In modern DSLRs they all have a light meter built-in to the camera. But sometimes you want a more accurate reading, or to measure the amount of light when using flash (your camera can’t do that), in which case you would turn to a handheld light meter.
Check out this video from Adorama TV (host Daniel Norton) for some light meter basics.
This second video is more advanced. Once again from Adorama TV, with host Mark Wallace, this one covers how to meter for light ratios. Read more about ratios here: Lighting Ratios to Make or Break your Portrait.
In the video above he is using the Sekonic L-358 light meter. Here are a couple other choices, also made by Sekonic. I personally use the L-308 and it works just fine. You don’t need one that’s really fancy but the one he used does have the memory storage for comparing the light, the L-308 does not. So if you want that feature you may want to opt for the L-358.
Have you used a light meter before? If you are shooting with speedlights or studio lights you may find it necessary, but if you shoot landscapes and use mostly natural light you probably do not need one. Let us know your experience in the comments below.