STUDIO LIGHTING….Theories and Bullshit!

In photography there are so many ways to light a given subject there is never a truly “right” way to do it.   It simply becomes a matter of personal/professional taste.  While there is no single correct way, there are many WRONG WAYS, which I often see as photographers  post there photos on Facebook.  I see one photographer that conducts workshops on studio lighting locally that makes me question his methods and experience.  The sad thing is he is training other new photographers to be just as bad as he is!  First rule of lighting, learn from a qualified source.  A college photography program, an author, a workshop or seminar photographer who has successfully sold the work he has created over a long period of time.  You don’t want to learn from someone who says they know how to take photographs that sell, you want to learn from someone who Is Currently selling large quantities of the portraits he or she is creating.  The key to remember is that you will never be better than those you learn from, so learn from the best, not some “goomba” who knows only slightly more than you!

Even among true professional photographers, there are some theories and teachings I have come to question.  I remember learning about lighting ratios, or the amount of the main light in relationship to the amount of light to fill the shadow.  I was very young and while in a class I learn for a standard portrait a 3 to 1 lighting ratio (main light meters 1 1/2 stops more that the fill light) was used.  This was back in the days of film, which most photographers would diffuse many of their head and shoulder portraits especially of women.  For a diffused portrait a 4 to 1 lighting ratio was suggested (main light 2 stops more than the fill).  To me, this was like a magic pill that answered all my lighting questions.  With this new information I went back to my modest little studio and started producing much more consistent portraits for the few clients I had.

This was amazing, right up until the moment a very dark-skinned lady came in to my studio and ask me to take her portraits.  I looked at her and thought, how can very dark skin, which would obviously go from the brightest/highlight area to the darkest shadow area have the same lighting ratio as a fair-skinned person?  It can’t!  For her session I used a reflector to fill the shadow.  It worked perfectly, because the amount of fill I saw was the amount of fill I got in the final image.  It change my lighting and photography forever.  No meter or math formula can interpret lighting like your trained eye!

Although my first theory of lighting only worked on a limited scale, it was enough to get me through a difficult period of understanding lighting so I could learn more.  I don’t use a great deal of what I first learned in photography, but what you first learn lays the foundation for the further learning and growing.  Once you start to master lighting, then you can decide which theories are workable and which theories are bullshit.  And remember look for teachers/mentors who have achieved success, not those who profess they know how to achieve success!




~ by jeffsmithbooks on May 13, 2012.

2 Responses to “STUDIO LIGHTING….Theories and Bullshit!”

  1. Jeff, you may have a lot of good knowledge and experience to pass on to other photographers, but your writing drastically reduces the effectiveness of your teaching. I am no English major, but your writing contains some horrible grammar, e.g. no agreement between subject and verb. Big grammar mistakes cloud your message, and to some extent retract from your reputation, in my opinion.

    • I share a great deal of information with photographers. I want to help them overcome the road-blocks that I had in this profession. While my articles, books and DVD’s have a budget for an editor to correct mistakes in grammar and typos, my blog posts do not. They are often written at 6am with little or no coffee in my system. When you pay for something, it should be perfect, when it’s free, I would take the information and use it and not worry about the inner English Teacher in all of us.

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