Lumiere or light in French can be an incredibly complex and yet simple part of our photography. As visual artists, we should always be conscious of it if not actively using it and be keenly aware of its properties and how we use it to shape and form the images that we have created in our minds eyes. We must learn to harness and guide that natural light and if need be, we must be able to add artificial light to our set and bring it all together in a viable coalescing existence to complete our photo.
I have on occasion fallen in love with how light falls in a particular place at a particular time and have analyzed how to replicate that light. I also now understand that light fall is different at different times of the day as well as different times of the year. It will also fall differently in different parts of the world and this is all because of our current relation to the sun and environment.
Light is a fundamental thing in photography it is the pairing to our camera, the condiment if you will to our perfectly prepared dish, that which brings forth our creation. Light will add or take away form and/or textures in a scene. It is one of the most important things you will learn.An artist friend of mine relayed the importance of using light and using it properly when he mentioned an old professor saying “anyone can point a light…” and he’s right because once you learn it and apply it, it will only add to your art!
An artist friend of mine relayed the importance of using light and using it properly. He mentioned an old professor saying “anyone can point a light…” and he’s right, great! you have a light and now what? You have to learn about light and understand its nuances to help create your images.
Natural or artificial light whether you use it apart or in conjunction with each other should be an integral part of your arsenal when creating; this much is true in any visual art. You should be able to know how to use both to your advantage to give you a pleasing combination and/or use independently of each other.
For this treatise, we will assume that you have basic knowledge of exposure and camera operation as well as a comprehensive understanding of photographic terms. This will be done in parts, I will begin with the most basic and simplest setup of all. This tutorial will guide you to gaining knowledge, especially in photographing people whilst using the minimal equipment up to one strobe and a reflector. You will find a sample exercise at the end of this article.
We begin with natural light. Natural light will either be harsh or soft, hard natural light occurs directly from the sun without any sort of diffusion from it, either be it from a blanket of trees or shadows from an awning, or artificial diffusion from a silk, scrim or flag. The sun, however, is a wonderful and powerful light source and should be used as your first form of main light. Direct sunlight that is not diffused can be a great light source. The photo below of Victoria is shot late afternoon in late September, using only direct sunlight as my source without diffusion of any sort.
Exposure information 1/400th sec. f/2.8 at ISO 50 exp bias +0.7.
A light setup can be as simple as using that light that exists in a given environment sometimes referred to as natural or available light basically any light not provided by an artificial means i.e. strobes or continuous lights. Many find this light useful in relaying a mood and thus sometimes provide a more evocative photo than something lit with artificial light. The photo of Colleen below is exactly that the only light is the one streaming from the window and it is late afternoon light in early September. The time of the year is also just as important as the time of day with respect to natural light.
Exposure information 1/160th sec. f/2.8 at ISO 6400.
A standard light setup is a 3 light setup, that is not to say you should go out and get three pieces of artificial light and set it up immediately. The standard 3 light setup would be main light, fill light & backlight. This can be achieved easily enough with the sun and the use of a natural diffuser such as shade from a few trees and a reflector; the photo of Milla below is an example of exactly that, the added “JJ Abrams flare” is a bonus. 😉
Exposure information 1/80th sec. f/2.8 at ISO 200.
or, as in the photo below of Aariel a single strobe as main, the sun as hair and backlight and a reflector as fill.
Exposure information 1/640 sec. f/2 at ISO 100.
The photo of Tiffany below is middle of the day approximately 3pm. Because of the direct and high sunlight we used a silk to diffuse the light, above the model and camera left and used a couple of reflectors one camera left and high to bring out her face a little bit and then a gold reflector camera right slightly behind the model to “warm” her.
Exposure information 1/3300th sec. f/2.8 at ISO 200.
Now lets get to shooting, for the purposes of this tutorial, you will need a subject, any model will do, a camera, a lens with about a 75mm (35mm equivalent) a reflector and open shade.
First, you will take into consideration your scene and insure that there isn’t a great disparity of exposure between your subjects face and the backdrop. How you want the backdrop and the overall feel of the photo will determine how bright your backdrop will be, look at the aforementioned photo samples.
Because this will be a tight shot of your models face you can be close with the reflector, remember not to hold the reflector below your models face, unless the dramatic monster look of the days of Christopher Lee & Bela Lugosi, is what you’re looking for, recall 3/4 or Rembrandt lighting. If you can stop down your lens and open it up all the way to blow out the background it will make for a pleasing look that will “draw” your viewer to the subject immediately.
Give that experiment a try, play around with your exposure and the time of day that you’re shooting, vary your exposure by increasing or decreasing your shutter speed and changing your f/stop you will find that each will have its own sort of qualities. Happy Shooting!