How to use your Hand as a Light Meter | Your film school didn’t teach you this.

Hi I’m Sareesh Sudhakaran and in this video
I wanted to show you how you can use your hand as a light meter. I’ve seen this being
used by a few cinematographers when I first started out and it looked cool. It’s the cinematographer’s
equivalent of a director’s frame. There are three ways you can use your hand
as a light meter. You have two sides to your hand. You have the palm and the back of your
hand. You can use either side. It depends on whatever
you’re trying to achieve. Let’s start with the palm first. This is the side that does not change tones
very easily. It does change tone depending on your health, age and whatever. But it’s
more constant, let’s say, than the back of your hand. So we use it like a grey chart. The first
thing you need to do is to calibrate your palm to a grey chart. So you put them side
by side under the exact same lighting. You have to make sure that there’s no fall-off.
So you have to have the light at the exact same distance to the palm and to the chart
as well. Let’s assume you’re recording in Rec. 709.
If you’re using a waveform monitor you would have middle grey at about 45 to 50 IRE. For
the purposes of this video I’m going to keep it simple and I’m just going to have it at
50 IRE. So you can see when I put my palm next to
the grey chart, the palm is at about 60 IRE. It’s about a stop over than middle grey. Now
what I can do with that is, if I don’t have a grey chart in the field, I can use my palm
and expose for my palm and every time it’s correctly exposed that means the shot is underexposed
by one stop and I need to overexpose it by one stop and then it will be exposed correctly
for middle grey, if that’s my purpose. If I’m using a waveform monitor I just have
to make sure that the palm of my hand is at 60 IRE and I’m good to go. This is for my
palm of course. If you’re using your palm the values might
change a little bit. Now of course you have to be standing where the light is hitting.
So you cannot be next to your camera and you cannot put your palm in front of the camera
and take a reading that way. You have to actually have to go to where your
subject is because that’s where you get the accurate reading. But that’s not always possible
so I don’t see many practical uses using the palm of your hand. The other way is to use the back of your hand.
Now this is what I’ve seen cinematographers use. They use it like this. Like you’re reading
the time. And they put it against the light. So what are they exactly looking for? They
are basically looking for skin tones and the tonality that you get on your palm. So you
have to have a very good memory of your own skin color. The problem is, the skin color changes quite
a bit. Now I’ve just been out in the sun for a few days and you can see that my skin color
has changed by about a stop and this is a little better than what it was last week. You still have to calibrate the back of your
hand to a grey chart just like before. You align them in the same lighting conditions
side by side or on top of each other. In this case you can see that the back of my hand
is exactly at around 50 IRE. So it’s almost middle grey. If you have a
Caucasian skin tone it’ll be overexposed and if you have a darker skin tone it’ll be underexposed. But whatever it is you assume it’s going to
be constant, which it is not because cinematographers spend a lot of time out in the sun so your
skin color is going to change quite a bit. But I think on the whole it’s not going to
change more than half a stop under normal conditions. And only under extreme conditions
it might change by a full stop. So having a good memory of your skin color can help
you identify how to light a scene. So cinematographers walk around the scene and instead of using
a light meter they just point their hand where the light is and by using their memory of
their skin color they judge exposure. That’s how they use the back of the hand. The third way to use your hand as a light
meter is to use the back of the hand, not yours. But your subject’s. Now in every project
the subject is going to change. So in the beginning of the project you get your subject
to stand next to a grey chart and continue the same process that you did with your hand
and you’ll know where their skin tones are going to lie. Let’s assume, for the sake of
simplicity, that it’s 50 IRE or middle grey and the skin tone matches with 50 IRE. Every time it reads 50 IRE on your waveform
or false color tool you know your subject is correctly exposed. So even if the subject
changes location. They go to the shade or the sun or in a room or under different lighting
conditions. By maintaining the skin tone at 50 IRE you
know that every shot is going to match as far as skin tones are concerned. And with
most projects that we shoot, we are more concerned about maintaining skin tones than anything
else. And of course, if you need to under or overexpose then you can make the call depending
on that skin tone. So all you need to get is your subject to
stand next to a grey chart for a few seconds at the beginning and then you’re good to go. So you can run and gun using this method just
by having the tools in your camera. If you don’t have a waveform monitor you can use
the in-camera meter. You just need to use the one-degree spot meter and try to get an
accurate reading. If you do have a camera like the Panasonic
GH5 it has a waveform monitor and it makes this very easy. As a bonus you can also use the back of the
hand to check for hard light and soft light or shadows. So what you do is you have your hand in the
same position and you use your finger to check for the softness or the hardness of the light.
Now you don’t have to do this all the time. Once you know what hard or soft light is you
don’t have to do this. But it has an advantage, is that if you have
multiple lights. Now in this case I’m just using one light. It’s just one key so it’s
just one shadow. But if you’re using multiple lights you can check for multiple shadows
by using your finger. This method just takes a second and you know
exactly what shadows your lights are causing. So I hope this video has helped you understand
how you can use your hand as a light meter and guide in case you don’t have any other
tools so just to make it clear once again it does not replace any of the exposure tools
or light meter. Those things are more precise and will give you more consistent results
over time. But if you’re stuck in a situation where you
want to light a scene but you don’t have a light meter and you still need to walk around
you can use your hand and use your memory of your skin tone; or, use the third method
and calibrate your subject’s skin tone to a grey chart once and then you can just use
that number on your waveform monitor to expose for the entire shoot. And even if you’re not using the back of the
hand as an exposure tool you can still walk around the set, show off as if you’re reading
the time against the light, and people are going to come and ask you: What are you doing? And you can say:This is how I check for light.
It’s a secret technique. Bye now.

