Thursday, July 22, 2010


Lately, it's been hard for me to pull material out of thin air to blog about. So I greatly appreciate your comments because it gives us a dialogue for me to work from. This post is mostly a response to oneredpanther's response to the previous post :)

Lighting for me was the spark. The Inception (great movie, you should all go see it!). The first taste of what could be. As a normal human being up until learning how to light, I only saw when there was light and when there wasn't light. I wasn't able to scrutinize exposure, shadows, and type of lighting (hard, soft, etc.).
Manipulating light with a flashlight was my first experience with really "seeing light". Ultimately, you should wean yourself off of the modeling lamp and just mentally see the light without setting it up... but even I still like the crutch of the modeling lamps of the AlienBees.

I think where the strobist community falls short is that they focus merely on the light and forget that a great image is (as you've mentioned) so much more than lighting itself. It's kind of light the people that frequent forums. They're so concerned about their equipment that they develop this convoluted vision of photography. In the same way, the strobist community has developed this insatiable thirst for lighting knowledge in addition to the equipment that goes along with it. Of course it's not all bad. I wouldn't be here if the strobist movement never existed. But paradoxically I wouldn't be here either if I were still hung up on the lighting alone.

People aren't going to pay for your lighting. It's something I decided in my mind long ago subconsciously. As I previously mentioned every now and then I run into something a little unique but lighting is just the basic structure of the image. To borrow a music analogy, do you know how many songs are structured 1-5-6-4 or 1-6-4-5? Gajillions. Chords-wise they're all the same, but the melody, lyrics, etc. are totally different and that's what makes them unique.

I personally don't think there are that many ways to light a face. I could be totally wrong but let me explain why. The face is about the size of a basketball and fortunately has contours. It breaks down to a left side and a right side. Yes, there are differences in facial structure but most everyone has 2 eyes, 2 ears, 1 nose, and 1 mouth. Most of the time those things are in relatively the same place. When we light, we're "defining" or "giving definition" to the structure of the face/head. Given that there are at most 6 sides to the face (think box), with some overlapping, how many different lights could we possibly use to light the face? I'd say 6. Hair light, back/rim light, 2 side lights, 1 fill (front) light, and 1 under light. Yeah, you're probably thinking "that's crazy!" and I don't disagree... but hang with me here at least for the theoretical aspect of this argument.

In retrospect, what I've just described reminds me of Jill Greenberg lighting. 2 front lights in umbrellas aimed forward at the model on the left and right side of the camera, 1 fill light in the form of an on-axis ringflash, 2 side/rim lights to create side highlights (pointing back at the camera), 1 hairlight to create hair highlights, and 1 background light (for separation). Background light aside, she's got 6 lights working for her, 2 of which are IMHO redundant. I've tried this setup and the 2 umbrellas on the side aren't doing that much more than the ringflash on the front. The umbrellas are stationed a little to the left and right but really just push the existing highlights that the ringflash creates. Still, we're talking 6 lights. Major overkill, but still only 6 lights.

Am I oversimplifying things? Perhaps. Have I had success with unusual lighting setups? Sure. Once I brought the rim/backlight in the form of a strip softbox so far forward that it was 90º to the model creating a soft sweeping highlight from right to left. Then I used my main light (40º gridded beauty dish) as a sidelight from left to right also at about 90º to the model to create harder highlights. In unusual fashion, I'll show you an unretouched image with this setup:

Alex D3/70-200mm f/2.8G 1/200th f/13 ISO200 @125mm.

The point is, at some point the lights become redundant. Let's face it! I don't care how you cut the light. There aren't more than 6 faces to a box. You can argue that our face is a 7-sided pentagonal box. Even then, that's 1 extra light. Yes, there are still an infinite number of angles that you can position the light. But no, they're not all going to work! At some point, you start to realize that good lighting isn't so much defined by the photographer, but rather defined by the subject and the setting. Sad truth? Perhaps! That's for you to decide ;P

You say, "That's silly, there are so many more things to consider such as the background, the wardrobe, etc. There are reasons why some photographers use 15 lights". I don't disagree. But in my experience what you
don't light is just as important as what you do light. So often it's not that I can't use another light, but that I don't choose not to use another light. I've got 10+ lights (including all the Speedlights) but why do I insist so often on using just 1 light? :)

So what gets my juices flowing these days? Being on location for starters. I find that I use a slightly different perspective when I'm on location. That being said, I still apply all my knowledge and experience from the studio. Surprisingly, the lighting doesn't change that much when I'm on location vs. in studio. Though I really shouldn't be surprised... it's not like I'm lighting cars on location and lighting people in the studio.

It took me a long time to get out of the studio. I still prefer having all the creature comforts of being in-studio such as running water, A/C, and electricity on tap. I think I would have had a very hard time adjusting to a location shoot, especially to a place as intimidating as Copenhagen Central Station, without having done so many studio shoots. But it's always a leap of faith. There are inevitably variables you can't foresee much less control. Kudos for even attempting to pull off such an organizational feat! From that perspective alone, you'll grow in leaps and bounds. Can't wait to see the final results!

At the end of the day I suppose it doesn't matter so much the origin and source of the drive/hunger/passion. I think it's simply more important to be passionate than analyzing the reasons for that passion. The passion drives itself, the last thing I want to do is put out any sparks/flames.

I've been looking (scouring even) my archives for lighting setups. Truth is, I can't find any. It's been months since I've pulled back the curtain with an actual frame. Perhaps I'll have to resort to stick figures again? :) Hang tight. I'll find a lighting setup/diagram soon and post it ;P

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