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photographic lighting basics

Functions of photographic lighting:

  1. to enable the photographer to see and focus on the subject, and then to create an image of the subject with a camera
  2. to convey information about the subject such as shape, colour, size, texture and form
  3. to comment by giving mood or atmosphere to a subject and implications of worthiness, value, happiness, misery, honesty, purity, etc.
  4. to give sensual pleasure to the viewer - the “eye-candy” factor:
    • in addition to the above factors, use of lighting to modify your image will allow one to adjust image contrast and potentially simplify a confused scene by removing detail in unwanted areas by placing them in shadow or excessive brightness, or by decreasing the impact of busy multiple shadows in a scene by choosing a large light source such as a cloudy day to remove the shadows. 

What does light do to a subject?

  • whenever light falls on a subject, depending on the direction of light, the size of the light source & the reflective qualities of the subject, varying degrees of each of the following parts of the subject will be present:
    • highlight:
      • this is the brightest reflection from the subject & it shows the colour and potentially the shape (eg. catchlights on the eyes) of the light source
    • highlight / lit area boundary:
      • this region shows shape & texture of shiny & semi-matte subjects
    • lit area:
      • this region shows the colour of the subject
    • shadow / lit area boundary:
      • this region shows shape & texture of semi-matte & matte subjects
    • shadow:
      • unless lit by another light source, this area shows nothing.
  • direction of light:
    • the direction of light on the subject will determine how much of each of these regions are visible to the camera
    • front-lighting:
      • subject is lit by a light source near the axis of the camera
      • eg. on-camera flash
    • side-lighting:
      • subject is lit by a light source 90deg to the axis of the camera
    • half-side lighting or angled lighting:
      • light source is in a position between front lighting & side lighting
      • for portraits, 45deg horizontally and vertically from the face is often used to give a good mix of lit area showing skin tones/make-up, and boundary areas showing modelling & form, with a smaller amount of shadow area for contrast & further shaping.
    • top-lighting:
      • is just another form of side-lighting but is generally not flattering for portraits as it casts unwanted shadows in the eyes while the nose and head lighten
      • eg.  midday Summer sun
    • backlighting:
      • light aimed from behind the subject and towards the camera
      • will result in even matte surfaces gaining highlights thus backlight behind a portrait will create highlights in each hair, but those hairs will take on the hue of the light source rather than their own colour.
      • cause lens flare which lightens dark areas in the image thus reducing contrast
      • if the light source is small & directly hits the lens, it will create flare spots on the image the shape of the lens diaphragm.
      • eg. hair lights or kick lights
      • eg. contre-jour
    • thus, if you wish to emphasise the subject's colour, you need to maximise the amount of lit area such as by front lighting, but you will lose textural information
    • if you wish to emphasise form & texture, you need to maximise the area of the boundary of the lit area such as by side-lighting the subject but you will lose colour saturation
  • size of light source:
    • small light source:
      • such as sun, flash gun, bare light bulb, headlights of car
      • results in sharply defined shadows, specular highlights
    • medium size light sources:
      • such as window light, photographer's soft boxes & reflectors
      • often give the most flattering portraits as softens the harsh shadows while decreasing unwanted specular highlights such as from perspiration
    • large light sources:
      • such as a cloudy day
      • results in soft shadows if any and no specular highlights & thus lacks contrast but the loss of shadows is useful for simplifying a busy scene, while contrast can be added in other ways such as by using colourful subjects (to create colour contrast) or wide dynamic range subjects (eg. blacks and whites)
  • subject surface:
    • shiny surface:
      • highlight area is prominent while the lit & shadow areas tend to merge into one
      • photographer needs to consider shape, size & position of the highlights, in general, shiny objects are photographed with a medium to large light source for best effect.
    • semi-matte surface:
      • both the highlight & shadow areas are clearly distinguishable from the lit area
      • front-light or angle light to show colour and minimise shadows
      • use a small light source to reduce the size of the highlight area
    • matte surface:
      • the surface contains millions of particles reflecting light in all different directions & thus there are millions of minute highlights which are usually too small to be seen
      • the lit area shows the colour of the subject but is largely flat in appearance
      • to show texture, light it using a small to medium light source positioned so the lit area/shadow boundary is prominent.
  • colour of lighting

Lighting the background:

  • for an even white background using white seamless paper backdrop:
    • you need 2 to 4 lights shielded from spilling on the subject and shielded from hitting the camera lens.
    • set your lights at approximately a 45 degree angle to the background, one on each side and behind the model, off to the side so as not to flare onto the model. 
    • meter across the background and adjust until your lighting is even. 
    • Then overexpose your background by 1 1/2 - 2 stops over the lighting on the subject.
    • if you over-expose more than this, you risk causing flare around your subject.
    • if you expose less than this, you risk showing any unevenness in lighting.

Studio lighting kit:

  • an example of what would constitute a good lighting kit for the serious photographer would include:
    • 2 300-800ws strobes +/- a third strobe
    • 1 med softbox
    • 1 sm softbox
    • 1 ea reflector - gold, sliver, black, white, diffused
    • 2 large diffuser panels (could be homemade)
    • 1 spare flash tube
    • 2 spare modelling lights
    • 5 stands, 2 heavy duty (strobes), 3 light weight (reflectors, etc)
    • 2 arms or reflector holders
    • 1 pack Rosco Black Cinefoil
    • 1 set Color correction gels
    • 1 set Colored effect gels (red, blue, orange, green, yellow, etc)
    • Misc grip (gaffers tape, clamps, etc)
    • optional extras:
      • 1 egg crate for the med softbox
      • 1 set of grids (10,20,30 and 40 degree)
      • 1 wireless TX, 2 wireless RX - for wireless sync but not needed for wireless control
        • eg. “Pocket Wizard” and note that the Sekonic L-558R Dualmaster meter has a with built-in Pocket Wizard Transmitter.

