May 14, 2017

Watch: How to Use Your Hand as a Light Meter

The next time you're caught without a light meter, use this trick that pro DPs use.

There are two things that indie filmmakers don't have much off: money and time. This great trick from Sareesh Sudhakaran of wolfcrow addresses a little bit of both. If you're unable to afford a light meter or just don't have time to line up a grey chart, your hands make a fantastic replacement. Check out the video below to learn three different ways you can use your mitts to measure exposure, as well as get better readings of skin tones.

Okay no, your hands don't have a magical ability to measure light, of which somehow you were completely unaware. You will have to utilize a couple of other tools to get this trick to work properly, including a waveform monitor and a grey chart. For example, if you want to achieve an accurate exposure using your palm as a light meter, you'll need to calibrate it with a grey chart before you do.

Ideally you'd always have a light meter with you to expose your shot, but if you're stuck without one or can't afford one, this is a really handy trick. (I literally wrote that without being aware of the pun, so it stays.)

To learn more about the process, head on over to Sudhakaran's blog post.      

Your Comment


I have seen people measuring light by looking at their palm, but in order to get there it will take you years and years of experience. What this guy is trying to say, in a very wrong way, is that you can use the palm of your hand as a middle or 18% gray card, but you still need a light meter. You can compare the palm of your hand to a gray card, measure it, remember what the difference is, keep it in mind, compensate for the difference and you don't need to carry a card all the time. You still need a light meter or a camera with a reflected light meter on it like 100% of DSLRs this days.

The other way of using your fist he erroneously describes as for measuring light works to see the quality of the light, ratios, direction of the light and to pre visualize how hard or soft the light or shadows are in the scene. It works with histograms and waveform scopes, since they are pretty much more complex light meters too, but the information this guy is trying to put out is wrong or incomplete.

May 15, 2017 at 3:03AM

Ruben arce

The Title of the article is very misleading. The 'palmists' use it as a substitute for an 18% grey card and not as a substitute for a light meter. By the way my 'palm reading' is a perfect 18% grey. :-) Sunny Joseph ISC

May 19, 2017 at 3:14AM

Sunny Joseph
Cinematographer, Director, Editor

The hand can be used as a TONE REFERENCE only. Caucasian skin usually fall on Zone VI. This is Zone System, but if you understand ZS just measure the important tones and place them correctly. Expose for the highlights and light for the shadows, in case of film. All this works with a reflected meter reading only (the ones from DSLR for example), not incident meter. No Film School (as a school) should check what it publish.

May 15, 2017 at 7:39AM, Edited May 15, 7:39AM

Fernando Bergamaschi

the way I've seen the hand being used by DP's and gaffers is simply as a stand in for a subject when framing a close-up or an interview shot; you look at how the light wraps around the curved back of your hand as you make a fist and place it where the face of the actor/interviewee will be positioned. It's to evaluate the quality of the light much more than the brightness of it.

May 15, 2017 at 8:35AM


"The next time you're caught without a light meter, use this trick that pro DPs use."

I would hope that anyone considered a "Pro DP" would NEEVER be "caught" without a light meter. Considering all the money "Pros" spend on equipment, a simple light meter is a must.

And Einar Bjarni Davidsson is right on the money: Old time DP's used their fists as a reference for the human head- to see how light (ratio, falloff, etc.) might look. This would be refined once the actor was in place along with the use of a light meter.

This seems overly complicated and contradictory.

May 15, 2017 at 1:19PM

Chriss Williams
Film Professor