Lighting Technique and Getting Better

Started 5 months ago | Discussions thread
jlafferty Senior Member • Posts: 1,434
Re: Lighting Technique and Getting Better

Hey, you're not off to a bad start.

A few things to help you along...

1) Many of these images are short lit, meaning the subject is between the light and the camera position. If you think of a clock face, with the subject at its center (facing off to camera left, as Al Pacino is), you'd be shooting from 6 o'clock, the light will be at 9 or 10 o'clock, and feathered forward. You'll get bounce fill to your right, basically catching the light and kicking it back to the subject, and you can experiment with having it bounce more directly, or more obliquely. Also just note that when short lighting, you might have to flag your lens or get the hood on as you run the risk of flaring.

2) Ideally you'd then splash a background light coming from camera right. It's a classic riff on chiaroscuro, where you light the surface behind the shadow side of the subject. If you don't have a background light, you can get some of this effect by moving the light closer to the subject, and the subject closer to the wall. Also note when you're playing around with lighting, that you can control hard/soft character of light separate from contrast - even with a large, soft source, if you move it very close to the subject, contrast goes up. So, size and distance affect light quality and can be used to your advantage by controlling each independently.

3) Lastly, just know that lighting might get you 70-80% of the way, but in the case of Penn, film stock & printing, and in the case of us, (likely) raw conversion Levels/Curves will play a role in doing things like crushing the blacks severely. So, you might start with a well lit image, and even moving a black negative fill in, it will only crush the shadows so much - that Pacino shot is a perfect example of the lower, say, 20% of the tonal range totally blocked up/dumbed by processing.

Here's a really nice overview of working with one light, the challenges in doing so, and some insight into how to feather:

Ronnie99 wrote:

jlafferty wrote:

Penn's work really runs the gamut. If you posted a handful of images you're looking to inch closer to, we can help with specifics.

I'll also say you can get a lot done with one light and a reflector/negative fill. Not as much as two lights, but plenty to start from.

Here's some of the tools at your disposal:

Light modifier, its character, coverage and exposure. Small and hard source (bare reflector) vs. a 35" octa affect all three greatly (for example).

Then, you're going to play with position. But to spare you a lot of trouble, FWIW many, many of my shoots have the key light in either the 7:30/4:30 position (feathered), or over camera, centered. I get a lot of travel out of those two positions. Height is relative to your subject - too high and they'll have raccoon eyes; too low and they won't have a defined chin.

Lastly, relative distances. How close is the light to your subject? How close is your subject to the wall/surface behind them?

Thanks so much. Here are a few of me. Just trying to test out lights - I recognize it's not the best expression. I'm not the best model. 80cm LenCarta Beauty Dish, feathered around 7:30 position, no reflector used for fill.

Smaller beauty dish - as angled down from high above. Raccoon eyes and shadows that are too dark.

I'm drawn to Irving Pen's use of gradient light in his backgrounds and Richard Avedon's as well.

Here are a few images I'd like to deconstruct.

Thanks for your help.

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