Lighting – Part 3

Lights are not easy to work, however not impossible. Directly lighting an object without first being reflected or diffused should be carefully handled. We will get into the reason for this point in a moment but let us first remember what transpired bringing us to this point.

In the time this blog has been in operation, we have discussed contrast, highlights, shadows, elements, focus, scene design and light source positioning in preparation for this new level of photography design. Direct lighting will be harsh and bright; so what else around the object should be lit to make sense of the scene?

What elements are important to the message of your photo? Remembering to keep it simple and thus unifying the message, light the desired elements enough for the purpose. If this photo involves a model, be sensitive to their comfort. Natural poses may be comfortable for a short period but if continued may become an irritation.

Irritation can be something the model will have to fight through for proper facial expression, motion stability to prevent blurring with moderate to slow shutter speeds. None of these issues are worth battling when they are avoidable.

Take a look at some advertisement photos and notice how little they add to the photo. At the same time, notice how they add, what they add, why they add and where they add those extra elements. This is not to learn the style or technique of another photographer, but to learn a principle, “Too much spice can ruin the soup” and not enough means it is a good start though undesirable.

Light can change the focal point of shot by misdirection, improper power setting and poor timing with the camera shutter. Be sure to know your equipment. Acquaintanceship means nothing when you are entertaining a customer and simultaneously troubleshooting your lighting system. You are the expert of your equipment. Learn it well.

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.

Portraits – B&W

Black and White portraits are often the most intriguing. This however will make greater demands on composition.

Black and White photos have greater potential for contrast and with this potential, the composition can in monochrome print allow the viewer to see the colors and hues which they fancy. Several photographers I know have black and white photos I have seen and when some time later we talked about them, I described them in color. They looked at me confused and verified that we were talking about the same photo by discussing the features of the photo’s subject and elements. Seeing a black and white photo in color is not a gauge on whether the photo is properly composed, but something which viewers may experience where exposure and composition are well done.

One of my favorite fall shots is from above the subject as they are seated on a thick grassy lawn, looking up toward the camera which uses the grass and fall colored leaves as a background!

However, since we are on the topic of black and white photos, how can we capture this same stunning color composition in black and white?

First, it is important to have the best clarity possible and this is achieved with a high-end lens. If you are using a consumer level camera which cannot alternate lenses, do not worry, it should do well for you.

Second, work diligently to make sure the focus is absolutely set on the eyes. If there is one thing that must be in total focus it must be the eyes.

Third, some editing may be done to a black and white photo to add color. \"Bird-Owl This photo illustration is a perfect example; digitally signed by Chris D. Jones, this photo draws from the contrast of the black and white giving definition to the feathers, the clarity is displayed in the eye and draws your attention with the iris color.

Enjoy!

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.

Learning Your Equipment – Part 4

Learning the capability of your equipment and how it will see a scene you shoot and utilizing that knowledge, I think is a skill akin to that of Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso or Rembrandt van Rijn. You think this is a little over stated? Perhaps not. Not only will you notice the shading caused by the light, the setting around your subject and how you want to set-up your shot, but when your new skill is perfected you will be able to estimate with some certainty the shutter speed necessary to render your subject perfectly lit.

As I have personally begun my own education in estimating shutter speed in connection with proper exposure, I understand it takes a little time and thought before pushing the shutter button. I was the impatient student ready to push the shutter button expecting a miraculous photo worth thousands of dollars. Even if I were completely talented, talent can be formed and shaped. So now I understand the value of learning the basics and the power of their effects in a photo. So get ready: Here we launch into a few practical steps to learn and practice in “self-metering” light.

Where is your subject? Sitting in light, with face shadowed? The location of your subject relative to your light source is important to note because a person’s face is a delicate surface to capture.

What is the part of your subject you want properly lit? Eyes more specifically than only the face for best expression. What I meant by a person’s face being a delicate surface to capture is that being so well-shaped it is deeply shaded or over lit. Proper lighting may require a longer exposure time than you are used to, but keep a tripod or mono-pod on hand to help steady your camera.

How is the background lit in contrast to your subject? Is the background part of the photo as you planned? Be sure to plan steps to include the background elements essential to your designed shot.

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!

Camera Specifics For Me

“Is it really necessary that I purchase an expensive camera to get nice photos?” Answer: “No. An expensive camera is not necessary to get nice photos.”

Even though I now am a professional photographer I still do not own the top of the line digital camera and a studio full of fancy equipment.

I actually began testing myself in the field of photography with a camera in a cellular phone. I have since the age of 4 played with differing film camera models which came from the late 1960’s, but this was different. This time, using a digital camera in a cellular phone, I did not need to buy for film and pay for processing.

