Using a handheld light meter isn’t for everybody, and we occasionally forget to pack a grey card. But there are things that are close enough to middle grey that they can work just as well. Grass is a common subject to meter off in rural areas. But something else you can use is your hand.
Using your hand as a target for spot metering isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that many don’t know about. All modern cameras have built in reflective spot meters, and the hand can be a great way to nail a good exposure. As long as it’s in the same lighting conditions as your subject, you’ll be able to get it spot on every time. This video from Sareesh at Wolfcrow shows us how it’s done.
Sareesh says that you can use either the palm or the back of your hand. The palm, however, is more consistent. It changes in brightness less frequently over time, and is more consistent. The back of the hand can get brighter and darker depending on how much time you spend in the sun.
The first step, regardless of which side you use is to “calibrate” your hand to a grey card. Pop the two side by side under identical lighting conditions, and you can quickly see how the two compare. But once you know how much lighter or darker your palm is than 18% grey, you’ll know exactly how much to compensate.
For example, your palm may show as being a stop brighter than 18% grey. This means that if you meter off your palm your shots will be underexposed by a stop. So, you dial in an extra stop of compensation, and you’re good to go. Perfect exposures every time.
The back of the hand is an alternate technique that works in the same way. But the skin on the backs of our hands changes more frequently. So, we have to calibrate more often to a grey card to see how far out we are.
As it’s often difficult to stand in front of the camera with your hand out, Sareesh offers a third technique. That is to use your subject’s hand. But this means you’ll need each subject to have their hand next to the grey card at the beginning of a shoot. Once you know how far out their hand is from middle grey, you can get it every time.
Of course, this means taking a grey card out with you on every shoot. And if you’re going to be taking it with you anyway, why not just use the grey card?
It would make more sense to me to meter the subject’s face against the grey card, not their hand. That way, at least, as your camera’s often usually pointed at or near your subject’s face, you can meter while you shoot. No need to keep pulling out the grey card or have them bring up their hand.
These aren’t techniques I’d recommend as a rule, especially when getting the exposure spot on is essential. But, they can be a handy backup when you find yourself with no other options. Personally, I always make sure to pack my Sekonic meter and Xpobalance in the bag. But, we are all only human, and occasionally things are forgotten.