Several weeks ago, I went into how to read your light meter and why it is so important. (See the light meter post here.) I know that many of you have said the light meter is dead. Well, you are not on your way to serving yourself well as a cinematographer by thinking this way. You have to have the brick and mortar of light before putting together your creative house.
This week I will go into how to read a color temp meter and describe why it is important. I have always loved understanding the color of different lights — street lights, fluorescents in a store, neon, moonlight, etc. I’ve talked about taking that snapshot in your mind with light, and I also do the same with color temps and how they mix.
There are only two functions you really need to be familiar with on a Minolta Color Meter: Kelvin, which is the K button, and Color Correction, which is the CC button. The color meter that I use is very old school. It’s the original and I love it.
Take any light. We will use a clamp light fixture with a household bulb for this example. Push your K button and a K will show up on the screen.
The color spectrum works like this. A lower number means the light is warmer. A higher number means that the light is colder. 3200K is considered balanced tungsten light. 5500K is considered balanced daylight.
Back to Reading our Meter
Our light is at 2730K, which is about 500K warmer than a tungsten balanced light at 3200K. If I loved this warm color, I would need to put Rosco ½ CTS on the light to equal that Kelvin.
Now we need to see if this light is magenta or green in any way. The way you read this is by pushing the CC button and CC will show up on your screen.
This means it is ready to read the magenta or green content of your light. There is a quicker way to get this as well. Once you have gotten the color temp of the clamp light at 2710K, you can quickly hit the CC button and it will display its green or magenta content. Anything + is green and anything that is – is magenta. This light happens have a little magenta -1, but not bad.
Reading your color temp meter is done the same way as reading a light meter. I make sure that the meter is very close to the light that I am reading so that other color temps cannot influence my readings. I cup my hand around the flat disc as well so that no skylight or other bounce ambient, back light or fill light affects the reading.
In the light meter post, I talked about how I use a light meter to match daylight exteriors and about keeping them balanced. To do this correctly, you need a light meter and a color meter. A color meter is essential to this process. Skylight, even when it is overcast, is very blue. To achieve balanced daylight exteriors, aim your meter up to the sky and cup slightly to not get any wall bounce.
Today our skylight is reading 9350K. This is the color temp you will have to match when using top light to balance your light levels as the sun sets or if you need to pick up shots after the sun has gone down and light it with artificial. The next reading you will have to take is the day fill ambient reading. I cup my hand to take the top light off the disc and read the color of what is bouncing off walls, trees and some horizon sky light, which comes in at 6000K.
Now the final reading is the sunlight. To get this reading, aim directly at the sun and cup the disc so that it doesn’t get any of the top light or side bounce. In this example, it reads 5350K, which makes sense during the winter. The light is always a little warmer in winter. In the summer, it usually comes in closer to 5500-5600K.
Now you have collected all of these readings and you are prepared if the sun goes down and you all of a sudden have to create day at night. You have the playbook of color temps to have it match seamlessly.
We have discussed how to read a meter and how to read the color and color correction values of a light. Now let’s discuss how to balance a light when it is very green. The color meter enables you to match color temps on the street, in stores and in bars with movie lights. When I shot on film, a green level of +4 was right at the level of the film stock registering it. With the new digital sensors, the color sensitivity is higher, so a +1 or +2 level of green will read pretty significantly on your monitor.
I love embracing all of these different colors (see my post on color temp) and not trying to balance them to daylight or tungsten. When it comes to a light source that is supposed to mimic daylight or tungsten light, your color temp meter is essential. LED lights do not cover the full color spectrum and they tend to be green in a weird way. This is where you use your color meter to find out exactly how much green the LED light puts out. Once you have that information, you can use Rosco minus green to balance it.
We start with this LED light from iKan, which reads +9 green and 6950K.
I will first put on a layer of ¼ minus green, which will counteract the green levels of this light to see where the meter goes down to, which is at +6 green and my Kelvin dropped to 6600K.
Now another layer of ¼ minus is added, which brings us down to +3 and 6350K.
By adding the final ¼ minus green, we end at -1, which is acceptable, but let’s check out where our color temp is with all this gel. With all of this magenta gel comes warmth. We end at 6150K, which is 650K colder than a daylight balanced light.
Magenta is my least favorite color. It is an essential one, but I hate pink. I would rather a skin tone be more on the yellow side than pink. Manicuring your magenta level on lights is important if you do not want pinky, peachy skin tones. On film, -3 to -4 would barely show up; on digital sensors, -2 shows up big time.
Now that you have the basics to reading both light and color, you are ready to go out there and continue to snap shots of light.
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