Portrait Lighting Confusion

As we learn photography we learn from a variety of instructors and photographers.  While some of our education and educators are outstanding and help us shape our skill and style, some of our teachers leave us confused or pursuing misguided information.  One of the first things I was taught about lighting was that our eyes “Follow the Light” or are drawn to the light in every portrait. This really isn’t true, well not completely. Our eyes are drawn to contrast, not light.  We will look at the area of greatest contrast in any portrait or painting.  If our eyes were drawn to light you wouldn’t focus on the black dot on the white canvas.

Why is this important? Because we are never taught about shadow.  How we must have it to draw our eyes to the light (which for us is the mask of the face).  With our “Love the Light” teaching we are so fascinated with light we keep making larger and larger soft-boxes.  Outdoors the lack of proper shadowing is the most common problem I see in photographer’s work.

By studying shadowing, you learn to extend the shadow to give depth to your portraits.  By extending the shadow I mean the transition area between highlight and shadow or the area that gradually goes from the brightest highlight to the darkest shadow.  By properly placing your main light and using proper fill you can increase the transition area giving your portraits a more realistic look.

Another somewhat non-descriptive word that many educators used when referring to light was the “quality of light”.  Light has no quality.  Saying that light has quality is why so many portrait photographers use one main light source in their studios and never change no matter what type of portrait the client is wanting.  Light only has quantity/intensity and characteristics (harder, softer, direction, etc.)  Just like you change the quanity of light to have control over your exposure (shutter speed and f/stop) you control the characteristics of the light to have control over the look of the portrait. Inside of the studio I have used everything from spotlights to parabolic, large soft boxes to bare-bulb flash and at no time did any of these lights have more quality than another, they simply provided a different look for the portrait I was creating.  The same is true outdoors, whether the light is provided by the open sky, a reflector, a battery power studio flash or even filtered sunlight there was none that had more quality than another and all provided the end portrait my client wanted and I wanted to create.


~ by jeffsmithbooks on January 15, 2010.

One Response to “Portrait Lighting Confusion”

  1. Thank so much for this, you are reading my mind its been too long for this !!!!

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