Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Thou shalt not light people as though you were photographing a stamp collection!  I see this all the time; Photographers using essentially TWO main lights.  One on each side of their subjects, at equal distance and angles, in a standard COPY set-up, creating totally FLAT LIGHTING!  This type of lighting is for TWO DIMENSIONAL SUBJECTS.

01.)  Three dimensional subjects need:
    A.) Lighting that has direction—ANY direction other than from camera position.
    B.) Why you ask? All of our output media for our photographic images are two-dimensional (e.g. prints, monitors, cell phones, TVs). So, we must create the illusion of three dimensions with directional light.  Great artists, over the centuries have shown us how to do this.  They create three dimensionality with the contrast of light against shadow. Today’s portrait photographers need to study the masters like Vermeer and Caravaggio (like many of the great cinematographers and directors in the film making world) instead of copying each others lazy lighting.
    C.) Learn and use SHORT LIGHTING. It’s the single most useful lighting pattern we can use.  I even use it in natural light set-ups outside.  That’s why it’s a required lighting pattern you must demonstrate to earn your Certification with the Professional Photographers of America.

A Lighting philosophy based on the natural world.  Our solar system has One sun, so for the most natural look there should be One catch-light in the eyes and it should be Round. So, why and how do we do this?
    A.) Using a fill light in the studio is EXACTLY the same as using On-Camera Flash outdoors.  For most photographers the fill light is a crutch—safety net.  If you have a decent sized Main Light you simply don’t need a Fill light—not even for groups.
    B.) A fill light produces those unholy pinpoint catch-lights even when bounced off a large umbrella, in the center of your subjects eyes.  I call these Ice Pick Catch Lights!
    C.) The square or rectangular soft boxes creates catch lights that are all straight lines, right angles and sharp corners. Putting sharp hard angles in someone’s eyes just didn’t feel right to me—like putting the proverbial square peg into a round hole.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote:  “The artist who can make his subject appear to be in relivo (made to appear to have elevation, with depth and dimension) is he who should receive the greatest praise.”

02.)  Use the largest soft box you can comfortably fit in your studio and put it on wheels.  Why?
    A.) It will maintain its softness even when pulled back when doing groups.
    B.) Large lights FEATHER better.
    C.) Large lights “WRAP” better.
    D. It will eliminate the need for a FILL LIGHT.

03.)  Use a HAIR LIGHT!
    A highlight is essential when photographing your subjects against a medium to dark background; especially if your subject has dark hair.  The sparkle on their hair will not only create separation from the background, but looks fabulous on women!  Just remember to turn down the intensity of this light as the subjects hair get lighter.  eg. With my exposure set to f11.0, I set the hair light to:
    A.) f11.0 for red, brown to black hair.
    B.) f8.0-f5.6 for shandy to blond hair.
    C.) NO HAIR LIGHT for a balding man…or women.

04.)  Place your subjects at least 5-feet from the background.
    A.) This minimizes your subjects casting shadows onto the background.
    B.) This gives you room for your background light(s); to throw light onto the background and not SPILL on your subject(s).

05.)  Use Grids on your background light(s) and use Cinefoil on your lights, too
    My background lights have grids on them to make them more directional—more like Wide Spots.  In addition I tape Cinefoil gobos to the reflectors to prevent spill-light hitting my subjects; especially important than I “cross-feather” two background lights.

06.)  Light the background according to it’s design:
    A.) Use TWO lights    to cover a scenic background—you generally don’t want a scenic with only its middle lit with large dark borders (which is what one light would create.). It’s very similar to lighting hi-key backgrounds.
    B.) Use ONE light to light a medium to low-key non-scenic—especially if it has a hot spot.  If my non-scenic has no hot -spot I’ll create one with my gridded single light to create more interest.

Next week I will cover ISO, f-stops, angles and subject anomalies.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA M.Photog., CR., CPP
Training Site:  http://www.LightAtTheEnd.com

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