How do you think, when lighting?

Started 3 months ago | Discussions thread
jlafferty Senior Member • Posts: 1,295
Re: How do you think, when lighting?

bicho wrote:

jlafferty wrote:

What a lovely thought prompt. I recall your thread on creating daylight in studio - probably one of the best threads here, ever. Let’s hope this reaches similar heights

I find it interesting that there is so little talk about the actual work in lighting in here. Feels like 99% is about how cheap Godox is, but there's still a ton of photographers out there who actually work (despite the noninteresting brand). Photography and lighting are craftmanship, and there are so many interesting aspects to discuss, learn, and be inspired by others... But here we are again! Trying to change focus again towards craftsmanship!

Yeah, I've thought about this quite a bit. There's obviously a lot to say about creative anxiety, about feeling vulnerable and inadequate, at the center of the lack of a meaningful creative conversation online. I've often thought that if you want to get better, you have to accept a prolonged sense of dissatisfaction. It's far easier to focus on tech, which is a finite practice, for which there are limited right answers... and it's also easy to hone three lighting setups and just repeat that - if you're not easily bored, you're quickly gratified and can sit on that plateau indefinitely.

The tech discussion also pays well, or at least, on the internet it's what's easily packaged and transmitted and takes off quickly as a result, easier to monetize. It's a bit harder to discuss something so amorphous and subjective and have it take off. It's not really soundbiteable, memeable or whatever.

Two things spring to mind for me:

I’m a far more intuitive lighter now. I lead with feelings and follow with technique. This has been an uphill battle but I feel I’m finally there, and emphasis on feel. A lot of it is considering what light suits the subject and feels parallel to intent and going from there.

Apparently, Im not a native English speaker and love to learn phrases like "parallel to intent", because that the core of my workflow - but I explain it in 5 times longer scentences :). Thanks for that one.

What would you say, if possible, was the key that unlocked you to "finally be there"? If I understand you correctly, and draw a parallel to my own journey - when the theory on light became an instinct instead of theory, that's when I got unlocked. To use a overused phrase: I unleashed my creative wings.

Oh man, I'm like the WOPR in War Games. Or an AI. Just repeat a thing, pick it apart for its flaws. Go out and try again. Fail at some level, keep trying. Make hundreds of plays in every possible permutation until as you say... you pass this threshold where it becomes intuitive. And, for me anyway, I know what not to do, or what doesn't work.

I call it "transparency", as in, can I see through the tools and the process? Once you get so proficient the tools fall back to a secondary concern, or pretty much disappear, that's when it gets interesting. Long journey for me, and I've often been my own worst enemy in this regard. It took me a while to get more patient and kind with myself for my failings. Or embrace them because I'd see others respond to the images from an emotional place, so seeing my work reacted to by others was its own kind of learning - it took a while for me to embrace that it's not always the most difficult, or most overtly stylised lighting that others respond to.

At the same time, I've worked as a digitech in NYC and have had the benefit of watching some sought after photographers at the top of their game, shooting campaigns for big clients. A lot of that gave me permission to care a bit less about the technical, to be kinder to myself, to keep it simpler, always. The permission thing has been huge. I've seen some very creative, skilled photographers tackle massive campaigns for pharma and fashion... with just a body and 50mm; or a body, handful of lenses and a reflector.

So now my starting position is what do we need these photos to feel like? Should they feel sincere, or elevated and artificial? Spontaneous or very formal? Pop, bright, or subdued, and subtly crafted?

And then from there flows the lighting tech stuff. It's really fun to listen to other people on set now and hear what they're saying, and know exactly what gear will get us there. I just worked with a fantastic makeup artist and I was testing out short lighting, really moody, shapely, Rembrandt... and he said "These are beautiful photos. They work as photos. But I feel like my work is getting lost." I said "Cool, say no more." Switch from short lighting the model with a softlighter, to over camera with a flooded fresnel. It took three frames to get the new light locked in and the MUA drew a big breath "Holy shiiiiii that's what I needed!"

Another a-hah moment for me was understanding that a light's character - soft vs. hard - can operate independently of contrast, by moving it near or father away. So you can have something like a softlighter, which inherently preserves mid-tone detail and gives a soft shadow edge, also act as a more contrasty source by bringing it in.

In my case, it's a lot like painting (even though I suck at painting) - I see and feel, and act on that feeling of what is needed to be done within this 2 dimensional frame we call picture. With the risk of really sounding pathetic - sometimes (when Im really into it) I actually feel that I am "inside" the flat image-space, but can float back and forth in three dimensions. Actually four dimensions. In/out, left/right, up/down, and in time. The image it self is a 2 dimensional freezed left/right, up/down frame frozen in the third dimension - time. When creating an image, we float in two more dimensions (but just in one direction in time though). And there I lost it. Hah. Christopher Nolan - where are you when we need you to create a deep movie on photography?

Haha! I trust you at your word here. I'm not quite there yet, passing through the multiverse

The other thing I’d say is, similar to you, and borrowing a phrase from cinematography, I light spaces, then faces. I’ll often put paper up and adjust ISO, lighting, v flats, to get an even representation of the tone I want it to present. With that in place I’ll then fly the key light in and adjust to taste.

Never heard "light spaces, then faces" before! Thats a beautiful way to put it. I searched and found that Danny Gervitz (great Youtuber!) have said that some where. I also found another quote I loved: "create environments and just happen to place people in them". That's exactly the feeling I'm after.

Yeah, Danny is where I heard that phrase. Maybe he came up with it but my hunch is that it's a cinematography staple. Yours is a nice phrase too.

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General scoundrel. Evocative beats academic.

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