Portraits – Lighting

Light is what I call one of the “basic three”. Without light, either natural or artificial, it would be impossible to see or photograph anything. Now we have an understanding that light is important, but what are the other two parts of the “basic three”? They really are so practical we think too hard when trying to answer this question; A quality camera and a well designed lens.

Onto our topic for today, light is so common and we have so much of it in so regular a time that we take if for granted. Lighting is essential for contrast and definition but before we scatter into all the areas to which light pertains, let us take a moment to remember some things which we have previously discussed.

Lighting angles are vital:

  • Portraits are best lit when the light source is within a 45 degree angle to the subject on a horizontal plane and not to high above the subject to avoid deep shadows around the eyes.
  • Silhouettes can be made when the light source is behind the subject and the camera is appropriately set.
  • Back-lighting is meant to remove shadows and highlight the edges of the object.

We have also talked about a few things which will add light to a shot by reflecting the natural light which already exists in a setting and how to soften this light. This is all well and good, but I would not serve you well if I did not address equipment which can add light in your photos.

Flashes and studio strobes are wonderful tools for adding light, however I must say they are not the cheapest tool. I am grateful to have some experience with studio lighting but it is this experience I want to share with you.

Studio strobe are adjustable in intensity and power as well as offering tethering ability, which enables the photographer to use more than one at the same time. In our next post we will look into strobes and how they use other methods of lighting with one source.

Lighting Is Not Everything

I keep bringing everything back to light from almost every post. So perhaps some illustration  and explanation are in order on how lighting is important but “is not everything.”

You may ask “I don’t understand! If lighting isn’t everything, what is lighting?” Without light shots are practically impossible yes. Lighting is important, however just adding light is not the “cure-all” for poorly lit photography. The key to added lighting is its positioning. Light positioning came up in our 6 part article on “Back Lighting” and “Jewelry Photography” single, but how about “simple scenes”? What can be done to improve a shot with “house-hold lights”?

I want to caution anyone who may consider scenes “simple”. It may not  be difficult to see or understand, although a “simple shot” is exactly the photo with which you will come away. Simple shots often do not have depth, intrigue or definition, thus they appear “flat” and are not “interesting”. Lighting properly placed can change this in seconds.

Photographers who specialize in portraiture are aware of the technique “3/4 (‘three quarter’) lighting”; if not by name, I am certain they do in practice. A brief explanation of “3/4 lighting” and I will show you how I applied it in my illustration.

3/4 Lighting is strategically placing your light to the side of your subject and no more than 45 degrees below. From the starting position for lighting directly in-front of your subject’s face, pivoting the light around the side of your subject and then lowering the light in that plain to achieve your desired effect. Positioning a light in such a way will light about 3/4 of the face, thus “3/4 lighting.”

Lighting is not just a catalyst for capturing a photo, but also the important ingredient for making an image which has intrigue, contrast, clarity and definition.

Back Lighting – Part 5

Since this Back Lighting series started from Jewelry, I figure it only fitting to finish this series with some details of jewelry photography.

These are a few things I have picked up in experience, some of which would have been ever so valuable when I started out! Listed below are a few items and some information about them as to why they are helpful.

Light Stands: They say you never know what you are missing until you do not have it. Well, that is one way of looking at all situations. Me? I prefer to think of what I have as tools which will afford me new learning opportunities. Without throwing a pity-party, I understand that my learning opportunities could expand with more and new equipment, but one of things I do to keep myself financially responsible is checking myself to see that I am “unconsciously competent” with my current line of equipment. Light Stands are very helpful when you want to move lighting versus your subject.

Seamless Background: When shooting in-studio, Seamless Backgrounds are one of the accessories that give the viewer the visual relief that white space without giving the hints of spacial limitation. For some reason wall seams or the corner of the wall and floor took away my pleasure of imagining this one little ring on a table top in the expanses of a large room.

Macro Lens: Macro Lenses are designed with a closer focal range giving the photographer the ability to get closer-in without losing the sharp focus they live on. I cannot say that I have met anyone who did not like to look as closely as they could at the gems in a piece of jewelry they were looking to purchase. Since retail stores know that purchases will rise if the customer can see the product, the store managers will pay photographers very well for being able to capture the sharpest most accurate picture of the product they sell.

Jewelry Wax: For those pieces of jewelry that simply will not stand on their own without some help. I have read many photographers who insist on not paying more than absolutely necessary for wax used in jewelry shots, so they substitute dental wax. Personally, I am careful what I substitute for a product designed for a purpose. Waxes take many forms. Jewelry Wax is designed to be “sticky” without leaving residue or wax on the jewelry. I have not yet been able to test any other wax on my jewelry sets to determine if residue truly will be a problem. I am sure I will post about it at some point, after the testing is complete. *Grin*

God bless!

