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Focus On Lighting Photos
By Fil Hunter, Robin Reid
ElsevierCopyright © 2011 Elsevier, Inc.
All rights reserved.
There's More Than One Way to Get Things Done
We'll start with profile lighting. It's fairly easy. This is not lighting we'll often use, because it works only with one head position. Okay, two positions: camera-left and camera-right, essentially the same thing done from each direction. Still, the subject doesn't have to "pose" for the picture. Well, the person does pose, but because the subject doesn't have to face the camera, he or she doesn't have to interact with the camera. The subject need not be friendly, dignified, warm, assertive; any emotion or no emotion will work. This gives us two advantages.
First, we don't need a professional model, performer, or actor. Nor do we need to try to turn a "real person" into a professional subject. This makes things easy for the subject. "Just sit there, and I'll do the rest."
Second, because we don't have to direct the subject very much, we can concentrate just on the lighting. Later, when we're sure we know the lighting so well that we don't have to think about it much, we can then concentrate instead on directing the subject to look as good as possible.
Because we don't have to worry much about posing and emotion, we'll concentrate mostly on the simple mechanics of how the light behaves. This light will behave in exactly the same ways with other poses, but let's learn about that behavior with an easy pose.
We made the portrait on page 5 with the camera's built-in flash. It's an okay picture: the composition is acceptable, the posing is good, and the exposure is perfect. Still, it's not a picture this man is eager to hang on the wall. We must improve it, and we can.
The cover shot was done with the same on-camera flash and no additional lights. The difference is in the use of light modifiers. The box describes the modifiers we used for this picture.
Modifier 1: A mirror
Having the flash built into the camera certainly doesn't mean we have to keep it there. Even if the flash is built into the camera, we can move its effective location, and we can do that ourselves without a team of electronic and mechanical engineers. Here's how.
We need a mirror to move the light to where we want it to be. We angle a mirror in front of the camera flash so the light bounces from this mirror to where we point it. This allows us to put the light almost anywhere we want it. (In fact, we could put the light absolutely anywhere we want it, but that would require a series of mirrors, light bouncing from one to another. After reflecting from all of those mirrors, the light would be about as bright as a candle in a coal mine! We wouldn't try that.)
What sort of mirror do we use? Anything we have handy, but here's a good way to make a simple, lightweight, safe, unbreakable one. First, get a sheet of silver Mylar film. (Mylar is a DuPont brand name and the product may be available under different names where you live.) Compared to other photographic equipment, it's cheaper than dirt; buy a little more than you need. You'll use it again.
Now glue some of the Mylar to a thin, stiff board and cut it to approximately the area the flash will illuminate. At such a close distance, this will certainly be less than 3 by 5 inches and may be much smaller than that.
Position the reflector in front of your flash. How do you hold it there? You can hold it in your hand or clamp it to a light stand. Or you can attach it directly to your camera with a glob of what we call "blue glue," which won't damage your camera. (Blue glue, originally designed to seal refrigerator gaskets, has been since marketed under many brand names as a way for parents to temporarily put up their children's art without damaging the wall.) "Blue glue" is photographer slang for a product available under several brand names in many hardware and crafts-supply stores; your store clerk may have never heard the term, so you may have to describe it or show the picture in this book to find it.
So now we've redirected our flash off into space. Our subject now gets no light at all. How do we get that light back?
Modifier 2: A big white reflector
In portraiture, there is almost always a main or key light (same thing, different words). So far, we don't have one. Now it's time to establish one. (When more than one light is used, the one the camera sees as brightest is the main light.)
In this case, our main light will be a big white board. That big white reflecting board could be the wall of your apartment. You may have that readily available, but you can't take it with you wherever you go. Another alternative is the biggest piece of foam board you can carry. (This is often called Fome-Cor, the original manufacturer's name; the specific brand does not matter.)
What's the biggest we can carry? Of course, that depends on our vehicle, but whatever that limitation is, we can carry a sheet double that size. Score the board with a razor blade, and then fold it in half. (Note that the scored board will last longer if we cover the other side with Mylar to make one side silver. We won't use the silver side yet, but it will certainly be useful in the future.)
Why use a white reflector? Why not another silver one, like the one we are using for the flash? Silver would be brighter, and we could use a lower ISO or a smaller aperture.
All true, but a silver reflector will reflect the light like a mirror. It will look similar to whatever the original light source is. That means that a big silver reflector behaves exactly like a small one, and we don't want that. We want a fairly large light source because it is softer. We'll talk more about what that means in the next chapter, but for now all we need to know is that softer light is generally better for portraiture and that the bigger the light is, the softer it is.
