How do you think, when lighting?

Started 3 months ago | Discussions thread
OP bicho Regular Member • Posts: 496
Re: How do you think, when lighting?

Darrell Spreen wrote:

Well....I'm a bit reluctant to comment because I'm strictly an amateur though I've been experimenting with lighting for a number of years. I do have some opinions.

As long as the basics of how to control light is there, the rest is a "life long journey" of constantly refining the process and expression. The way I work today, where I put my first focus on the background, is a result of years of focusing on the subject first. After studying thousands of my portraits, the ones that I like the most is where the subject and the background are in the best harmony. And since I mostly have more time to light the background before the subject arrives, I do all I can to eliminate randomness and be more in control when it's time for the subject. If I, let's say do I shortlight from the left on the subject, I make sure the background motivates this. Is it with a location visible in the background I want windows or other lightsources on the same side. If there is a practical/lamp in the background - I can do a rim light coloured the same way on the subject. This way it really looks like the subject is lit by the environment, and my lighting is totally hidden. As soon as the lighting is obvious, I think the photographers precense is communicating. Sometimes this is just fine, but sometimes it is not. Depending on the context/type of image of course.

I like to try different things so I often begin thinking about creating effects with lights. As an example, I recently produced the effect of window light through shutters by single-slit diffraction using barndoors nearly closed in front of an LED source. It turned out to be quite effective.

Would love to see an example! I do a lot of this too, and I use all kinds of methods to create "the effect of window light". Barndoors, flags, blackwrap, gaffa... Actually, this is a topic that can be studied a lot. One example is studying the painter Johannes Vermeer. He did a lot of "effect of window light" on his backgrounds, and when I work with assistants they all know what I mean when I want a "Vermeer corner". Or Caravaggios "The Calling of Saint Matthew" - a very common background light in my arsenal of "Creative Tools".

Usually, however, my approach is more mundane. I will usually start with the fill light, looking for the "mood". I position it from high to low to see how it plays on the background. I consider both shoot-through or reflecting umbrellas, though I usually know which one I want.

The classical way of setting the "lowest shadow level" is a method often used at film sets, and of course works fine for still photography as well. Defining the lowest level secures the exposure, and then you build upon that.

Me, on the other hand have taken a totally different approach. I actually work the other way around. I keep my shadows as DARK as POSSIBLE through the whole lighting process. I know this is NOT the common way, but my working process have developed into thinking that too dark shadows is great! The last thing I do, is to fill the shadows - and by doing this way I have total control of the contrast during the whole workflow. Too high contrast is easy to fix, but to low demands a lot of time consuming and hopelessly flagging bonanzas. By always keeping the shadows as dark as possible when setting each light, this is never a problem. As soon as one light fill shadows, fix it at once. My mantra is that one light should do one thing only. If a light creates an indirect lightsource, and I know I have more lights to set - I kill that indirect light source immediately - even if it might look good. I can always come back to this, if needed. Sorry - a lot of words there about fill :).

I add my key light once I have a subject (or a stand-in) and look for shadows, dimensionality, and contrast ratios. With some subjects, I recognize I need to go with flat lighting. I will then add reflectors if I want some fill not provided by my fill light. I rarely use more than 2 lights unless I need a hair light.

Now, this is totally depending on what type of picture I do - but I am very, very careful with fill on faces. The shadows must of course be at a nice level, but I mean how the fill look. If the fill looks like a fill, then it needs some adjustments. A reflector on the opposite side of the key can easily create it's own precense, and that will reveal the photographers intensions. If it's too close, the inverse square law will inevitably create a visible fall off. If it's to far away, it can be too small and create visible shadows. Skin reflections are another routhless revealer that there is a reflector on the opposite side.

I very often try to hide my fill by letting it come from the same side as the key light. This way, the fill gradually fills in the same direction as the key light, and this "wrapping" is way more subdued than the other way around. Yes, it's a bit more tricky to get the fill from the key-light-side, and sometimes it works just fine with a simple fill from the opposite side. But if you pay attention to how the fill really looks, it's quite interesting what an impact it has when switching side... Often to the better.

I get the impression I follow a somewhat similar approach to yours (as opposed to starting with the main light), but I don't think or work in layers. And I don't think about photoshop at all. I treat image editing as another variable after the fact to crop, add vignetting, or perhaps introduce a soft filter, etc.

Let me rephrase what I mean. Often when my lighting is "done" and I actually could start the shoot - I look at it and think "....and when I sit with this in photoshop - what will I do, and can I do it for real instead?". I slide temporarily into my Photoshop mind-set, because that is where I eventually will end up anyway. For example, vinjetting. Creating vinjetting "for real" never look photoshopped, but photoshopped vinjetting easily look "placed over" (especially when zooming out). I am a light-purist to it's extreme, and always try in absurdum to create everything in-camera.

Thanks for the opportunity to re-visit the way I like to work with lighting. It's quite different from shopping for some new light or modifier.

Discussing light through the tools, is like painting artists discussing art through their brushes...

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