Back Lighting – Part 3

Back Lighting within the confines of a room will fill with light faster than outdoors. In contrast this same room will take more time to fill than a soft box. This is a rather obvious statement I know, however I must often remind myself of this fact within the context that light moves at the speed of 186,000 miles per second. I still have a hard time truly comprehending that number.

Perhaps this will help to comprehend the speed of light from our flashes to think of light in miles traveled in 1 second contrasted to the circumference of the earth. Light traveling at 186,000 miles per second around the earths 25,000 miles (rounded to the nearest thousand for simplicity) will lap the earth 7 times and then some in 1 second! Is that fast enough for you?

The theory of Back Lighting has more to do with the saturation of light into the camera lens than light’s speed, so I will not distract us with more facts. I do want to impress you with the speed of light in that light is reflected, refracted and split again throughout the staging room while your shutter is open. So position your flashes and other light tools wisely so as to capture the most light as possible with you camera.

In your style of Back Lighting, do you want to see the light source? Place so as to draw the viewers focus to you subject. The picture above unintentionally captured the light and movement of a passing vehicle, so it is not as I would have set-up the shot, but is a good demonstration of being spontaneous in life’s unique moments. The picture below illustrates my point of using the light source to draw a viewers focus toward the subject. The light from the moon is vignetted in a spreading ray toward my subject while at the same time Back Lighting him in dramatic effect.

The first photo in this post also uses some techniques of Back Lighting without silhouetting my subject. Silhouetting is most often used to emphasize the edges or shape of the subject (whether it is person or object). This is done in both pictures: Picture 1, by illuminating the side of the subject and letting the shadow on the other side disappear into the surrounding background. Picture 2, is contrasting the head and shoulders of the subject against the semi-illuminated sky in the reflected light of the moon.

Enjoy these techniques. Get out and play with long shutter releases and beautiful skies!

Back Lighting

Back Lighting in very broad terminology can be used to describe many different photography styles, however it speaks directly to the way that the light illuminates the subject. We will not have the space in this post that would be required to discuss all of these options, but I will provide a list of shot types for you to play with and perhaps we will be able to return to discuss them in more detail at a later date.

Back Lighting is exactly what it sounds like, putting the part or all of the lighting source behind the subject to highlight their outline in light. In using light this way it is possible to capture silhouettes; Wash-out or over expose the back ground (giving a different appearance to the location); Add an infinite amount of light around your subject without making a harsh contrast in shadow and Vignetting. All of these options have more to do with camera settings than lighting, although lighting is still required. So enjoy your time playing with these things; now we will work more on the theory and practical work of Back Lighting.

Necessary equipment:

  • Reflector
  • Flash
  • Studio lights
  • Soft box
  • Bright light source in the background (it is cheaper to work with multiple light sources)
  • Tripod
  • Remote Shutter Release

Setting up your camera for success.

  • High aperture
  • Low ISO
  • Moderate shutter speed (1/10th – 1 second)
  • Prime focal lens (50mm optimal for portraits)

A slow shutter speed is not required for any reason other than to make sure the subject is properly exposed rather than the background. Feel free to shorten the shutter speed if you have enough light to do so. Obviously I know a small amount about photography, but just because I know something does not guarantee that I know everything. So play with you camera settings and have a ball getting the best photos you can!

Photographing Jewelry

I do not want to sound as if I were driven by spontaneity or a business owner who makes impulsive decisions, because that would not be accurate; however I will say that when it comes to writing blog posts my plans do change. When planning the possible topics for the blog, I sometimes form a temporary schedule for publishing which take on new priorities after some time away giving me time to reconsider their publishing order. So let me tell you why I think this post is better published today versus Friday: This post will inform you of many different ways for setting up the lighting for your photographic subject.

The photo you see below is one that I took as I found some good techniques on my own with the equipment I had available.

I will list here some of the best techniques to be used in the jewelry section of photography.

The best lighting set-ups:

  • Back Lighting
  • Diffused and Direct Lighting
  • Direct and Reflected Lighting

Shooting techniques:

  • High Aperture / Long Exposure (Larger Focal Plane)
  • Moderate Aperture / Short Exposure (Moderate Focal Plane)
  • Low Aperture / Fast Shutter Speed (Small Focal Plane)

Setting additions:

  • Wax to hold pieces in place.
  • Glass or Lexan (surface for reflection)
  • Modeling Services

Of course there is always the option of hiring me and my services. *Grin* Okay, enough of that. Get ready for the specifics on the lighting set-ups in the subsequent posts!