tracey medcalfe photography | You're Smarter Than Your Camera - Lighting

You're Smarter Than Your Camera - Lighting

October 17, 2015  •  Leave a Comment
You're Smarter Than Your Camera - Lighting
Good morning and welcome to the first October blog on lighting! of the key components of photography!  This week we will look at a general overview of lighting and in the next couple of blogs we will look at more involved options. Although we have made it all the way through the year and covered so many other aspects of photography, lighting has played a role in each of the blogs, after all one of the main aspects of photography is to control the light and this can be done through use of the camera and also through understanding light.

Enjoy and thanks for reading,

Use of Light?

Aperture, shutterspeed, light meter, ISO, composition, you name it, all the topics we have covered have a element of controlling light.  The lighting can make an image amazing or it can make it hopeless.

Only one trait controls the appearance of light on any subject: it's distribution (white balance can also control the appearance, but to keep it simple, lets just assume we are working with natural light).  So how can we manage this?  There are two characteristics that we can use - 

Direction - this controls the location of the shadows and highlights on the subject

Apparent Size - this controls the appearance of these shadows and highlights.

Yes, it's really that simple.  Of course there are almost endless possibilities with only a few light sources, but even getting a grip of the basics will have you looking at your subject in a different way.
Apparent Size - 

This is one of the more common causes of poor lighting.  There are essentially two terms to describe the light quality.  Hard and soft.  The table below outlines the result of these two qualities of light.

The table below shows the types of light that offer hard or soft light.   For portraits, we are normally looking for softer light which results in more gentle shadows.  Just as direct light produces harder shadows from the subject, it also determines the visibility of the fine texture.  So any blemishes or wrinkles in the skin, become more pronounced with hard light.

It's hard to believe that larger lights offer softer light, as we tend to think of larger light and more powerful, but it is less directed, which is what we are normally looking for in portraits.

Of course you can use direct light, but in order to achieve the softer effect, it needs to be bounced off something or diffused.  

Here's another bombshell!  It's not really the physical size of the light source that matters, just it's 'apparent' size relative to the subject.

Bring the light closer to the subject and it become softer.  This is because the light strikes the subject from a broader range of angles.  The sun is ginormous, but because it is so far away, it arrives at us from roughly one directed and can be very directed light.

Light Size


Types of Sunlight

Types of Flash
Harder Light          Softer Light

Smaller                   Larger   

Abrupt                    Gradual 

Direct                     Overcast, Shade

Direct                     Bounced, Diffuse
Softer light, through using a diffuser or a soft box creates light that is more attractive for subjects
Direction - 

Finding the right direction requires the photographer to strike a balance between potentially competing aspects.  The photographer wants to convey a sense of depth, and they want to make the subject as attractive as possible.

Photographs are always 2 dimensional, but good photography can create the appearance of depth to give a more realistic image as we all know that the subject being photographed isn't usually 2 dimensional.  Next week I will look at this further, but for now lets just name a few of the options - front lighting, side lighting and upper side lighting.
I can recommend a great book if you want to get into this in more detail - 
Light, Science and Magic 
by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua
Silhouettes - Fun to Take and Good for Learning

In photography, silhouettes are defined as an outline that appears dark against a light background.  Essentially the subject is seen as a black shape without detail against a 
brighter background.  The way to get these, is to expose for the background.  The background will be too bright to allow the camera to capture any real detail in the subject unless you increase the light on the subject with additional light or a flash, and so will appear as a silhouette.  Have a go, you have to have your camera on either manual, aperture priority or shutter priority and if these terms are still confusing....go back to the earlier blogs to understand how to use them.
Next Time
Next week we will look at using flash, mainly to balance out the natural light that is available and create an image that looks naturally lit.  There are many types of photography that use different styles of lighting, for me, I am always striving to get a natural look, but you may prefer high key or edgy lighting...thats just fine.  Playing with different styles also help with understanding of how light changes a single subject. 
Your Challenge
Choose your favourite subject...hopefully one that isn't too impatient, because this can take a while :-) Try photographing from different angles and see how the light you choose varies as you move around your subject.
Thanks so much for reading and as always, I would love to hear any comments or questions you have.  
Have fun with your photography,
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