My annual photo resolution of 2009 was to foray into lighting. What is lighting and photography….well everything.
Nearly all photographers go through an evolution of on-camera nuclear flash lighting to ooh I got a dslr, let me go for available light from the widest aperture lens I can get away with.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to deprecate available light photography. Available light photography gets more oohs and ahhs than almost all other forms of lighting because it tends be the closest in mimicking the human eye’s interpretation of a scene. It tends to miss over 14 stops of dynamic lighting that can’t be seen by film or a camera sensor(hence the rise of the HDR scene).
Every photographer also gets to the point where they “wish they had more light”
Unless you have the magical power to bend the sun and concentrate, diffuse, or change the color of its light spectrum, you won’t get what you need from available lights.
At that point you need lighting available. Lighting comes in many forms, from the standard speedlite(read flash) unit, to strobe lights, to continous light sources, to altering natural light.
Lighting is a lot like cooking, different ingredients added at different points lead to an end product. Learning how to cook light/photons is an artform itself, but a lot less complicated than you might think…all you have to do is think like light. I’ve gone into a photographic hibernation learning the art of lighting for the last couple of months.
I’m going to start a lighting series to help distill a lot of the information I learned, but there in no reason to re-invent the wheel. The first place that I went to was the de-facto blog of lighting called Strobist.
A good starting summary of the basics is that on-camera flash sucks. it gives a mugshotesque reproducible photo which has facebook character because the light is harsh and it eliminates natural shadows to ambient lighting. Moving the light off the camera can create a more pleasing look. There are many ways to get your flash off camera, from cable, optical, to radio.
The flash can also be modified. Flash is generally a harsh light. It can be focused like a spot light with a snoot/grid. It can be diffused if an object is placed in front of it like white cloth, a diffuser, a transparent umbrella, softbox, tissue paper. Diffused light softens the light and shadows significantly making people/objects look more pleasing.
Lighting changes the message of the photo, just as composition does. Sometimes hard light is called for. Sometimes soft light is called for. It depends on what you as the artist want to paint.
The above photo was one of the first test shots of my starting off camera lighting rig.
I bought an elinchrom universal skyport kit to help trigger my 580Ex flash just to find out that my 580ex has no sync port. Well there is a solution to any problem – I bought a hotshoe for the flash that has a sync port and bingo I have a remote flash solution. Placed the flash/hotshoe with sync port and skyport reciever on a lightstand, and placed an umbrella to diffuse the light. The light was 45 degrees from my model, mojo. If you look carefully at his eyes you can see the shape of the umbrella as the single light source in the photo. They eyes are usually dead giveaways to the lighting setup. I took the photo in tungsten light balance, and neutralized the light with a CTO gel in front of the light for the effect above. Not that dramatic, but it did capture the darkness and lack of light in my apartment.