Other modifiers: Fill light, hair light
Now we may be done with the picture. We've proven our points about the importance of the placement of the light and the size of the light. Still, if we want to do more, we can. When working with only the one tiny little light built into the camera, additional enhancements make little difference, but working with a more powerful external light can make these enhancements important. Depending on the specific picture and on personal taste, these may be things you will always do or things you will never do. Either way, you should always consider them.
Hair light may sound like a silly term for a portrait of a Sikh who always covers his hair in public, but that's what photographers usually call it. We almost never use it for bald people, but we frequently use it for everyone else. A kicker is almost the same thing, except it's moved a little to the side usually to light a tiny bit of the face.
We did use a hair light for this picture to try to get a little light onto the back of the black turban to separate it from the black background. However, we didn't use an additional flash. We used another silver reflector.
Our hair light accomplished very little in this case, but we think it's an important "little." We think the definition of the back of the head matters a lot, but that's a judgment call. You may decide that having the back of the head disappear into darkness is just fine. We didn't think that would be just fine, because we were determined to do complete portrait lighting with only one little light built into a cheap camera. With big blond hair or with a second light, the hair light can be wonderful.
So here we are with a on-camera flash used as an off-camera main light, a hair light, and a hint that we're going to add a fill light in the next chapter. Is this truly a one-light portrait? Yes. And no. All of this light comes from the tiny cheap flash built into the camera. That sort of makes it a one-light picture. The rest comes from inexpensive reflectors we put in place because we knew what to put where, and that sort of makes it a multiple-light portrait.
The fact is that almost no pictures are truly lit by a single light. Even architecture and landscape photography, where even the biggest, most powerful flashes are useless—is usually made up of multiple-light pictures. The main light is the sun; the fill light is the open sky.
So we need to learn only three things: where to put the light, what size should it be, and how to make a fill.
Where to put the sun is easy. We simply need to choose the right time of day when the sun comes from whatever direction we want. (Those living in the 48 contiguous U.S. states or Hawaii have an easier job of this than do those who live in Alaska, where sunrise and sunset may happen very early or inconveniently late. Photographers in northern Greenland may have to wait months for the light to be right!)
Controlling the size of the sun, however, requires luck. On a cloudless day, the sun is a small, hard light. On a very cloudy day, the sun is a huge soft source. Usually, we want something between those extremes: just a little cloud cover, right between us and the sun to soften the light a bit, and the rest of the sky mostly clear blue, maybe with a cloud here or there just for decoration. We can't control this, and we need to see it quickly and shoot quickly when it happens. Clouds move, and the best light may be there for only a few seconds.
This means that the easiest way to learn lighting is in the studio. It doesn't matter if your "studio" happens to be your living room, your garage, or a temporarily vacant office in the building where you work. The whole advantage is to have your space where you can make mistakes, and then go back to identical conditions, make a few adjustments, and get the picture right. We learn about lighting lot faster if all the mistakes and successes are our mistakes and successes instead of the random acts of weather.
Same principle: We can control the size of the light in many ways
This photo of a little girl is also a one-flash setup. In this case, the photographer used an off-camera flash. The flash was set off by a wireless flash trigger. The photographer made his own softbox using cardboard box with tracing paper taped over an 8-by-10-inch square hole cut in a cardboard box. A second hole was cut into the back side, just big enough to put the flash in. To make the catchlights in the eyes look like they came from a four-pane window, he put two strips of black tape across the tracing paper in a cross pattern. In this case, a white foam board reflector was positioned at camera left to bounce a bit of light back into the shadows. The decision of when to add fill is an individual one—there is no one right answer. So look at your camera's image display and make decisions as you shoot. No reflector was used as a hair light because the light-colored hat retained enough detail. The softbox was about a foot away from the subject.
Haven't got a softbox and don't feel like making one? We can get the same effect using actual window light. The only problem with a real window is that we don't have immediate control over the light coming in. Unclouded sun makes a hard light, whereas both clouded sun and open sky make soft lights. The best time for the light may be the worst time for our schedule of other things we have to do.
Haven't got white foam board? Tape white copy paper to some cardboard! Use a white wall! Don't have a wireless flash trigger? Use a small plain piece of cardboard in front of the built-in flash, angled so that none of its light strikes the subject but the off-camera flash is triggered by the built-in flash (which has a slave and will trigger when it sees another flash go off). Although all the tools we are mentioning are great to have (and at some point you'll get at least some), quite often there are workarounds that you already have in your possession.
Excerpted from Focus On Lighting Photos by Fil Hunter, Robin Reid. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Elsevier.
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