Finding and making light

My apologies to my poor blog, I have neglected you for almost a year.  And I didn’t even make a New Year’s resolution to keep you up to date! But I found some time today waiting for a shoot and decided to update it with a short entry.  This will make it psychologically easier to add more interesting entries.

As a photographer my raw material is light.  Light falls on my subjects and is reflected by them in interesting ways… it is this reflected light that is captured by my camera’s sensor and creates an image.  Some subjects are greedy and keep the light they receive - black surfaces are the worst.  Some subjects are very generous and give back most of the light that falls on them… blinding snow is an example of such a surface.   People as subjects are somewhere in between,  reflecting a percentage of the light they receive.  It is up the photographer to use light in a way that says something about his or her subjects.

I divide light into two categories based on how this light happens.  The first category is what I call “found” light - it’s light that is out there, free for me to choose and use.  Found light is all around us - the photographer’s job is to keep his eyes open to find it and then use it well.  Found light is a gift, and my most favorite type of light! One of the reasons I like it is that I don’t need to carry any type of lighting equipment, just my eyes and my camera.   Found light can also be weak, or hard to get to…. it can be beautiful but with the wrong direction for what we need… so… it’s often the case that found light can be tricky to harness.

The other category of light is manufactured light.  This is the light that we create or bend for our purposes.  Found light can be transformed into manufactured light using light modifiers - for example a mirror manufactures light by reflecting the sun in a very concentrated and intense way.  Or a studio lamp simply creates light when there is no sun, using electricity as its power source.   Photographers tend to either love manufactured light or despise it.  How come?  Manufactured light in the hands of a competent photographer allows creating a vast range of options and feelings - from low key drama to high key energy.  On the other hand, when the photographer hasn’t mastered the principles of light, flash can be a frustrating experience and horrid pictures.   It really pays to learn to manufacture light and doing it helps us tell our stories.

Photographers don’t need to limit themselves to either type of light - in some cases we use both at the same time - we find nice light, but we add to it, or change it to suit our purposes.   This is one of the areas of photographic lighting I really enjoy - working on location with available light but imparting my personality and vision to the subject by incorporating manufacturing light as well.

In this blog entry I give an example of found light and another of manufactured light.  Then I offer a third example of mixed found and manufactured light.

Found light at the gym

Found light at the gym

This example above shows a location image lit only by a row of windows in front of the stationary exercise bikes.  The light on the older gentleman is beautiful and, with the camera focus, helps make him the main subject of the image.  The other subject is the gym and people using it - this subject is the environment where the main subject is placed.  The light here is protagonist and a key ingredient of the story - it highlights, pardon the pun, our subject.

Dramatic studio light

And here above is an example of studio lighting, all of it is manufactured. The studio flashes are carefully positioned to create a style that reminds us of TV from the 1950’s.  Also, the quality of the light, with darker shadows helps create a ’studio’ feel,  as opposed to a normal, naturally lit space.

Manufactured light mixed with found light

This third and final image is an example of a hybrid lighting approach.  The light hitting the skyscrapers, the flag, the streets is sunlight, either direct sun or in the shade.  But the light that makes the model stand out is a flash positioned to camera light; it is the light that creates the catchlights on her sunglasses, pretending to be the direct sun - she was actually in the blueish shade, but the flash makes her stand out.

There you have it, different types of lights for different uses.

Category: Technical


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