Sunday, August 4, 2013

3 Point Lighting

3 Point Lighting
3 Point Lighting

3 point lighting really should be looked at as the fundamental building block for all lighting in both photography and video. I do not make this statement as a judgement, in no way do I mean that the light setup shown here is “the best”. The best light is what is need for the image being created. But what I do mean is that these 3 aspects are present in all lighting setups and need to be considered whether you are using one light mounted on the camera or a 20 light studio set. In all lighting cases you will be working with and should be thinking in terms of Key Light, Fill Light and Background Light, your three fundamental lighting aspects. All other lights, hair lights, rim lights, kickers are just added fluff used to better define how the light falls on the subject and how the light separates the subject from the back ground.

A little bit of house keeping - the camera used was the Canon 6D with the 24-105 f4 L lens, the camera was located 6 feet from the subject on a tripod set to ISO 200 f8 1/160. The lights used were Canon Speedlites set to manual the background light was the 600EX-RT and the Key and Fill lights were both 430EX-IIs all three lights were set to manual. I include this information because a lot of people do ask about it - but really the equipment is not important, understanding how it is being used is what matters. If this is your first article on lighting I would suggest also reading Lighting Your Subject and Part II as well as looking at the resources linked in those two posts.

Key LIght
Key Light
Key Light, the Key Light is the main light in the lighting set up. While the methodology of studio lighting can seem intimidating when you first approach it the Key Light is really the only light you need to really understand. As long as you get the Key Light correct everything else really just slides into place. The Key Light is the main light falling on your subject and is also commonly referred to as the subject light. The Key light sets the direction and quality of the light in the image and in general will provide the mid-tones to highlights of your subject in your image. I say in general because not all photos use the full tonal range. Your Key Light will determine your exposure settings, even if you are wanting a very high key image with the background blown out you will determine exposure based on how your key light falls on your subject. In the example shown here the Key Light is a Canon 430EX-II set to camera right at 45 degrees from the subject, slightly elevated at a distance of 1 1/2 feet and sett to 1/16th power and 14mm.

Fill Light
Fill Light

Fill Light, in many ways the Fill light functions much like the Key Light but instead of defining the mid-tones and highlights it defines the shadows. While light defines your subject the shadows define the mood of the image. In the example shown here the Fill light is a Canon 430EX-II set to camera left at 45 degrees from the subject, placed at the same hight as the subject, at a distance of 1 1/2 feet, set to 1/32nd power and 14mm. Generally a Fill Light will be set somewhere between 1 and 3 stops lower then your Key Light, however there is no correct way to set it - there is only what is correct for your vision, let your vision guid both the placement and the intensity of your Fill Light. I frequently work with the fill light mounted on the camera or even set as far around the subject to be at 180 degrees from the Key Light. If I want the lighting to be quite flat the Fill will be set to almost the same power as the Key, maybe only 1/2 stop lower or if I want the image to have a lot of drama I may turn the Fill off.

Background LIght
Background Light
Background light, the background light does exactly what it sounds like, it lights the background. If you go back and look at the previous two lighting articles linked above you will notice that the background is lit by spill coming form the Key Light in those examples, in some cases it is lit quite a lot while in others there is very little light falling on the background. By adding a background light you can gain control over how the background displays in the image. The Background light was a Canon 600EX-RT placed directly behind and below the subject, gelled blue, at a distance of 12 feet from the wall, set to 1/4 power and 28mm. As you can see the background light is set considerable higher then the other two lights. This is not a hard and fast rule, it was what was need to get proper illumination of the background.

Above I mentioned that as long as you have control of your Key light all of the other lighting will slide into place. The background light can be the best example of that. In the images for the articles linked above the background light had not been considered at all. Only the manor in how the light fell on the subject was taken into account, whether or not the light also happened to spill into the background was not thought about or corrected. The easiest way to control spill is with  light fall off, by placing your Key and Fill lights as close as possible to your subject and turning the power down while moving your subject as far as possible from the background you can prevent most spill, the other option can be to use a flag (dark fabric or panel) to prevent the light from traveling in an unwanted direction.

In this post you can see that I have created 4 distinctly different images without changing any of the camera settings or even recomposing the shot. The important thing to take away from this blog entry is get your Key Light right. If you think about it all four of the above images were set and determined by the Key light, yes even the silhouette is set up by first determining the Key light. For that image I want the Key Light output to be zero and the Fill light to be less then that. Once I have a dark image I then just mix in the correct amount of Background Light to match my vision. That is exactly what happens with every other light whether you are shooting with one or 100, set the Key and then just mix the other lights in to the intensity and direction to create what you envision.

If you look at the images in An Introduction to lighting Your Subject you can see an example of how one light can be used to control all 3 aspects of lighting, all 3 points. It also helps demonstrate why the Key light firing from the camera directly at the subject is bad, it ends up functioning as fill and background light and there is no practical way to control all three aspects. However simple by turning the flash and bouncing it off of a nearby wall or ceiling you can then gain control not just of how that flash functions as a Key light but how much fill it provides and how it falls on the background.

** As an aside the lighting set up shown here is an excellent way to display products, I highly recommend it for your eBay photos, it is also a good place to start with lighting people for portraiture though for portraiture you want to pay a lot more attention to exactly where the Key light is positioned in relation to your subject and their pose. In both cases pick a background color that compliments the subject.

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