Read the manual! And…

After much deliberation and a recommendation from Bruce Percy, I recently bought a Sekonic L-758D lightmeter.  It is fiendishly complicated to try and understand all the features, but I do now understand the basics, and it is a fantastic device (and I will probably never need to use all the features anyway).  I’ve read the manual through, and remembered thinking how cleverly designed everything about it was.  Even the pouch it came in had a little pocket for a spare battery.  The manual encouraged carrying a spare, just in case the battery in the meter ran out – and explicitly said the battery that was supplied may have been in the device for a while and that a spare should be bought promptly.  Very clever.

I find the meter most useful in determining the differences in dynamic range, and then using graduated filters to reduce the range, thereby creating a usable image.  This evening, I was wanting to capture a lovely ruin in the evening light, and just knew the shadows would be too dark or the highlights blown out without use of a grad filter.  So I dug the light meter out of my bag, turned it on – and the battery was flat.

Of course, I had thought when reading the manual that the idea of buying a spare battery was very sensible, but I hadn’t acted on it.

Kaiserswerth 1

Kaiserswerth - with dark shadows

So I thought I’d try the shot anyway.  It was rubbish, as you can see here – the shadows are almost completely black, and whilst the sky and bricks are fairly rich in tone, the overall image is lousy.  So I tried using the camera’s spot meter and working out the difference between the shadow area and the lighter wall.  Rather improbably, my mental arithmetic from thinking through the variant shutter speeds at my chosen aperture came up with 8 stops – quite high, I thought.  But I went with my calculations, and used a 9-stop grad.  And this second image is the result – flat and boring.

Kaiserswerth 2

Kaiserswerth - flat and boring

Yes, I could have tried a 6- or a 3-stop grad (I later worked out it was a 4 or 5 stop difference), but I was so put off and annoyed by the whole experience that I just didn’t bother.  I walked back to the town centre to an electrical store to buy the special battery needed (it takes a CR123A, not just a normal AA battery!), and then went back to the ruin.  Of course the light was gone.  Pah.

Lesson for today: Read the manual.  And when the clever people who designed such a clever device make a recommendation in their manual, I should act on it.  I’ll try and do so from now on, promise.

PS I did only buy one battery, in case you’re wondering.  I’d recommend that when buying one as a spare, especially of a more exotic kind, you buy it from another shop so you are more likely to not end up with two batteries that go flat at the same time.  So tomorrow or the next day I’m going to find another battery retailer…

PPS I’m aware I could have tried to create an HDR image – but 99% of the time, the resultant images repulse me, so I wasn’t going to start going down that route.  I’d rather learn the lesson and lose the image than end up spending a lot of time on an image I’d hate in the end anyway, given that I’ve never tried my hand at HDR manipulation…

There’s always another day, another photograph…

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