Lighting: moods

In the series Understanding lighting: from physics to moods, I will now discuss the relationship between lighting and moods. In the previous blogs I discussed several techniques to get a specific kind of lighting. In this blog I am going in the direction of art.

Beautiful brunette putting gloss on her lips
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

We all know that when we tell our subject that we are going to take a picture, we get automatically a pose with a nice smile. Most of the time all emotions are gone. Therefore, I prefer to take pictures when people are not aware of the camera to tell a story. Then, they express their genuine emotions (reportage photography).
In a studio setting this is quite a challenge. So, I first talk to my models to make them relax. I am in a lucky position that I knew my models before I started with portrait photography. So, there is enough to talk about. I quite often use props, like an iPhone or an iPad. It helps them to focus on what they would normally do with e.g. an iPad and not to pose.
Two types of lightening are high key and low key. A high-key picture is bright, has hardly any contrast, and lacks shadows; it expresses happiness and joy. A low-key picture, on the other hand, is dark, has many black areas, and has a lot of contrast; it expresses drama, tension, or mysteriousness.
A high-key picture is made by overexposing the background and having main and fill lights with a high exposure. Make sure not to overexpose. A low-key picture is made with a dark background and main light that acts like a kicker light (only lighting a specific area of the subject). Furthermore, the settings of the camera should be close to underexposure.
Beautiful latin girl with curly hair
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

My experience with lighting is mainly in the area between high and low key, actually a bit closer to high. In the near future I am going to experiment with the two extremes.
There are many type of moods, which require a different lighting. By experimenting you will find out what the right combination of posture, light, color (look at this overview for the relationship between color and emotions), and angle for the different moods is.
This ends the series on Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods. It was inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest. Please, enjoy!
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Lighting: studio lighting setup – several lights

4-light setup
4-light setup

In the previous blog in the series on Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods, we discussed studio lighting using only one light (the main light). The essence of lighting is to play with light and shadow. The same is of course true if we use more than one light.
Using one bare light produces harsh shadows. This can be overcome by making the light bigger by using an umbrella or a softbox. However, this does not change the darkness of the shadows, it only softens the edges.
To get rid of the darkness of the shadows we need an additional light source. This might be another light, or it might also be a reflector. Note, in a sense a reflector is another source of light, however, a reflector does not produce more light than the light source of the incoming light. So, we cannot fully control it.
Besides the main light there are the following additional lights:

  • Fill light These are used to lighten up the shadows. Do not make them too strong otherwise the shadows completely disappear, making the picture flat.
  • Background light To create more depth we need to separate the subject from the background. This is done by placing a light behind the subject directed towards the background. If the backdrop is white it is better to use a color, if it is black a white light can be used.
  • Rim light To highlight the subject we use a rim light. It is placed behind the subject directed towards the subject. It gives a halo effect around the head and shoulders.
  • Hair light Sometimes it is nice to highlight a specific spot of the hair. This is done by placing a small, focussed light at a high position directed towards the hair.
  • Kickers They are very similar as hair light, however, they are directed towards a specific part of the subject.

The picture at the top shows a 4-light step bringing most of the above together. One main light on the left, a fill light on the right, a rim light in the rear, and a hair light on the far right. I again used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork.

Main light, reflector, and background light (blue)
Main light (left), reflector (right), and background light (rear, blue)

My own experience with a studio lighting setup until now is limited to a main light and several fills, lights and reflectors. In the near future I hope to experiment with the full setup.
This series of blogs on understanding lighting is inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest.
In the next blog we will discuss the right lighting setup for specific moods.
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Lighting: studio lighting setup – one light

Self-Portrait, 1658
Self-Portrait, 1658

In the previous blog in the series on  Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods the physics of light was discussed, now the focus is on the various lighting setups for portrait photography. Again, inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest and many blogs and tutorials I try to focus on the essence. Here is one link to an explanation I really liked, it is simple and clear: several basic lighting patterns by Darlene Hildebrandt.
The essence in my opinion is to get the right balance between light and shadows for what we have in mind. See these drawings of Palle Schmidt to understand the interplay between light and shadows.
Let me start with one light and vary the position relative to the person. Note below I used a bare light (so no soft box), this explains the harsh shadows. This gives the following lighting patterns (I used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork so simulate the various patterns) :

