Back in the day, when I was shooting film in the studio, a flash meter like my redoubtable and now-antique Gossen Luna-Star F2 and Polaroid tests were indispensable in getting correct exposures. I in a digital world filled with histograms and three-inch OLED screens the short answer is not always.
While I often—but not always—use my flash meter or a hand-held light meter when working in my home studio, I know several photographers who never use a lighter meter under these kinds of conditions. If you disagree with this approach, that’s OK because a lot depends on the lighting setup that’s used.
So let me rephrase the original question: Do you always need a flash meter?
And if you’d like to know what some of my friends do, here’s the answer. They start by picking a shutter speed they know will sync the camera with the flash. If you don’t already know it you’ll find it in your cameras User’s Guide because is this is more important than you think. Read more about this topic and my experiences here.
After setting the sync speed, they choose an aperture based on their experience working in the studio or maybe just the of-told but probably apocryphal “f/11 is used for most cover shots.” experience. Or maybe is the sweet spot for this particular lens. Since most people photographers like to work with mid-range apertures in the f/5.6 to f/8 range they choose something in that range and then make a test exposure. Bang! At that point, looking at the screen and evaluating the histogram, they might take a bigger swing at selecting an aperture since the test shot was just a guess to evaluate the test exposure. Then they fine-tune it through additional test shots, including evaluating the histogram to zero in on what’s considered the final exposure setting.
This is just one way to get correct flash exposures. (Time to remind everyone that is is not a my way or the highway blog; what you read here are suggestions. Use what you like ignore the rest.)
There;’s more on working in the studio, no matter where it might be, in my book, “Studio Lighting Anywhere.” Please pick up a copy for yourself or a friend. It’s is available from your favorite book or camera stores as well as including Amazon.com.