Tuesday, June 27, 2017


It took me 20 years as a professional photographer to learn that it’s not about how many lights you use it’s about using the fewest number of lights to create truly dramatic results. I learned early in my career the basic 5-light set-up from Monte Zucker (at his week long, hands-on West Coast School for Professionals at the Brooks Institute). His light placements and equally important subject poses were marvelous and I still use some of his techniques today. What I found difficult was using the standard 5-light set-up (Main light, Fill light, Hair light, and two background lights—or one background light and one kicker) in a very small camera room. You see the more lights you use in a small studio the more bounce you get—which creates more fill-which flattens out the lighting. And flat lighting really sucks the dram out of your subject. It took me a long time to realize that slavishly adhering to lighting convention—doing what everybody else was doing—was why my lighting lacked three dimensional drama.  And the reason, the culprit, was the FILL LIGHT.

My epiphany came at a professional photography seminar in San Francisco taught by Will Crockett.  He showed us his lighting technique using the Elinchrom, six foot, soft box with NO FILL. It was then I realized that the only reason for a fill light was to compensate for too small a main light. He showed us that with a large Main Light as close to your subject as possible its wrapping effect made fill unnecessary. The results were stunning!

So, I got an even bigger soft box! When I built my new studio here in Idaho I partitioned it so that my camera room was the biggest room in my reinvented photography studio. So, I got the Photoflex, 7 foot, Octadome and permanently banished my fill light to its case—as my back-up mono-light.

Here’s an example of the big light without fill…

 f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200
The key to using a large soft box—and not needing a fill light—is to place it in close and move it across the set (nearly in front of your camera) so the you get light in the subject’s far eye.  I want the big catch lights in both eyes!  And by deleting the fill light (usually back behind the camera) you eliminate those ghastly tiny catch lights (I call them ice-pick catch lights!) in the middle of your subject’s pupils.

This lighting technique produces a nice shadow side on your subject(s) creating the three dimensional quality of light that traditional artists have always sought. Depending on the number of subjects—because with more subjects I must move my main light away from them—I may add a white or silver reflector opposite the main to decrease the lighting ratio; but I never eliminate the shadow completely.

Here’s a group portrait using this technique….

PPA (Professional Photographer of America) International Print Competition Loan Collection winner 2014
This image was my PPA (Professional Photographer of America) International Print Competition Loan Collection winner 2014.  And, here’s the studio I designed around that 7-foot soft box...
Store Front Studio - Eagle, Idaho
You’ll note that my main light is on wheels—it needs to be easy to move. On the left is my white reflector on an adjustable arm.  Overhead is my hair light on a Bogen boom.  I have three other lights: two for background illumination and a kicker with a snoot.

Just one more…

This close-up shows just how sweet a very large soft box will “wrap” the face creating a very smooth transition from highlight to shadow.  I didn’t even need a reflector on this portrait and of course none of those “ice-pick catchlights” for this little cutie.

As usual, should you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask….’Til next week.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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