Studio Lighting with Realism and Depth

In photography school the first thing we are taught is that light alone is our virtual paint brush, where the light goes in the portrait the eye will follow.  Wrong, first of all light only is noticed when there is darkness to draw your eye to the light. If that were true and light is what lead our eyes, why would you eyes be drawn to this block dot on a white page.  Our eye`s are drawn to contrast, not light or dark, but the area of greatest contrast. This is the reason behind coordinating the clothing with the background to pair lighter clothing with light backgrounds and darker clothing to darker background which makes the skin the lightest (dark clothing) or darkest (in light clothing) area in the portrait and where the viewer`s eyes are drawn.

This same mis-guided idea also affects our lighting. Light in today`s world is not our friend.  Without light, not much record on the sensor, but light without extensive shadowing illuminates the many part of the human body that most clients would prefer not to see.  Shadowing has much more with the quality of our lighting than light does.  This simple fact is hard to believe when you listen to speakers over the last 5 to ten years talk about using larger and larger sources of light.  This has happened for two reasons, first of all most speakers are sponsored by lighting companies which can charge much more for a 6 ft. box that a small light box.  The second factor in pushing larger light sources is the lack of professional training of those attending seminars and classes.  With a really large light box you don’t have to be as precise with the placement of your light.  Often close is close enough and huge light sources can get student photographers into the game quicker because of its forgiving nature.

As you study lighting and want to move beyond the “shotgun theories of lighting” you start studying the use of smaller, more controllable sources of light and more controllable sources of shadow. Depth and realism in lighting is really achieve not in the highlight area or the complete shadow area but the transition area between the brightest highlight and the darkest shadow.  The larger this transition area is the great depth you eye perceives.  To have a larger area of transition from highlight to shadow you use a light source that creates a deeper shadow/contrast in the light.  Adding contrast to the main light source can be done by using a smaller light source or putting on grid or louver attachments onto a larger soft box.  I like use a smaller light source with a grid attachment for even greater contrast.

With more contrast in your lighting you have to fill your larger shadows more carefully.  I prefer to use a reflected fill rather than a flash for fill.  It is more controllable, adjustable and give you the ability to fill some shadows while not fill others.  I prefer using a softer fill for my shadowing so I so I use a white reflector to avoid over filling the shadow and destroying the transition zone I have worked hard to create. For this type of lighting you have to test and refine the basics of high light and shadow.

For a complete guide to studio lighting order STUDIO PORTRAIT LIGHTING OR



~ by jeffsmithbooks on October 30, 2010.

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