This is not to say that I would be satisfied to go back to using the camera inside the cellular phone, however it provided me a great opportunity learn the angles and perspectives which bring the picture together to communicate a logical visual thought. [Woe! Okay Mr. Big Words; Let us read this in an understandable language this time! – Blog editor] It is important to capture the subject in a natural, comfortable pose. If a viewer looks at the photo and says what they are thinking, would they say something like “That does not look comfortable!” Or would they say, “Wow! I wish I looked that good.” Truthfully we all think that about ourselves, super model or not. The important thing to remember is that the beauty we see is inherent within the person and how they look comes from the way the picture was taken.

Go to a camera store, and I mean a camera store, not a computer super-store. Talk to a sales associate about renting a digital camera and take it out with you everywhere; subjecting it to all the situations in which you will find yourself, testing its abilities. Learn the camera’s strengths and weaknesses. If it will help you, treat the time you have rented the camera as a product review and you are a highly acclaimed journalist who could make or break this store’s sales quarter.

In other words, enjoy your time and put the camera through its paces.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Camera – Part 2

Call me “Obsessive Compulsive” if you wish, but shooting without a flash has taught me so much about the “ins” and “outs” of my camera that I cannot neglect its value. This education is worth more than any other for which I could have paid or sat under another photographer’s instruction. These things are what I wish to give you by inspiration as we continue to learn together how to better capture the moments in time which we live and see.

I do apologize that all of my information bits are based around Canon equipment, but I have not yet be awarded with the donations of Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus and Sony equipment to learn and write about. Hint, hint. No, I only wrote that in jest! I would be humbled to receive such gifts, but I am not sincerely asking for them. I would be truly embarrassed to do so.

In the post-production process of photo editing within “Canon Utilities Software”; changing a picture from black & white (monochrome) to color is the final last step. If the colors do not come out in an acceptable shade, I often will increase contrast and lower saturation. If this look does not apply to the photo, vibrancy and hue are possibilities within moderation.

All of these terms and solutions are based on Canon equipment and software leaving a large number of readers in the dark, I apologize. This is not intended to be a sales pitch for Canon, even though it turns out to be quite a good one. All other brands will want to bring you the same or greater options for editing photos although they may not call them by the same names.

If you are interested in finding the equivalent adjustments and terms that I have listed for Canon in you own brand, please pass them along to me and I will be more than happy to share these helps with the rest of the readers.

Happy low-light photography shots!

Cloudy skies, with a chance…

“The weather forecast for today is cloudy skies, with a 97% chance of distracted photographers…” Have you ever had that feeling of someone watching as you set-up a shot with the thought in the back of your mind, “I am so distracted with everything else but my shot that I will miss it!”

Shooting under cloudy skies can pose quite a challenge, but do not let the challenges get you down! This is only an opportunity to learn more about the equipment you have and how to use it with the utmost efficiency.

Most camera manufacturers have come to realize the difficulty of the outdoor photographer. With such an understanding they have built-in some wonderful features in the White Balance settings that allow for these difficulties.

Thin clouds present the most different obstacle because prevailing winds in the higher atmosphere is either your best friend or worst enemy. By that I mean, if the wind is strong enough to keep the cloud layer moving you will have an even lighting providing that the cloud layer is constant in thickness. However, if the wind gusts or is too slow, the thin cloud layer will be easily burnt through (typical of southern climates) and thus give times of harsh and direct sunlight.

Spotty clouds are always changing amounts of light and seem to be playing the “peek-a-boo” game for that perfect shot. Frustrating? That would be a kind way of speaking about this problem!

Thick clouds project a cold or harsh look on and around the subject, whereas with every subject I have photographed warmer colors are always more inviting. Yes the cloudy setting will eliminate most if not all of the gloom emitted by the clouds, but in all of these scenarios there is the problem of constant change in amounts of light and then the unexpected objects that reflect the sunlight when the sun is unveiled.

What is the answer? In my experience when shooting with ever-changing lighting, I will use the “Shade” White Balance setting. This will lighten the shadows so as to compensate for the sharp contrast in lighting and still avoid most of the over exposure on the surfaces that are given direct lighting!

When I began shooting in these conditions, I came to my senses about halfway through the photo-op. It was easy to have a moment which I call a “professional hissy-fit”, but when you are with a client, it is best to remain cool, calm and collected. As I reviewed the shots, I realized that we had last shot in shade and all of the photos after still turned out very well, with detail I did not expect in the shadows.

Times like this one are great opportunities to learn how your camera functions and understanding precisely how each setting will help or hinder you in achieving your goal.

So the next time you are out and about with a camera in your hand, take the opportunity to master an obstacle and become that better photographer!

*NOTE: These mentioned White Balance settings are not “industry standard”, so their names and usage may vary according to manufacturer specifications.