a few notes

  • a soft box placed 2m from a subject will generally provide light coverage of about 4m diameter with about 1-1.5 stops light fall off irrespective of the size of the soft box when comparing the usual small, medium and large soft boxes.
  • adding an egg crate to the soft box reduces the coverage by about a 1/3rd and is used to reduce the spill of light
  • the larger the soft box at a given distance to the subject creates more wrap around light with less well defined shadows
  • to get a soft wrap around light from a small soft box, it needs to be relatively close to the subject and thus will only provide coverage for a head and shoulders shot.
  • reflectors can be useful as a fill light, or even as the main light such as when a soft gold one is used on a tanned model outdoors in bright sun with the sun as a rim light.
  • a beauty dish with tube cover is not as soft as a soft box, but not as hard as a bounced umbrella. It is often used with a grid to provide a much reduced well defined area of coverage.

a few lighting set ups for portraits

front spot 40's glamour style

  • spot light aimed straight into model's face thereby avoiding shadows on the face apart from the rear of the cheek and under the chin - the spot should not be lighting her arms much
  • ruby red lipstick, eye lash extensions, natural looking foundation with matte finish, styled hair
  • add a hair light and a background light, have the model looking off at 45deg to the camera and upwards and you have a classical glamour B&W look with almost no texture on the over-exposed skin

one light butterfly or clamshell Hollywood lighting

  • place a broad light source such as a softbox or umbrella above the camera, often placed at about 60deg to subject face, or alternatively bounce the light from the ceiling
    • “Paramount studio style” is the same but with a harsh light
  • place a silver reflector in front of and below the subject to fill in shadows under chin and eyes
  • a small “loop” of nose shadow will be present under the nose
  • gives a nice cheek lighting with some subtle shadowing on both sides of the face while creating a strong chin line
  • can exaggerate the appearance of puffy eyes or bags under the eyes

two light clamshell

  • place a broad light source such as umbrella or softbox on either side of the subject at 45deg
  • onbe can adjust the lighting ratio to desired effect

loop lighting

  • similar to the one light butterfly, but the main light is moved to the side a little to give a small “loop” of nose shadow to one side of the face

Rembrandt lighting

  • the aim here is to create a triangle of light on one cheek with a longer “loop” of nose shadow forming the lower border of that triangle but not crossing the lips
  • place a light 45deg above and to the side of the subject's face
  • one can add a fill light to soften the shadows

single large softbox close to subject

  • a very large softbox placed above to and the side of the subject will provide a nice wrap-around light with enough spill to light the rear white backdrop
  • can be used for portraits with subject looking towards same side as the softbox

dramatic beauty dish lighting

  • beauty dish with grid above and to side of the subject and 1-1.5m from subject

dramatic split lighting

  • a light aimed at one side of the subject's face only, usually at subject height
  • additional fill light to the shadow side as needed

broad lighting

  • similar to the Rembrandt lighting set up, but the camera is re-positioned to mainly photograph the lit side of the subject's face
  • this is often used with a rim light to outline the shadow side

one light backlit beauty shots

  • the light light is used to light a white background
  • the subject's face is lit either by 2 reflectors on either side of the model (and in front of the camera if you wish to block some flare), or by 2 walls on each side of the model
  • this will need some post-processing including:
    • increase the contrast
    • increase the saturation to bring out eye colour
    • optionally a nice glow effect which will make the model appear thinner - lighten the background then add a Gaussian blur of about 50 pixels

fashion-style with large ring light

  • a large ring light is designed to give even shadowless lighting with an interesting round catchlight in the eyes if the ring light is large enough and close enough
  • if the ring light is too small or too far away, the catchlight will only be a small dot, and worse, you will get red eyes if the light is around the lens.
  • these shots are often done with the subject in front of a wall so that there is a soft-edged shadow all the way around the subject

a few lighting setups for figure work

single broad light behind subject

  • a single light just above and behind a subject lying down will show lovely sculpting
  • this could be an umbrella, soft box or strip light

simple overhead broad light

  • a softbox or umbrella placed overhead as the mainlight
  • simple fill flash from camera set to -3 stops
  • can create a nice dramatic effect

single broad light in front of subject

  • subject can be placed sitting a right angles to the camera and facing the light, effectivly giving a side light from the camera's viewpoint

backlit basic 3 light set up

  • 2 flashes aimed at a white background, each placed equal distances on each side of the subject - set flashes as wide angle as possible to get a diffuse even light on the backdrop
  • the background light will act as the main light, spilling around each side of your subject in a similar manner to placing a subject in front of a bay window
  • have the 3rd light placed to form a right angle triangle with the other 2 lights, to act as a fill light facing the subject, perhaps at 45 deg from the subject.
  • this fill light should be set to underexpose by 2 stops (if using TTL flash with back lights as one group and fill light as another group, set ratio A:B as 1:8)

basic 4 light bilateral side-lighting set up

  • 2 flashes aimed at a white background, each placed equal distances on each side of the subject - set flashes as wide angle as possible to get a diffuse even light on the backdrop, expose to desire tones of the background
  • 2 umbrella or soft box lights, each just in front of, and to each side of the subject to primarily provide a main side light on each side

basic low key set up

  • 2 main lights, preferably as soft boxes, each set to either side of subject and set to under-expose by 1 stop
  • single background light onto gray background set at -3 stops to create vignette-like effect
photo/lighting.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/07 12:06 by gary1

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