Learning to see light part four: Direction

Learning to see light part four: Direction

Welcome to week four of my four part series on learning to see light.  This series of articles have touched on the basics of light and how it affects your photography.  As photographers, we are concerned with four attributes of light, Quantity, Quality, Color and Direction. This week we will focus primarily on the fourth attribute of light – direction. As with any physical theory, I invite you to take the time to research further, this article represents my stance on direction of light. Now that the public service announcement is out of the way, lets go…

Whether you shoot landscapes or portraiture, you need to be aware of the basics of light direction. I like to think of the direction of the light as the overlying attribute to set the mood for an image. The three previous articles were more technical in approach to light, this one is more creative. Remember, there is no hard and fast right or wrong rules in lighting, use light as a tool to achieve your vision for your image.   In portraiture, a light source can give a very soft inviting feel, or a foreboding or hard-edged feel to your photograph. All of the example images in this article were created with a simple studio background and two photoflex strobes.  If there is significant interest, I would be happy to do articles showing how each of these shots was made in detail.



This first image was taken with a large softbox, and a bare strobe pointed directly at the background behind me. I used a large white reflector opposite the main strobe to evenly light my face and reduce shadows. The end result is a softly lit face with soft shadows. This should be considered a simple or basic portrait setup. This is ideal for headshots. The white background is easily achieved by adding more power to the strobe hitting the background than the strobe hitting your subject. If you overpower your front strobe power with your background light, you don’t even need to iron it as most of the creases are blown out with the loss of highlight detail in this method.



The second shot is my son Jorden, it uses the same setup and white background as the previous photo. The bare (no softbox) key or main light is placed at a 45 degree angle close and toward the subject to the right of the camera, ensuring that it is not hitting the background.  This setup produces the face half lit with a dark background. To give definition and separate him from the dark background I added a second strobe as a rim light at ½ the power of the key light which just grazes the side of his head. The light is placed parallel to the background. The key with this light is to ensure that it is as directional as possible so that the light from the rim light is not spilling onto the background and lighting it. Using a grid or snoot to focus the light more in this kind of situation is suggested.



The third example in many ways is very similar to the last example. This method uses two strobes close and directly facing the subject to light the face in a dramatic way.  In this example I had him step a few steps away from the background so that the lights did not spill onto and light the background. The strobes are bare, with no softbox and use a grid to focus the light. Remember the inverse square law from our first article on light? Here it is in use, a few steps away from the background drops any light spill off. Being aware of light falloff even allows you to make a white background appear black.

In much of my photography I love to use bare bulb strobes. In an upcoming article I will discuss my use of bare strobes on my six year long project Landscapes of the body.

There you have it, using light to affect the mood of your image. I hope this four part series on learning the basics of light taught you a few things. I had fun writing it.

Get out there and take some photographs!