Lighting 102 - Where to put the light and why to put it there.

Started Feb 1, 2004 | Discussions thread
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Chuck Gardner
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Lighting 102 - Where to put the light and why to put it there.
Feb 1, 2004

Lighting 101 covered a basic of set-up for low-key studio lighting. This lesson will explore the nuances of lighting a portrait subject, and why the basic low-key setup is not ideal for high-key.

Creating a Center of Interest (COI).

All the tools and tricks of the trade such as composition and lighting can only be effectively employed to lead the viewer's eye if there is a destination in mind before the shutter is clicked. When looking through the viewfinder, whether at the Grand Canyon or Granny's smiling face, a photographer should know what part of the photo is intended center of interest (COI). The COI may be a specific area of a person such as the eyes in a portrait, the spot where the ball meets the bat in a sports photo, or where a winding river meets the horizon in a scenic.

Deciding on a COI guides and in many ways dictates the process of cropping and controlling (or waiting for) lighting which will guide the viewer's eye to the COI and hold it there. For example, in an extreme close-up of a face the eye become such a compelling COI that chopping off the top of the person's head to place them in the upper third of the frame has more visual impact than showing the entire head.

A common beginner's mistake is too include too many centers of interest a single photograph. Whenever there is more than one COI in a photo they create a tug-of-war for the attention of the viewer. That type of dynamic can work well in a photograph, but when starting to developing a critical eye it is best to isolate a single center of interest for the photo and work to eliminate or tone down anything else in the photo which distracts from it.

For example, in a group photo if the heads are too far apart, or leaning in different directions the composition falls apart into a grouping of individual portraits which will compete for the viewer's attention. In a group photo the COI should be the entire group as a unit, something accomplished by keeping the heads close together and all tilting them towards the center of the photo slightly.

Leading the eye to the center of interest

Above all else the human visual system is attracted by contrast. This contrast can be a created by a light object in dark surroundings (low key), a dark object on light background, two dissimilar colors, or the size difference between two otherwise similar objects. How a viewer will look at your photographs is driven by this human trait.

Making the COI the lightest area in a low-key photo or the darkest area in a high-key photo is by far the most effective way to draw the viewer's eye exactly where you want it to go.. Conversely, it follows that having other objects which are equally bright or brighter than your desired center of interest will pull the eye away from the COI. Examples of this are bright white clothing in a low key portrait which overpowers the skin tone of the face, or a bright sky in a landscape which pulls the viewer's eye up out of the detail in the darker foreground and out of the top of the photo.

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