My name is Bryan Esler, and I have a confession. I’ve never used a handheld light meter.
For me, light meters were old technology. They weren’t something that was necessary. I didn’t completely understand how to use them, what the benefits were and most importantly, it just seemed like “one more thing” to carry around with me on a shoot.
Enter the Illuminati, a light meter designed for the smartphone age. But Illuminati takes it one step further, allowing you to also determine the correct color temperature level and chromaticity for your shooting conditions.
Why our camera’s built-in light meter isn’t good enough
Today’s modern digital cameras do a fairly good job at determining conditions when you set it to auto levels. Things like auto white balance, auto ISO, and auto shutter speed are great to get you started. But the results are often less than satisfactory, providing either a color cast or an underexposed or an overexposed image.
What’s more, it’s often difficult to adjust your settings once you add speedlights, strobes, gels or any number of different lighting diffusers into the mix.
The Illuminati not only tells you the perfect exposure when you set any two of the three settings: ISO, aperture, or shutter speed. It also tells you the color of the light so setting the proper white balance for a naturally or artificially lit situation is easy and accurate. It takes into account those added extras that you might be using to light on- or off-camera.
Getting started with Illuminati
I used the Illuminati device on a few different photo shoots. In the first instance, I took it to a coffee shop with my friend Cathy, and we took turns using the Illuminati to optimize our cameras’ exposures and white balances. The meter hooks up easily via Bluetooth to an iPhone or Android, then instantly shows the optimal settings are for your camera.
In the coffee shop, I focused on a homemade pop-tart I had ordered (yes, it did taste as good as it looks.) For the most part, I wanted to capture the details of the pop-tart, so I went with a higher f/4 aperture. Once I set that, I used the Illuminati’s Exposure tab to get my shutter speed and ISO correct for the situation.
From there, I went over to the Color Temp tab and put the Illuminati right next to the plate that was holding the pop-tart. The reading was near-instant, and I was able to hone in an exact color temperature that I could use with the Kelvin scale on my camera.
In my results, the exposure results were spot-on. I couldn’t have asked for it to be any more accurate. The color temperature, though, seemed to add a bit of a green cast to my image, while Cathy’s images were near-perfect.
After further researching this, I realized that this wasn’t the fault of the Illuminati, and had more to do with my camera. My Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II had not been calibrated to have accurate white balance. But by going one shade warmer on the Kelvin scale, I was able to get color-accurate results. Setting color in the camera is super important for those who shoot JPEGs.
The Chromaticity tab is perfect for when you’re dealing with tricky indoor lighting or with deciding on what gels to use on your speedlights and/or strobes. You might not realize it, but the room you thought was white might be more yellow-toned because of the lighting, and your strobes often give off a cooler, more blue-toned light. The Illuminati meter eliminates these issues by providing an accurate read of the color of the light — flash and ambient.
How Illuminati fits into my workflow
Because Illuminati is extremely easy to use and setup, it was easy to add to my workflow. On an outdoor photo shoot for a corporate client, I had the client hold the Illuminati up to their face, so I could accurately grab the exposure and color temperature at the same time. Because I still hadn’t properly calibrated my camera, I knocked up the color temperature two shades and had an image that I was very pleased with.
This was super helpful in going from place-to-place, as the exposure and color temperature readings update on-the-fly. I was even able to attach the Illuminati to my shirt pocket with the included magnets, so I didn’t have to fuss with carrying it along with the rest of my gear. To get an accurate reading, I turn my body until the meter faces the source of light, check the readings on my iPhone then set them on the camera. Simple. Easy. Accurate. I. Love. This!
And while a lot of my events are outside currently, I can see the Illuminati being even more useful once the cold weather sets in and I’m pushed inside, as I often deal with a ton of changing light situations when moving from room-to-room.
Remember how I said I don’t use light meters? Well, that’s no longer the case. The ease of use of the Illuminati meter and its instantaneous, accurate readings make it a must-have for any type of photographer.