Working with Angles: Simple Lighting Setup
We all know that choosing the right light source is important because photography is painting with light, or in some cases, struggling with light. For those who belong to the second group, it’s good to know that it shouldn’t be that difficult. In this and future columns, we’ll show you some simple lighting setups that can give you great-looking results and maximize your income from a single arrangement of the lights.
In the first example, I shot alone with the strip light. The quality of light is nice, the model stands out from the background, and the shadow behind her is pleasing.
The only thing I changed for the second image is my position. I moved to the model’s right side and shot almost straight into the light source. The result is a totally different image with much more impact. This is my preference. The first image is nice but I love the second one (many clients would also prefer the first one). The nice thing about this is that you can give them the choice between the two images, and anything in between, because these aren’t the only two positions, of course.
For this image, I also had one of my students stand in front of the strip light to block the light from entering my lens, but a better way (or when you don’t have any students available) is to use large reflector boards or flags. We have several of them in our studio mounted on movable racks so we can move them quite easily across the studio. We opted for a system with a silver and black side so we can flip them around and use them for fill, or use the black side to block the light or enhance the shadows in certain setups. To be honest, a good studio can’t operate without them. If you don’t have the money for these units (they aren’t that expensive), you can use a clothing rack. Set it for the highest option and throw a black cloth over it and voilà, an instant flag for less than $25.
Every change in position you make will yield a different result. The nice thing is that if you master this technique, you can actually tailor-make the look the client likes, but always make sure that you shoot several images from different angles. The main advantage of this is that you deliver a series of images that all look different and the client will probably end up buying a lot more than if you’d shot everything from the same location. The third photo below was shot with a similar setup taken from a mid-angle position.
When you shoot into a light source there’s a chance of lens flare. This will often occur as a white mist or fog in the image, resulting in blacks that appear washed out. Remember, this can be subtle and is often missed by many photographers until they experiment with counteracting the lens flare.
Can we make it more spectacular?
Of course we can. Remember when someone told you that you should never shoot into the light source? Or that you should never include the light source in the image? Well, in fact, they were a bit right because in most cases it’s just not that nice but when using it creatively, it can really enhance your image and lift it to a new level.
Yes, without a doubt. When you’re working as a photographer, time is important. You work with models and they can get tired during the day. The more different looks you can squeeze out in as little time as possible, the happier your clients will be, and that’s always one of the key elements for your business.
I hear a lot of photographers complain about the fact that they do several sessions a day and don’t have the time for different light setups, so they’ll often use different backgrounds, or in some cases different scene setups where they physically move the model to the next scene. Although this works great, these tricks can give even more different looks from the same lighting setup.
From flat light to high contrast in seconds
For our first lighting setup, we used a single strip light fitted with a grid and placed to the model’s left side and slightly in front of her. It will also work without a grid but you’ll see more spill on the background, and lens flare can be a bit harder to control.
The setup is fairly simple with one thing different from what you’d expect. Normally we’d aim the light source toward the model, so that the model will be in the hotspot of the light. In this case, however, we aimed the light source almost away from the model. By doing this, we used the sides of the light. The main advantage of this is that the light quality at the side is either a bit or a lot softer, and the light falls off quickly. In fact, it makes it possible to have hardly any light on the background but a correct exposure on your model. This is especially handy when working on location where you want the attention on your model and not on the background.
For this setup, we used a standard reflector with grid at roughly the same location as the strip light from the previous example, but in this case it’s mounted higher than the model and aimed downward. I shot from the same side as the strip light and backed up slightly for a better angle.
Tip: If you convert the image to black and white, you’ll have the perfect ingredients for a more harsh fashion look.
I love the shadows in the second image and you can change the look of the shadows by angling the light source. However, when I changed my own location to shoot more into the light source, you’ll see that the look of the third image is totally different. In this case, I intentionally included the light source to give a bit more drama (or a lot more drama, it depends the way you want to see it).
You can add lens flares and other effects in Photoshop, and sometimes I’ll do this, but to be honest I’m more of a why-fake-it-when-you-can-create-it kind of photographer. So, when possible, I try to capture these images from the moment I press the shutter button and not add anything in Photoshop. It gives a different look for my eyes and I prefer the real deal.
When you’re a little bit more adventurous, you can even have your model look away, thus creating an even more mystic look.
Learn to play with light and you’ll find that your sessions will be: more fun; give better results; and yield more income. But most of all, when you really understand what light does and know how to measure and manipulate it, you’ll soon find yourself thinking more about the concepts and the styling than struggling with the light. See you next time when we’ll talk about shadows.
Editor’s Note: Frank has a great look an a fun teaching style. Check out this free preview of one of his KelbyOne courses here on YouTube. If you like what he has to say, you can follow him on Twitter. If your image needs a tweak, try this tutorial from the fabulous Lesa Snider over on PlanetPhotoshop.com for removing objects.