Use Your Hand as a Makeshift Gray Card for Estimating Exposure

Peter West Carey of DPS has a neat trick for always having a gray card “at hand”: he suggests using your hand as a gray card when you don’t have a card handy. You’ll need to start with an actual gray card for “calibration”:

In a nice even light, using spot metering and manual exposure mode, point your camera at the gray card. Set your ISO so it is not on Auto and maybe to 800, the number isn’t too important. Now adjust aperture and shutter speed until the camera metering is at zero, meaning it is not over or underexposed according to the camera. Next place your hand (I suggest your left hand) where the card was, with your fingers together. Ensure the center metering spot is completely covered by your hand.

What does the camera’s meter read now? Mine says the settings I had for the gray card are 2/3rds of a stop too dark for my hand. […] This means whenever I point the spot metering at my hand, and my hand is in the light hitting my subject, I just have to adjust my settings until my camera thinks the exposure is 2/3rds of a stop too dark and I am set!

So basically, since the color and tone of your palms don’t change very much, you can use the difference between your hand and 18% gray for snap exposure judgements while shooting.

How To Always Keep A Gray Card At Hand [DPS]

Image credit: Hand by mnsc

  • Pete

    I sense some Zone System techniques

  • Cedar22

    I guess this works if you’re white….

  • Kåre

    What about niggers?

  • Guest

     It’s a calibration technique. You measure the calibration for your own hand, so it’ll work no matter what colour or shade it is.

  • Barret211

    Hey Kåre, go play in traffic.

  • ASM

    What about your mama’s ass? Stupid jerk!!!

  • D’Ny

    The first advice I got from my boss 20 years ago shooting BW film 

  • Richard

    A good tip, but very old hat…everyone should know this who has any interest in photography ;)

  • Perpetualsound

    Im black and this has worked for me. Been doing this since I saw it in an old film zone system book.

  • Jay

    zombies get exceptionally accurate results :D

  • Rusty

    Been doing this for over 30 years. Still works!

  • Andrew Williams

    I went to the Nikon school back in the ’70s, and this was one of the techniques they recommended. Another was metering a macadam street. When in doubt, there is always the “Sunny 16″ rule (shutter speed equal to the ASA/ISO of the film at f/16). There were very few autoexposure SLRs in those days.

  • Darren Ward Photo

    I used to always do this with my 450D and film cameras (my hand was around +1 as I’m very pale) but when I changed to a 40D it became totally unreliable for some reason I never managed to figure out.
    You can apply the same technique to any surface which makes using manual settings in changeable light really quick and easy.

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  • Photo1017

    This is an old trick I learned back in my 35mm days. It was probably 1972 when I was learning how-to and I’ve used this ‘trick’ effectively and successfully since.
    Just remember, unless you are a zombie, with a gray ashen pallor, you cannot use this for white balance!