Sunday, June 2, 2013

An Introduction to Lighting Your Subject

This is a very basic introduction to lighting for photography. For this tutorial I was shooting with a Canon EOS 60D with a Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite in the hot shoe of the camera. The camera was set to Aperture f8, Shutter 1/250th, ISO 800, the lens was set to 135mm, and the flash in Manual Mode for all three photos. I am starting lighting at this point because I believe it will apply to the largest segment of the reading audience. It is also important to note that while I was shooting with a DSLR it is very practical to experiment with this style of lighting using a point and shoot camera and an external flash that can be triggered by the on camera flash. Bower makes external flashes that can operate in this manor for well under $100.00. You could also substitute a lamp for your light source. For more information on lighting with Speedlites I highly recommend checking out Syl Arena and Scoot Robert Lim. Ok on to the tutorial.

Flat Light
Flat Light
The first photo in this series is shot with on camera flash pointed straight at the subject,  set to 1/64th power and set to 28mm. This is a lighting style that makes most photographers cringe, but it is also what many people are commonly stuck with if they only have a point and shoot camera. This is what we refer to as flat lighting, it tends to be very unflattering. I shot this image to show a couple of different things. The first is that, while this subject is interesting enough to look ok in flat light it is a reference for the later two images. It is also a very good example of the Inverse-Square Law. That is, it shows how light intensity falls off with distance. The subject in this photos is cream colored while the wall behind it is painted true white. The light (and camera) are 3 feet from the subject and the wall is an additional 5 feet beyond that. Because of the distance to the wall being much greater then the distance to the subject the wall is underexposed making it appear much darker. This can be a good technique for bringing focus to your subject by making it the lightest object.

Bounce LIght Hard
Bounce Light Hard
For the second image in this series the camera is again placed 3 feet from the subject but the light is now being bounced off of a white wall 6 feet to camera right. The flash is set to 1/8 power and 28mm. The power increase was needed because the distance the light is traveling to the subject is now 12 feet, 6 to the wall and 6 back to the subject. When you hear the term bounce flash, this techniques is what the person is referring too, an on camera flash being bounced off of a wall, ceiling or other reflector to change the angle of light falling on the subject. It is also occasionally done with off camera units to make the light source bigger, a little more on that below. In this image the light on the subject is coming from the right and it does a much better job of showing depth and texture in the image. If you think back to basic art classes, when you want to draw a ball you start with a circle and then add shading to give the illusion of depth. A photo is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional object. Comparing the 2nd image to the 1st it is easy to see the difference in apparent depth of the two images, they are both flat but the second image shows much more depth. This exercise is commonly done with an egg for beginning photographers, it can easily be demonstrated with an egg or ball and a flashlight. This is a great way to begin exploring how light direction effects our perception.

Bounce Light Soft
Bounce Light Soft
The last image in the series was shot the same as the second, the exception is that the flash while it was still set to 1/8 power was now set at 14mm, this gives a bigger pool of light on the wall. This creates a larger light source and is referred to as softer light. If you compare the 2nd image to the 3rd you can see the edges of the shadows are a little more defined in the second image while the light in the 3rd wraps into the shadows on the back of the ivory ball. As I mentioned above occasionally off camera flash will be bounced off of a wall to create a much bigger and thus much softer light then can be done with on light modifiers. This is something I will cover in much greater detail in later lighting tutorials. The last point to be made from this series gets back to the Rule of Squares. The background is much lighter in the second two images because it is much closer to the light source in relation to the subject then it is in the first image. In the first image it was 8 feet from light to the wall, an additional 5 feet beyond the subject and almost double the 3 feet it was from the light to the subject. In the second and third images it is 12 feet from the light to the subject and only about 16 feet from light to the wall at the right edge of the second two images. In these images the light fall off can also be observed on the wall in the background. the light on the left hand edge of the image is a little darker giving the wall a slight gradient.

This is a basic intro to lighting. I would suggest getting an egg, a ball or a friend to sit in for you and run through it. Obviously it can be done in about 5 minutes, but if you really take your time, you can learn a lot from this simple exercise. It is a great way to learn about both light fall off and light direction and the options for shooting like this are limitless. You can very light direction and light source to get a much greater  understanding of how light effects your images. Once you master lighting your subject it is easy to add other lighting elements.

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