  • frontal lighting This is the situation where the flash is in or on the camera and the person is facing the camera. The result is a picture with no shadows in the face. It looks flat. Most snapshots are like this.frontal
  • butterfly lighting If we lift the light up a small shadow appears under the nose and sometimes also under the cheeks. butterfly
  • split lighting If I now move the light to the side of the person (90 degrees), the result is a split face: one side lighted and the other one dark.split
  • Rembrandt lighting If I move the light back to 45 degrees off the camera and up a bit, we get something called Rembrandt lighting (see the self-portrait of Rembrandt). Typical is the light triangle on the cheek on the other side of the light. The sides of the triangle are: the eyebrow, the shadow of the nose and the shadow of the cheek. It can be smaller or larger depending on the position of the light.Rembrandt
  • loop lighting If I place the light a little closer to the the camera (30 degrees), the triangle opens up, this means that the shadow of the nose does not touch the shadow of the cheek anymore.loop

For all of these lighting patterns (except the frontal one) I can use broad and short lighting. Broad lighting means that the visible ear is lighted and short lighting is that the visible ear is in the shade.
Here is a nice YouTube video by Ed Verosky that explains the various lighting patterns with one light.
In the next blog I will continue the studio lighting setup with several lights and reflectors.

Lighting: physics of light

Rainbow
Rainbow

Inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua I would like to discuss the fundamentals of lighting in the series Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods. Lighting deals with light, subject, and viewer. We discuss all three of them.
Essential characteristics of light (sources) are:

  • Brightness It makes quite a difference if we have to take a picture with only the moon shining instead of the sun. In general, the more light the better the quality of the pictures is. It is much easier to deal with too much light (almost closed Aperture and a very fast Shutter Speed), than too little light (the quality decreases substantially in the high ISO range). Also, light loses its brightness if it travels a long distant (look at the sky when it is dark, all of these starts are more powerful than our sun, however, we only see a tiny twinkle of each of them).
  • Color Normal light consists of light with different wave lengths. We see that when the sun shines during the rain: the rainbow. With the right mix of these colors it looks white. If this white light reflex on a red wall it reflects only red light. The way we see light is an interpretation of our brains of what we see. For example, we know that snow is white; although in a picture it may look gray we “see” it as white. A camera is not always able to do this intelligent interpretation of light. So, sometimes we have to help it by setting the White Balance to the right color temperature.
  • Size of the source On sunny days with a blue sky the shadows are harsh. On cloudy days there are hardly any shadows. In the first case we have a very small light source and in the latter a very large one, resulting in, respectively, direct and diffuse light.

Reflections on a subject play an important role in photography, because in a sense they create new light sources with their own characteristics. For example, a reflection on a non-glossy subject like a matte wall causes a diffuse reflection (reduction in brightness). As mentioned above, if light reflects on a red subject, it reflects only red light and absorbs all other colors (change of color). Also, if the light reflects on a (small) mirror-like subject, it creates a (tiny) light source producing harsh shadows; this is called direct reflection (change of size of light source).
The viewer is of course our camera. When we shoot outdoors and when we are not happy with the position of the light source, the sun, the only remedy is to change the position of the camera. In a studio, however, we have the additional possibility to change the position of the light source(s). Also, we can use soft boxes instead of waiting for the clouds. Furthermore, we can use reflectors, “producing” warm of cold light, to light the subject from different angles.
So, now that we know more about light, the next step is lighting setups. This is the topic of the next blog.

