When my style of photography Changed
In 1994 I was happy as a member of
The Camera Club .
I took photographs of models at residencies, and I was content to ballance the lighting to give soft lighting like this picture of the lovely Jade, a.k.a. Maria Sherrif
One weekend, shortly after taking this shot, I was stewarding at the club and I showed the results of the latest shoot to Tom Dougan, who was head steward at the time. He remarked that they had very flat lighting, which was what I had been trying to achieve. He suggested that I might want to try using shadows to improve the pictures and that I should learn to 'read' pictures to figure out how they were lit so that I could try to replicate results that I thought were good. The whole conversation took about half an hour or less and was no more detailed that I have given above.
These were two new concepts to me at the time, and I gave the matter some thought over the next couple of weeks.
I decided that I would try to follow the advice about direction of light at the next studio session that I booked, which was with Hellen Hartley, a model that Ian Greaves was raving about as the best model he had ever shot. When I saw the results of this shoot most of the pictures went straight into the bin, and the camera nearly went with it!
I realised that I had set the lighting up with the studio lights on and couldn't see how the shadows were being cast because of the ambient lighting drowning out the modelling lights. I had also neglected to make sure that the lights cast a natural shadow (lighting from the sun is usually from above, so is room lighting - so we naturally think that shadows should be under the nose and chin). The opposite effect is much used in horror movies to give an eerie feel to the picture, so lighting from below is sometimes called 'Horror' lighting.
I realised that I had a lot to learn now, and resolved to do better at my next session, which was a residency with a popular model of the time. I had a few different lighting set-ups in this session and I did a lot better than with Hellen. One of my favourite pictures is this one.
As I was setting the lighting up the model said "are you sure you know what you're doing with these lights?". About a month later the judge at an inter-club competition (Roger Maile - the efitor of 'Creative Monochrome') gave it a 10, which maybe answers the question.
Key principles in lighting
- hard or diffused light
A light will give hard shadows if the light from one side of the source casts a shadow at very much the same place as the light from the opposite side of the source. The hardness of the shadow can be measured as the linear distance between the two edges of the shadows cast by the two sides of the source. This is the distance over which the light intensity from this source goes from full to zero.
A diffuser the same diameter of a flashgun will give little softening to the image. However, the diffuser will cut down the amount of light that the flashgun is pointing at the subject, and will scatter more light around the environs, some of which will usually be reflected back as stray ambient light to fill in the shadows. The lower intensity of the flash relative to ambient will also give less black shadows.
Light intensity will fall off the further from the light you travel
Light from a point source that is twice as far away will illuminate an area four times as big. The same amount of light at the source will be only a quarter as intense on the subject.
If the light comes from close to the subject this can have a large effect on the final picture, and this is often ignored.
- When it comes to diffusers, there is no substitute for size
From the above points you can see that a diffuser twice as long at twice the distance with 4 times the power will have the same effect at a point on your subject.
However, if the smaller diffuser was 1 meter away from the subject and an arm was half a meter nearer, that arm would get four times the light and would burn out by two stops. With the larger diffuser at 2 meters, the arm is 1.5 meters away from the diffuser and receives 4/(1.5^2) = 1.75 times the light and would not be nearly as burnt out. The same applies for portions of the subject further away from the light.
Look at pictures and learn
Over the years the concept of reading the picture has become more and more prominent in my mind and my photography. I find myself doing it when I look at pictures from other people, be it at a club, on the web, or in fashion stores when my wife is looking for new clothes.
The site of the late Monte Zucher's advice on lighting