30 thoughts on “How to use your Hand as a Light Meter | Your film school didn’t teach you this.

  1. Pretty sure the reason they are using the fist is to check for the quality and direction of light. Hard, soft etc. the shadows as you mentioned in the end. Using it as a lightmeter doesnt make much sense as our eyes automatically adjust regardless if our skin tones.

  2. This could work for a non-critical one-man Production. I guess if someone is stealing your stuff and didn't get the camera too you could use this to quickly dial in while you chase the thief. 😂

    I can't help but think you'd be better off taping your Gray Chart to the back of your Slate or using Full Gray/Color Chart so you can look at it when Grading and set everything (all different Cameras, and Indoor vs. Outdoor Shots) to match.

    If the Footage when to an Editor with you singing/dancing holding your hand up and clapping for Slate what are they going to think.

    Example of how useful a Chart is: .

    Your method is eyeballing an object that changes color – you could buy a gray Camera Bag if you're trying to save a buck or get T-Shirts printed with a Chart on them.

    I've eyeballed with no hands or charts and got acceptable results if it's not super critical.

    I'm a loyal Sub, just not sure this is one of your better Tutorials.


  3. Thanks for another great video, I don't usually comment on your videos so just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate them! Truly awesome content that is hard to find.

  4. I wasn't aware of the techniques you described here, but I've seen
    people (me included) using the fist technique in a very different way – as a
    lighting ratio indicator. Because your fist is a relatively three dimensional
    object and kind of similar to a cube, you can put it in the middle of the
    lighting set up you made, and see how you are doing in terms of key light, fill
    light, and back light. The way the light falls on your fist will be very
    similar to the way it will fall on human faces, for example. That way, you can
    position your lights before the model/actor arrives, and know roughly what kind
    of look you will get.

  5. Mate, I love your videos, but please do something with the audio, get a better MIC from ebay or just quite the noisegating 🙂 Thanks!

  6. Nothing like old school low budget no budget way of doing things. It had worked for me for the past 20 years and has not let me down yet.

  7. I have the same tiny cctv 25mm 1.4 lens on my GH5, had only this lens for a couple of weeks and used it for a music video, turned out to be pretty amazing little lens, but thought it looked a little out of place 😛

  8. This works under studio lighting conditions and shooting interviews, but when shooting cinema, subjects often go into the shadows or into the highlights and you need to expose to reflect that lighting. Always exposing relative to middle grey won't be natural.

  9. Great video buddy! Could you also make a video in how to frame with the hands? There isn't much information about it…

  10. Err from what I know they do this to check the fall off/contrast under diffused or hard lighting. Not to "meter" the light.

  11. Can't believe you only have 64K, looks like people watch fancy bs instead of useful knowledge, thanks a lot !

  12. Apart from the great information you provided, thats looks like a cool lighting setup you have there ! Can you please tell a bit about it .

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