Friday, May 25, 2007

Perfect Light

Get creative with your lighting technique with some inspiration from these case studies by a master of illumination

Perfect LightTo me, lighting is the most important tool for creative photography. It's followed far behind by focal length, aperture and so on. Too many photographers approach the same “problem” with the same technique—and always get the same result.

Whenever I can, I try to find new ways to light my setups. Using equipment differently than what it's originally designed for always provides fresh ideas. I can use a fashion tool (for example, a Broncolor Para FB) to shoot still lifes or devices designed for product tools to illuminate a portrait. I can play with the angles and the distances of my light-shapers and always get different effects.

Because I like to work in this way, I always have to keep my eyes wide open. I have to see the light and decide whether I like it or not. But I think that's the job of being a photographer. I evaluate the task and look at the tools at my disposal, and I make creative decisions to carry out my vision. When I finally have the illumination I'm looking for, I try to understand why the various light-shapers ended up where they did and at what angle. I constantly examine what worked and what didn't. This helps me to learn more about lighting with every shot.

I've described several of my favorite images here and discussed how they came about and how I overcame the lighting problems. The diagrams of the set are included so you can get a sense of the exact positioning. It's not my intention to show rigid setups that you should copy, but to reveal possibilities that might inspire you and that can help you overcome some of your lighting problems.

The Dancer

If I work with dancers, especially during a nude shoot, I want to be ready to shoot at any time. It's terrible if I have to make the model wait or if I miss the perfect shot because I wasn't ready.

For this image, I wanted a light that shows every little detail of the model's muscularly built body. The Broncolor Para FB (I used the biggest model with a diameter of 330 cm) is probably the only light-shaper that offers this combination.

If I use it defocused (like in this shot), it acts like a huge ring flash. Many little hard lights wrap around the body and give it a wonderful three-dimensionality. Every single muscle is emphasized, even muscles directed straight at the camera. The effect works because when the Para FB is defocused, the center isn't reflecting any light. There's no direct, frontal, flat light seen from the camera's perspective, only sidelight from all around the lens. And for the same reason, I can move freely with my camera without getting bad shadows on the model's body.

The model was on a black acrylic surface and in front of a huge black velvet backdrop. I used a medium-format camera with a 16-megapixel digital back at ISO 100, ƒ/16 and 1/125 sec. The lens focal length was 80mm.


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