FREITAG, 05.01.2007 - 02:03 Uhr
Basic Lighting Considerations
Practical use of the technical assets from the DIY lights guide.
This tiny little article sheds a light (ha, ha...) on the practical aspects
of using lights for photographic purposes. Objective is to learn choosing
the appropriate lighting for your subject regarding material and idea.
Hardware and technical aspects are detailed in the
DIY lighting guide.
This article might spawn questions on your side.
I cannot guarantee answers, and from a certain level or in
professional consultations I might eventually need to charge
for my time. But asking is for free in first place.
If you speak German, you may ask in the German newsgroup
news:de.rec.fotografie and copy the message to my e-mail account (email@example.com) marked "posted and mailed".
I write there on a regular basis, and public answers save me
from writing duplicate answers.
Light is defined by two main aspects:
Light quantity and light quality
(How many and which kind?)
Intensity and positioning of the lamps Lamp (flash) power: People often claim not to have enough light.
Cheap excuse. If your subject doesn't move and you have a tripod, you
don't need more light. It may be better if the light comes from a different
direction or is more diffused or more directed, but when you are able to
see your subject, you can take pictures of it. When the shutter speed is
too long for handheld shooting because of possible or guaranteed shake,
use a tripod. A nicely exposed piece of film is childrens game. Wether you
have your lamp 100 feet away from your subject or burn it from close range
onto the subject, by setting smart combinations of aperture and shutter
speed you can achieve proper exposure. Understand, what aperture and
shutter speed do, and you have learned the biggest part.
It is not the amount of light, it is the way you use it.
(Does that sound familiar? )
Okay, light quantity (power) is rather not mission critical. It is more
the light quality, the characteristics of lightforming accessories that matter.
What is "main light"? Well, the light that dominates the picture, that generates
highlights and shadows. The sun is a prfect example for a main light.
But the main light in a picture can also be the reflector of a studio flash
or a small battery powered hot shoe mounted flash. Probably the most important
decision about setting up a picture is where to place the main light.
Do you want the sun to shine over your own shoulder or over the model's shoulder?
Is it better to sit your model in front of the window or next to it?
Put the flash on camera or buy an extension cable for remote flash? Simple answer.:
Everything goes. Every case is different, there is no absolute wrong or right.
If you like the result, you've made the right decision, if you don't like it, call it art.
The secret is to see the *light*. See what is illuminated and what is not.
If you don't like what you see, change the lamp positions. Or change the position of
your subject relative to the lamps. Do you want one half of the face black?
Or do you want light flat as a pancake? Do you want the eyes to be black holes?
If not, rearrange the lights! Look how shadows change with changed lamp positions
and adjust your position according to what you see.
Forget about the little buttons on your camera for a minute. Look at the light,
what is illuminated and what not, and in which style? Light is *the* tool of
the creative photographer. Paint with light and shadows where it suits your needs.
How many lights?
Okay, the million dollar question: How many lights did God make? (Or Russ Meyer
or Jello Biafra, or....) One, the sun, right. Or not. Russ also made the sky
and the ground, reflecting and diffusing sunlight. We call that reflectors,
fill lights, diffusers. If there was nothing to reflect light, everything
not being hit by direct light would be jet black. Like seen on the moon. Or
on NASA pictures, if you haven't been there yet.
Reflectors / Fill lights
The light that shows the shadow side and fills it with life. In photography
every light not creating shadows (or creating merely visible shadows)
is a fill light. The most simplistic way to avoid shadows is to place the fill
as close as possible to the optical axis. All lights cast shadows, regardless
of their size and where they are. Positioning the fill close to the optical
axis and a little above it, nearly all shadows it generates are hidden behind
the subject and thus not visible for the camera. Positioning the camera to the
side often results in cross shadows, a common beginners mistake.
