The One-Light Studio
1 The One-Light Studio
|This bold look was created using a single off-axis light source.|
Photography, as we all know, literally means 'drawing with light'. And working in the studio provides an enormous amount of control and flexibility with regard to lighting. But great results don't always require complicated techniques or a cartload of equipment. In this article, I'll walk you through a range of highly effective options when 'drawing' with just a single light source.
Keeping it simple
I learned one of my biggest lessons on a location shoot back when I was a photography student. The venue was a large classical music performance/recording space that had rather unique architectural features. And before the models arrived, I lit the set by first taking a Polaroid, seeing which parts of the room were dark, and then setting up lights to fill in those spots, repeating the process until the whole environment was evenly illuminated. My goal was to capture all the details of this interesting location.
When the first of the day's models arrived on set, I took another Polaroid and quickly realized that my lighting was a disaster! Everything was completely flat. Minor adjustments of my lights didn't help either, so I decided on a more drastic change: I turned off all of the lights that I'd painstakingly set up and started over from square one.
Beginning again, with a single lighting source helped me realize what I was missing; contrast and drama. In my desire to light the environment completely, I'd robbed the scene of all sense of dimension. By illuminating the scene with a single light, I immediately created dimensionality and contrast that had been sorely lacking in my test shots. Indeed, using a single light source in the studio can be an interesting and valuable exercise for any photographer. There's a visceral experience in watching how a scene changes as you move a single light axially around a subject.
We'll start with a single light plus beauty dish (a circular reflector) shot against a plain white background. Even with a very simple setup like this one, you can create different looks by simply changing the position of the light, as you'll see in the examples below.
|Here's an example of front lighting. This style was often used to shoot
Hollywood actors in the 1940's and 50's. It has regained popularity
in some contemporary advertising photography.
The image above was shot using an on-axis light source - a light placed directly in front of the model, on the same axis as the camera. This is a very candid style, similar to what you would get with a ring flash or a simple on-camera flash. Over the last decade, this type of lighting has become popular in fashion advertisements, particularly those set in hotel rooms or other space-constrained locations. It flattens out contours, which is useful for hiding imperfections in the skin or overly-prominent features. Take note though; done poorly, images lit in this style can all too easily resemble snapshots or even worse, mugshots.
In this next image, we've done nothing more than move the light approximately 15 to 20 degrees off-axis. Yet you can clearly see an increased sense of dimensionality and contrast. The lighting is not quite as flat. We are starting to pick up shadows in the model's nose and chin that were completely washed away in the on-axis lighting setup.
|Here the light has been moved slightly (about 15-20 degrees) off-axis.
Note the difference in depth and tone between this and the front-lit
image shown previously.
It's really worth spending a few moments comparing the image above with the on-axis lighting example. Why? Because looking at photographs is a wonderful way to learn about lighting. Even without seeing the lighting setups I'm revealing in this article, you can deconstruct them from clues in the finished image. Ask yourself, 'How crisp or diffuse are the shadows?' 'What is the shape of the light(s) visible in reflections, such as the catchlight in the model's eye?'
A neatly circular catchlight, like the one visible in the image above, correctly suggests a beauty dish. A ring flash, by comparison would create a skinny doughnut-shaped catchlight. A softbox would produce a rectangle, while an umbrella would appear round with bright radial spines. The position of the catchlight and the direction in which the shadows fall also allow us to infer the placement and height of the lights.
|This single light, off-axis setup is easy to achieve even without a large studio light. Using a wired, infrared or radio-controlled trigger from the PC sync or hot shoe of your camera lets you place small, portable flash units off-camera.|
Lens manufacturer Voigtlander has introduced a 65mm F2 macro lens for Sony E-mount that it says "rates as one of the finest in the history of Voigtländer."
The UK released a preview of their upcoming drone safety regulations, and it looks like drone pilots will have to both register their device and pass safety awareness tests.
National Geographic photographer Bob Holmes talks about light, and why you need to learn how to 'see' and not just 'look' at your subject.
Photographer Alessandro Barteletti shares the story behind his National Geographic Italia cover, shot with a 10-year-old DSLR and an iPhone flashlight.
