Light Is Everything

So is gesture, and composition, and point of view, and context, and expression, and timing, and on and on. I guess that's why photography continues to intrigue and challenge me after decades. Sure you can master a particular thing in a particular context but there is always the next thing. I'm not even including post production or presentation or any of the peripheral stuff just the camera work.

As the title says though light and it's use are one of the biggies if not the biggest thing that all genres of photography share. If the light doesn't work the rest of it is probably not going to work either.

The picture at the top came from one of the very last sets I shot for the Simulating Sunlight Lighting Field Guide. I made a dozen or two images of this setup and it was the very last thing I had on my list of illustrations. Specifically it was what I would consider a normal set of circumstances where you might want to use some of the tools and techniques discussed. It also has the characteristic of being of moderately high lighting ratio typical of real sunlight in most circumstances.

The vast majority of the illustrations are under what I would call the absolute worst case scenario. Designed so you can clearly see what exactly is going on. This one - not so much which I discuss but didn't have an illustration for. A typical use case versus things that are actually challenges.

I didn't end up using this particular image, this one is processed a little differently in Aperture 3 instead of Lightroom, and I probably made completely different color choices. What it does have in common with all the other ones is that I actually shot it when it was snowing like crazy and very dark outside. Exactly opposite of the way it looks. You might consider that "worst case". Not really, in an environmental setup like this where there is a variety of surfaces and textures and angles it's actually the best case for using small lights at relatively close proximity as it's extremely hard to judge falloff to any exacting degree. Doubly so if you keep light off the right places and put it on the right places.

Here's another one shot a few seconds earlier or later slightly different color treatment…

And for something completely different a few seconds earlier…

All have very different feelings - which is the rest of the intriguing part of this photography thing. It all counts, not just one thing. Making choices is where you as a photographer come in when behind the camera. You are pretty much in charge of every single aspect. The essence of the The Lighting Field Guides is all about taking charge of a particular aspect - lighting. Each one is extremely focused on one particular set of circumstances in various contexts but at the bottom line is about putting you in the driver's seat.

On the outside taken at a very basic strait-ahead point of view, Simulating Sunlight Part I is exactly what the title says. Underneath the covers it far far more about looking at things a little differently than you may have before.

  • The huge power and control that comes with two independently controlled light sources, how that happens when you only bring one to the table.
  • Keeping light off of things is absolutely as much a part of the game as putting it on things.
  • Using nature as inspiration for things you make up.
  • An idea source book just for some fresh ideas if all this is old hat.
  • An exercise in extreme minimalism and simplicity.
  • The secret of looking at all light as not just one light but multiple lights and how to use that.

The impetus for this particular post is a reader email of Simulating Sunlight Part I. I love getting feedback from readers. Especially when a lot of the take-aways I really wanted to come through actually do. I also like to hear some of the things that I could do better on in terms of presentation, technical format (a lot - I am working on it) or even half way tongue-in-cheek comments as this particular email had. Without going through the entire email I will cut to the chase…

…It seems a lot easier with great looking models.Anon

Well, you can look at it from the reverse end. Maybe not. Maybe it's actually harder. It all depends on your point of view. It's actually very hard to say on way or another. The one thing that is absolutely inarguably true is that when you are actually in the driver's seat it's a completely different point of view. Always is. Everything about it all counts I said at the top of the post is absolutely the case no matter who you shoot. It's also absolutely true about how you choose to use a particular scene and the light in that scene. The difference is staggering mostly depending on the decisions you make as a photographer and director.

Let's look at something staggeringly different for a moment. Same subject about 10 feet away from the previous shots. Same processing. It's just a random grab shot that I am a sucker for. I like making pictures of all kinds.

Yea, the wardrobe is different. Yea the hair is different. Yea the make up is different. Everything's different. What's really really different is the light and more importantly how you use it. Let's take a look at a main light that is more like the above than it is different.

The main light source is pretty much exactly the same. The fill ratio is completely different. Something I discuss in all the Lighting Field Guides in various contexts. Yes - the subject also has eye shadow and lipstick and we lost the hoodie. The hair is about the same, just used differently. I didn't touch the skin in either shot - that's all light. It's about 7 feet from the previous shot. This was all just very quick stuff with Fayette and myself - no stylists no makeup people no heavy duty wardrobe. Fact is I wanted to change out the top here to something plain but I had another session showing up in a few minutes so I skipped it.

Yes - everything is different but that's the point. It's all up to you. Taking that point of view is far more productive and creative than somehow believing that it's all up to the subject. Sure it's a collaboration but as a photographer you must take responsibility and control and the first place to start is the light.


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