Monday, February 12, 2018

Use Your Fist

Some years ago I read that Jane Bown, legendary newsie/portraitist, used to evaluate the light by holding up her fist.

This works marvelously well. Your fist is not a face, but it has lumps and planes and pointy bits and protuberances. You can get an instant evaluation of the character of the available light if you simply hoist the thing up and really look at it. Make a fist, hold it up thumb toward your nose, and really stare at it a second.

I did some pictures of kids for a friend recently. City hall in town here has this big lobby area, with some large glass-brick panels in the face of the building, which faces due south. It might not be your classic North Light but with the glass brick it's pretty damned nice. I threw up my fist, got the feel of it, and away we went. I mean, it's 99% rapport with kids and 1% photography, but still.


  1. If you lack a grey card, your hand works pretty good for reflective metering. Dunno about fist. I'm too lazy to do either, I just point my handheld meter below the horizon and pray.

  2. The palm tells you exposure, the fist tells you how to direct your subject.

    1. You shake your fist, and the subject obliges?

      I'm not fit enough to try that, except on small children.

  3. Back when my camera didn't have a light meter and I couldn't afford a Weston, an old bloke in Sydney showed me how to estimate the lighting and set the aperture/shutter speed. He used his fist. No, it wasn't Jane in disguise. It just seemed to be something news photographers did.
    I don't use it now unless I want to show off to the young ones with their snappy nikons.
    Jane has some wonderful stories about shooting portraits. But my all time favorites of hers are those she shot in the street with her trusty Rollei.