Another means of lightening up shadows is a reflector. Some photographers
use large white cardboard panels, styrofoam boards or flexible dedicated
reflectors. As a rule of thumb, position the reflector in a way that enables
it to reflect some of the main light onto the dark side, the shadows of your
subject. To understand the principle, try that with a mirror. Reflectors are
matte and more diffuse in comparison to a mirror. The mirror is not very
useful as a means of contrast control, but you can see the effect very good.
Next million dollar question: How much light do you want? How much fill?
How close to your subject do you want it? Simple answer: Everything goes
as long as you like the result.
How many fills/reflectors to use? How do you want the ratio of main light to fill?
Do you want the fill to be as much as the main light (1:1)? Or do you want the fill
to be just half of the main light (2:1)? Again, up to you. An even, flat lighting
is mostly perceived as "soft", because shadows are not too deep and quite gentle,
high contrasts with strong shadows on the other side are perceived as "hard" lighting.
High contrast pictures with little or no fill often look very dramatic. If you want
dramatic images, use few or no fill lights and reflectors. You all know the covers
of fashion magazines, the majority uses soft lighting with little shadows. But you
also all know some of those dramatic, high contrast portraits that show so much more
Try this: If you are not sure what you really want, pick a few fashion magazines or
magazines in general, browse through them and pick a few images you really like.
Try to find out how they were lit. Is the lighting high contrast or low contrast?
Lamps close to the camera or far to the side? Maybe even backlight? Are both
sides of a portrait lit or just half of the face? Shadows with hard or smooth edges?
Look into the eyes of portraits or into reflecting parts of still, lamps usually
reflect into both, which allows you to detect which setup was used.
Once you found out how the images were lit you can try to duplicate that for your
own images. Try variations, and write down what you did for later reference.
Understand what light does to your image, and use it accordingly.
Yes, there are other lights. There are hair lights, background lights, contour lights,
splash lights and Russ knows what else. Don't be too worried about that, you have
plenty of time to worry later. You can shoot perfect people shots with just one
main light and a fill light. Or just with a main light.
Reflector size. And yet another million dollar question: A light reflected and
diffused over a large panel, or a simple battery powered flash?
Say nothing, would be wrong anyway. The answer depends on what you want the
picture to look like. The main difference between a hot shoe mounted flash and
one bounced off a reflector or into an umbrella is its relative size.
The bigger the illuminated area, the softer the shadows. If you want max structure,
and hard edged shadows, use a small point light and place it off axis. If you
want soft shadows that smoothly dissolve into the lit parts use a large light
and place it close to the optical axis.
Try this experiment: Take off the reflector of a desk lamp, leave just the bare
bulb. A clear bulb works best. Stand between lamp and wall and try with
your hands to make ducks (shadows) fly over the wall. Now put the reflector
back on and try again. With the reflector back on, the light source is larger,
your ducks will be more blurred. The ducks ....er, shadows under the nose of
your model behave the same. Most people don't like to find hard edged shadows
under their noses. That is the reason why so many photographers use large
lightformers or umbrellas for people shots. Large lightformers mean soft
edged shadows, but not necessary flat lighting. Put a large softbox to the
side or even slightly behind your subject, and you will receive strong shadows
regardless of the lightformer size like in the sample below.
Put a small point light close to the optical axis, and you will receive very few
but hard edged shadows. Look into the face in the sample below: It is lit with a
follow spot very close to the optical axis, hard light, but few shadows in her face.
Another aspect of light quality, with a lot of influence on the result.
If you shoot negative film, it is not too critical, up to some extent you
can correct that in printing. Too much correction on the other hand doesn't
leave too much quality, and when you shoot transparencies, the result is
incorrectable. Better to shoot it right in first place. Transparencies have
some advantage, though: You can play around with color without the fear that
your lab might filter that out in printing. Correction filters used in shooting
or different moods of light over the day can have dramatic influence on the
image. I'll explain that in the next world.
Or in a few weeks. (Bribe me!)