Articles about lighting, natural and not so natural

Single, Small Light Source (sort of)

How many times have you heard a photographer or photography supplier say, “Oh, to get a good portrait you need strobes/flash/hot lights.”? Or maybe you have just read a few books about portraits and you see all the diagrams with snoots and gobos and umbrellas and big light sources. I am here to tell you that you don’t have to have a bunch of expensive equipment to get great shots.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there is no need for all kinds of different equipment. But do you have to have it to get the shot? Nope. Joe McNally said in both his books that to get something you have to give something and that’s very true.

Keep reading to see how I got this shot with just a 40watt light bulb in a 20 year old bedside lamp.
In the shot above I had my model, Lynn, lit only by an old bedside lamp with a 40watt bulb in it. All the windows in the room were blacked out and a black backdrop over that. I had the camera set to ISO 200, ¼ of second at f4.5 at 57mm and of course I was using a tripod. By doing the fairly long exposure I was able to capture the subtle shadows across Lynn’s face and still light her eyes. See the diagram below.



What I had to do was have Lynn hold very still and look right into the lens. Now I could have pulled this off with a speedlight or two and cranked up the exposure time to say 100th. Then you have to balance the light, take time to set everything, test shoot and retest and reshoot… But if you are patient and take the time, you need very little light. Just remember, little light equals long exposure.

In Lynn’s image above I was able to get a good key light reflection in her eyes because she was almost facing the light. Not the case with Amy’s shot below.

I wanted to cast more shadow across Amy’s face and I wanted more of a hair light look (not in this frame). That meant moving the light behind her. But that presented a problem, how to get the catch light in her eyes. I had to go out and get a light. Now being the cheap bastard I am I wasn’t going to buy a speedlight/hot light or strobe, after all I am working with a 40watt bulb here! SO what is the next best thing that will give that warm glow to the face? A $0.99 Bic Lighter. Yes I cheated; I used 2 light sources. The lighter is camera right, just in front of her face and at that speed provides a nice glow to her face. See the diagram below.


Now with the setup for Amy obviously I was using a tripod. The camera was set to ISO 200, 125mm, for 1 second at f5.6. Yes it took a full second but like I said above, the light is there, you just have to wait for it. [Note: these were shot in the same studio, with identical setups but on different dates]

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

Go with the Feeling

Sometimes you get everything to work just right. I have spent many a shoot trying to get the lighting to work in a way that shows my subject in the way I envisioned when planning the shoot. Other times I go with just a hint of an idea. It’s usually the latter that works out best. At least for me.

I have spent days planning a shoot, getting all the equipment ready, making sure that everything works properly . It’s those times that I load up damn near the entire studio and pack it in the car. Still I’ll be missing the one reflector or lens or whatever I need and the shoot goes well, but not as well as I want it too. Other times I just go with a basic idea or feeling and BANG! I get the shot I wanted and more.

Jim, the man in this shot was one of those ‘go with the feeling’ times. We spent an entire day at 3 different locations. This shot was from the first location.

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The sun was mid morning coming over the wall behind Jim and putting him a dark shadow. If you look closely you can see the glare reflecting off his head a bit. I used 2 SB 800s to light Jim and the wall. The first SB 800(A) is bungeed to a light pole about 6’ in the air, set to wide, set to ½ power and aimed at the back wall. The second SB 800 (B) is sitting on top of a post at about waist level (3’ or so) and is snooted for light directly onto Jim’s beard and set on full. The camera is set to ISO 400, 1/60th at F18,focal length of about 70mm and handheld. A diagram of the setup is below. Notice the camera is in the street. The street is a one way coming from behind me. This setup of the speedlights left an interesting fall off as the light traveled up his face.



This left the eyes dark and cold with no key light to speak of. The resulting image was a strong look but it was only about 80% of the way there. Photoshop would get me to where I wanted to be. I took the image into Camera Raw and used a technique I learned via Scott Kelby and the NAPP website. The technique is Scott’s down and dirty Grunge Look. It can be done in Camera Raw or in Lightroom 2. If you are already a member of NAPP just give a search for Grunge. So with just that little Photoshop tweak I got this result. I wanted the beard to seem scratchy and course as the man wearing it. I think I got that in this image. What do you think?

Until next time, Happy Shooting!