Commercial Photographer Explains Why You Shouldn’t Use a Light Meter

Commercial photographer and educator Karl Taylor is a working pro with an impressive portfolio to his name and major brands on his CV. So it came as a surprise when he declared recently that he hasn’t used a light meter in 15 years… and explained why you shouldn’t be using one either.

Taylor’s advice is bound to raise some eyebrows, but if you’re willing to keep an open mind, he lays out two big reasons why he thinks that light meters are a bad idea if you’re shooting digital.

In the video, he explains how he abruptly stopped using a light meter in 2005 when he purchased his first digital camera and switched to a tethered shooting setup. A light meter immediately became not only redundant, but obsolete, since he could instantly preview a shot and measure the RGB values of any pixel in the image. But this isn’t one of the two reasons he’s talking about, they are:

  1. Speed – The time it takes to measure the light and fire your flashes is longer than taking a test shot, which gives you a visual reference and more precise measurement anyway.
  2. Creativity – Relying on a light meter, “takes away or reduces one’s ability to make decisions based purely on the emotional reaction.”

It’s that last point that Taylor spends most of his time talking about, starting around the 5-minute mark. We’ve heard a similar argument for ignoring the histogram or always striving for perfect white balance: there is no such thing as the “correct” exposure or “perfect” white balance, because these, too, are creative decisions that should be made with emotional impact in mind.

Or, in Taylor’s words:

Using a light meter is like being told what to do. And when you are told what to do, you already have committed mentally to arrive at a particular look, and with a biased belief that that’s what it should be. For me, that destroys creativity, and I wouldn’t be able to produce the type of work that I do.

If you’re willing to hear Taylor out, check out the full video up top to dive into this discussion in much greater detail. And if you want to see or hear more from the photographer, you can find his portfolio here, and his educational website here.


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