Fashion catalog photographers in China have some next-level models to work with. In this video, you see one model hitting 30 poses in 15 seconds as the photographer snaps away.
Photographer Paul Adshead breaks down 11 photography-related smartphone apps he couldn't live without—from a pocket light meter to a lighting diagram app.
Fast-growing Chinese flash brand Godox is teasing a brand new flash trigger... for smartphones. The Godox A1 is a 'phone flash system' that can act as both flash and 2.4GHz trigger.
On July 12, Canon opened its newest Technology and Support Center, designed to serve the motion picture industry, in Burbank, CA. DPReview got a sneak peak and takes you behind the scenes.
The Sigma 14mm F1.8 Art is truly one-of-a-kind. It offers the fastest aperture of any lens that shares its focal length, produces beautiful sunstars and is incredibly sharp to boot. If you're in the market for a fast ultrawide prime, this looks to be the one to get.
In this article, expert macro photographer Thomas Shahan shares advice for successful closeup photography of bugs, insects and small animals.
DJI's new firmware makes it difficult to fly in restricted airspace, even when you have proper clearance. Is DJI placing themselves between professionals and the FAA?
Go behind the scenes with National Geographic photographer Renan Ozturk and see what it takes to capture a dangerous, harrowing, stunning Nat Geo photo essay.
Erez Marom tells the story behind this ominous photo of the sand 'reaching up' towards the mountains at Skagsanden beach in Norway. He calls this photo 'Torment.'
DPReview staffer Carey Rose has taken the Panasonic Leica DG 15mm F1.7 along for everything from a city-side boat ride to a bachelor party across the mountains. Find out how the little Leica fared.
Canon just unveiled the largest 12-ink printer on the market. The new imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 printer can make prints from 17 all the way up to 60 inches wide.
"Standing in one of the holiest places on earth, I felt uneasy," writes Wired's Jason Parham. "Most of my fellow visitors, I realized with a brief bloom of nausea, were taking selfies."
Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk has been receiving great reviews, but it's a challenge to see it in its full glory. This handy infographic reveals the aspect ratio chaos that is wrought as the industry retreats from film.
Anti-bullying organization Ditch the Label's Annual Bullying Survey 2017 reveals yet again that Instagram, more so than any other social network, has the worst effect on youth mental health.
It's been a crazy day for innovative patent news. Apparently Sony is thinking of developing a medium format curved sensor camera.
An update to the Silkypix Raw converter fixes some bugs and adds support for several popular new cameras.
This crazy custom-built underwater camera shoots 8x10 large format film. It's supposedly "the first successful underwater 8x10 ever made," and it can be yours for $5,800... plus shipping.
Blackmagic just reveled a new accessory for their Cintel Film Scanner. The Cintel Audio and KeyKode Reader can capture KeyKode data and high-quality audio from film in real-time as it is being scanned.
A new Nikon patent shows a lens designed for a curved full-frame sensor. Could this be the high-end Nikon mirrorless camera people are hoping for?
The ability to shoot images at 1,000 fps first appeared in a Sony smartphone sensor. Now the Japanese manufacturer is using the same feature for industrial applications.
Astronomy expert and photographer Dr. Tyler Nordgren thinks you should "see your first eclipse, photograph your second." But if you do plan on taking photos this August, here are a few tips from someone who's been there.
How confident are you that you can spot a manipulated photo? A recent study at the University of Warwick shows that many people are pretty bad at it.
If you purchased a Leica TL2, do NOT attach Leica's Visoflex electronic viewfinder. Leica is working on a fix, but for now, it's possible the viewfinder will break your camera.
Google just released Motion Stills for Android. Unlike the iOS version, the Android app uses a redesigned video processing pipeline that processes each frame of a video as it is being recorded, creating instant results.
A huge copyright lawsuit between photography firm VHT and Zillow Group is heating up again, as both sides appeal a court ruling that granted VHT $4 million in damages.
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet spent 6 months on board the International Space Station where he worked with Google capturing spheric panorama images that are now available in Street View.