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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Master Photographic Lighting

By Dan Eitreim

Learning photo lighting is pretty easy. Though the true test of good photography lies in making your subjects look their best, this is accomplished by using the correct lighting for their faces.

Obviously you won't want to be spending all your free time in Photoshop, it would kill your profit margins.

So...If lighting is your main concern and you are spending too much time in Photoshop trying to "fix" your photos, you are going to have to learn some lighting control techniques. Here are some thoughts.

Instead of just hit or miss shooting, first you'll need to learn the foundations of light. Here are a few of the basic patterns.

Narrow light, Broad light, Split light, Butterfly, Renaissance, Closed Loop, Open loop

A couple hours in the photo section of the local library should do to define what these are. Make notes. Each pattern is the best one for certain faces and artistic effects. You need them all in your bag of tricks.

Now, go home and - leaving your camera in the bag - let's do some experimenting.

Grab a couple of kids - use your own or bribe the neighbor's kids - and have them sitting on a chair in a darkened room. Now, with a flashlight as your only source of light, learn where the light has to be positioned - in relation to the face - to create each of the patterns. Draw diagrams and make notes in a notebook you can stick in your camera bag and always have with you.

Right now, we are concerned with the angle of the light and shadows. Not the color or intensity.

Once you know the proper angles to create the lighting patterns, then start playing with intensity. Bring your flashlight closer to your model, then further away. Note the affect on the intensity of the highlights and shadows.

Next, try diffusing the light by covering it with a piece of tracing paper. See what that does to the shadows?

Next, have one of the kids hold the flashlight in place - we'll call this the main light - and add a second flashlight at camera position. We'll call this one the fill light. Now create one of the patterns. i.e. the closed loop - which is the same as Renaissance by the way. What happened to the shadows when you added the second light? What happens if you move it to a different position? What does it do to the shadows to move closer? Further away?

What about the background? Move your model closer and further away from the wall. What happens to the background with one light? How about two? Do the shadows change?

One afternoon with a couple flashlights and a cooperative model should answer most of your questions as to what to do to fix your lighting/shadow issues.

Once we are comfortable with the patterns and how to create them, all we have to do is make them on location.

Let's make the sun our main light. Practice positioning your model at various angles to the sun - to learn how to create the same patterns you were making before. To get the angles, intensity and color of light you want, you may have to adjust the time of day for your experimentation.

If the look you are after calls for 1 diffused light, (remember our tracing paper experiments?) position a diffusion screen of some sort between your model and the sun.

You may want to wait for a cloud to come by, use the shade of a porch or a tree or, if you are feeling high tech, use a large piece of translucent material.

If your look calls for a main light and a fill, use the sun (diffused or not, as needed) as your main light and your camera's flash as the fill. You can tape some tracing paper over it for diffusion. Two layers for more diffusion, etc. You could also use a commercially made translucent plastic flash diffuser.

Lighting can be quickly and easily learned and the results are worth the effort.

You now know more about lighting than half the professionals out there. To learn how YOU can make money (a lot of money) with your camera follow the links in my resources file...

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