Lighting: a prelude

Brunette with long hair making phone call
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As we all know, understanding lighting is at the core of photography. You might object, although we all drive a car, this does not necessarily mean that we fully understand how a car operates and that we know what perfect driving is.
The same is of course true for photography, cameras, even in smartphones, get better every day, however, this does not mean that our pictures improve as well. Look for yourself on the internet to see how many mediocre pictures there are.
I am not saying that my own pictures are a lot better, however, I have the drive to better understand what makes pictures stand out. There are many books, websites, and tutorials on YouTube on specific aspects of photography. To be honest, too many, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the good and the mediocre.
In the upcoming blogs I will take you along my search for understanding lighting: from physics to moods. Just to give you a little prelude.
The books by Joe McNally (Hot Shoe Diaries and Sketching Light) inspired me to take the speedlight off the camera and to shoot in Manual Mode. This was quite a step for me, however, his enthusiasm made this step easy for me.
Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua was advised to me by a professional photographer who did a photoshoot of me (in my role as research manager). It is not as easy to read as most of the books on photography, however, everytime I have a question about lighting, the answer turns out to be there.
After having seen a lot of books, websites etc on a studio lighting setups, I was wondering what the impact of the various lighting setups is on the mood of the pictures and whether certain setups work better with one person than with the other. Currently I am reading Sculpting with Light by Earnest; I am very enthusiastic about this book because it tells me for which type of face to use which lighting setup.
In the upcoming blogs I will share with you my learning steps. Last weeks a couple of my studio pictures have been sold on Dreamstime. At the top of this blog you see one of them. It is a full body, high key picture taken with a couple of speedlights, a softbox and a white backdrop. I am proud of it, however, I want to futher improve it. Here are some more of my portrait pictures of which most are on Dreamstime. Enjoy.
Upcoming blogs:

Stock Images

Reading and practicing

Medieval_bakerMedieval baker. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Although I am a teacher at the university and a fan of apprenticeship I never enrolled for a course on photography. Maybe, when I am retired, I should do so. Until now I learned all I know about photography by reading books and practicing.
In the beginning it is not easy to find the right books. There are too many mediocre books. So, after appreciating the website of Ken Rockwell for selecting my camera and lenses, I had a look at the books he recommended. Until now I read quite a few of them. Almost all of them had a major impact on my way of taking pictures.
A few years ago I discovered Craft&Vision of David duChemin and his colleague photographers. They started with making  very cheap e-books on specific topics. Nowadays, they sell e-magazines and videos of courses as well. Everything is in digital form. The quality is good, it gives a good insight in the way professional photographers think, and the advice is very practical. By now I have quite a lot of their material.
In the digital world the concept apprenticeship gets a different meaning. All the information you need is available on the internet, quite often for free (for example on YouTube), and there are many websites where you can get feedback on the pictures you took. Important to realize is that it is up to you to do something with it. In photography there is no way to learn something without practicing.

Which lens to use?

IMG_0814Almost for every focal length or range of focal lengths there seems to be a lens available. Too many to buy or to walk around with.
General-purpose lens
My general-purpose lens is the Nikkor 28-300mm lens. I use it if I just want to take one lens and if I do not know what to expect. For most shoots it is the almost perfect solution, however, it is not very light sensitive. In case I really have to travel light weight I just take my Nikkor 50mm lens.
Wide-angle lens
For land- and cityscape I usually take the Nikkor 16-35mm lens, a wide-angle zoom lens, with which you can take very sharp pictures. Normally people buy a wide-angle lens to fit more into the picture (“I need a wide-angle lens otherwise it doesn’t fit!”). If you are not close to your subject, wide-angle lenses tend to but in a lot of irrelevant objects in your picture, which does not make it more interesting.
So, using a wide-angle lens means that you have to get closer. To fit more in a picture a wide-angle lens puts everything further away and you also get some distortion. I started to enjoy the lens when I realized I really had to get close, really close.
Telelens
As telelens I use the Nikkor 70-200mm lens. Very sharp pictures. I use it for architectural details in cities and details in nature. I also enjoy taking close-up pictures of individuals being active in a group. This gives very natural poses. Furthermore, I use it for studio photography (a white background). By the way, it is quite a heavy lens.
For portrait photography outdoors I use the Nikkor 135mm DC. Its bokeh is perfect, it really gives the most perfect background you can imagine.
On the Web
On the website of Ken Rockwell you will find more about the Nikkor Dream Team of full frame lenses.