Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seeing Light

As I create the presentation for the Las Vegas Fashion/Editorial workshop I have pulled several slides from my previous workshops. There is a consistency in the thematic nature of what I teach and understandably lots of it revolves around light.

So part of the Las Vegas workshop will include a "walkabout" where we explore different parts of the house just to see light so we may understand light so that we may ultimately manipulate light.

No cameras allowed. Just lightmeters and eyeballs. I might even say no to the lightmeters.

Before lighting becomes second nature, before you can get into capturing the "feel" of a moment, you should make sure you're fundamentals are well rooted with a solid understanding of the technical nature of photography.

And let's face it, photography is highly technical. Those that say it's not are delusional or gifted or delusionally gifted or giftedly delusional. Your choice.

I think back to the posts I made here talking about highlights and shadows:


...and it would behoove you read through them and really understand what I'm getting at because 90% of what "good lighting" is boils down to this. Formulaicly it looks something like this:

-Main light height = above eye level of subject but less than 45º above eye level of subject
-Main light "width" = between 45º left to 45º right of the subject.

Basically that's 90% of good lighting. If you can follow those rules, you'll get comments like "Love the lighting!" and "Great light!"

The one most people tend to break is the height restriction. For whatever reason, most photographers light too "flat" and sometimes from under eye level which is 99.9% bad light.

But you have to understand that the formula is not the "cause" but is rather the
effect of seeing light. It's not the driver but rather it's the natural outcome of seeing and understanding light. Sure, in the beginning it was easier to follow a set of rules (e.g. 45º high and 45º left/right) than it was to let the actual position be a result of a mental vision. The mental vision is the driver. Seeing light is the driver. The light position is the outcome/effect.

Understanding light is however the biggest stumbling block. I think it's because light is ubiquitous and omnipresent and we have to retrain our brains to see light in a specific way, that which sculpts the subject. Fortunately my subjects are almost always female models with certain proportions wearing certain garments. Therefore I've had a lot of practice seeing how light interacts with my subjects.

But it's an ongoing education. Even I have to spend time rethinking a lot of my own practices over time.

For example, going forward I know that black flags are going to play a huge role in my function as a photographer. Why? Because I'm not happy with the way I'm reshaping the light in an ambient environment.

Which is why this "walkabout" in Las Vegas is so critical for photographers and so critical to getting people to see/understand light. In any indoor environment lit by ambient light, there are a myriad of sources of light; either direct or indirect. Identifying those sources of light is paramount to later being able to manipulate the light. You can't control something that you don't see/understand.

As I sit in front of this computer I see at least 4 notable sources of light. There's a window to my left letting in skylight in but more importantly reflecting sunlight from the white siding of a wall through the window into my face. It's about eye level and lower. Then behind me there's direct sunlight passing through some curtains providing some nice rim lighting on my beautiful face. In front of me there are 2 displays that are producing light but more importantly providing fill light from the light behind me. Then of course there's my white sweater providing fill by bouncing all of the above light, everywhere. Here's what I'm talking about:

Believe it or not, I didn't Photoshop or retouch the above image at all. It's straight from the iPhone4. What can I say? Natural beauty FTW! Sometimes I wonder why I ever stopped modeling. I ended that career much too soon. Oh well.

How could we improve this ambient light? Probably open the face up a little to the rim light behind me and also lower the chin to make the main light look like it's coming in from a higher angle. The nose angle is much too flat. This is because the siding of the house extends to the ground and starts only at eye level. So really the main light is too low. Can't change that. But I can change the relation of my face to that main light.

These are the things we'll explore in the walkabout. Hopefully at the end of the walkabout you'll identify and understand light better.

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