocket Wizard)

4 Where do I point the meter?
This is the question that usually sets off much debate among photographers. For me it’s always… Point the meter at the light, however as you’ll see in the video, if the light is mostly coming from the camera position, the same exposure is recorded by pointing the meter at either the flash or the camera.


One mistake a lot of photographers make is to place the meter in the shadow cast by the chin or by the models hair etc. It’s easy done, so if the meter is telling you something that feels wrong, move the meter and try again.

5 Do I really need one?
No, you can do the trial and error way of working and get very good exposures. However if you move or modify the light you’ll need to do the same work all over again.

A flash meter saves time on a shoot and gives you extra confidence in nailing the correct exposure. However it’s always worth remembering that correct exposure isn’t the same as perfect exposure so it’s a good idea to ignore the meter from time to time and get a little experimental with your shots.

Lastly there’s one more reason for using a flash meter and it has nothing to do with how it works… Just like shooting with a big camera, the untrained eye can equate using a flash meter to knowing what you’re doing. Now, whether that’s a good or bad thing I’ll leave up to you.

Gavin Hoey