I am sure some of you know my opinions on light meters, they are a MUST HAVE for any DP or Videographer. Yes of course there are situations where you wont be able to use a light meter and you will need to just use your zebra stripes, histogram, or waveform to make sure you are properly exposed and you are going to blow any of your footage out. I was recently reading an article and the way they put it made me think of this topic yet again. Waveform monitors are a tool for engineers, light meters are a tool for an artist. Undoubtably that sentence will irk some of you and I am here to say I can totally see why. On the other hand though its a fairly true statement. Its only been in the last decade or so that the switch to video has allowed these tools to be used when shooting. When shooting on film there was no waveform, zebra stripes, or histogram.
Now this is where the debate to me gets a little fuzzy. Yes when using all of the tools at your disposal you can properly expose an image, and yes a reference or field monitor will give you a fairly accurate indicator of what you will be capturing but seriously this only part of the whole equation. Yes you do not need a light meter any longer to set your exposure, but you do need a light meter to light a scene or interview or really any situation where you are going to use lights. I have talked to some people recently and they talk about light meters as though if you touch one you will quickly catch the plague, your hand will fall off and you will never be able to work again. Please I beg of you PLEASE don’t forget about lighting ratios. Yes you can look at a monitor and tweak it until you get something you like but if you ever want to recreate that look or you want to try and match it to something else you have already shot you will need to have a record of what your lights are at as well as the exposure and other camera log information.
I feel that in this run and gun world people are losing site in some of the subtle ways to make your footage look better. We all had to learn how to use them in film school for multiple reasons not just setting exposure. I will give up my light meter when pigs fly!