Home FEATURE ARTICLES Beginning to Understand Lighting
Beginning to Understand Lighting PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jay Allan   
Saturday, 30 August 2008 00:36



1001 Arabian Lights

There are as many ways to light a model as there are positions in the Kama-Sutra.  How you light, and what choices you make, will dictate the mood or feel of your images.  Successful photographers all have a "look" or "style" that defines them.   They were not born with that style, but they shaped it with years of trial and error until they found what works for them.  You need to do the same by experimenting.   In the digital age we are now in, this is much easier than it ever was before.  Instead of waiting for your film to go through the chemicals, we can now just shoot and adjust as we go along.  Color temperature and color balance can now be adjusted in camera, on set. 

General Types of Lighting

I will dedicate several articles to each type of light so this will serve as an overview. There are primarily four different

types of light sources that a photographer works with.  Each has its own advantages and pitfalls.  Mastering all four types takes a lifetime, and master photographers often combine many types of light into their images.

Chasing the Sun.

The first type of light (and the oldest) is the sun.  This giant ball of fire gives us a wonderful lightsource and it is always free.  But, because the light has to travel a very long distance, and because the world is turning, the sun also provides the most challenging of all types of light. Atmospheric changes, time of day, and weather conditions all effect the "quality" of light you get at any given time, and the fact the world is turning only makes it more challenging.  We shooters are always chasing the sun.  Shooting in direct sunlight is discouraged, and should only be attempted once you have a lot of experience.  


TIP: If you don't have any lights, try shooting in open shade.  Light is much softer, and if you can position the model where there is direct sunlight hitting the background,  you may have a nice blown out balance to you image. 



Flash me!

The second type of lighting I am going to discuss here is strobe, or Flash, lighting.  The use of strobes in glamour photography is a tried and true method for getting wonderful beauty images.  The control a photographer has when using flash is unbeatable and can be learned fairly easily.   Most pro shooters start out with a small compact "on camera" flash and eventually graduate to larger stand mounted strobes.  The most powerful strobes are supplied from a separate power pack and are very powerful.  Strobes can be used open so they fill a large area, or they can be fitted with reflectors to focus the light more narrowly.  Most glamour shots are taken with strobes mounted in softboxes, which are black boxes that collect the light and only allow light to go out the front through a soft white opaque fabric.  How big a softbox is, and how close it is to the subject greatly control the quality of light that hits the models skin.   Strobes can also be used with umbrellas and bounced off of fill cards.


TIP: You can build a softbox very cheaply.  Buy some foamcore at a hobby or camera store.  Make 5 sides of the cube with the foamcore and the front with a white sheet.  Mount a strobe head or flash inside the box facing forward.  Be sure to add ventilation if you are using modeling lamps!



 Monica Mayhem Cowgirl (strobes)


Bare Ass Bulbs

The third type of lightsource we are going to discuss is tungsten lighting.  Tungsten lights are typically the type of lights that you screw into a lamp in your home.  Bulbs with a filament that burns and gives off a sort of warm light.    These cheap lights have long been a favorite with amateur photographers and those looking to get a nice warm image.   With film it was difficult to shoot tungsten because it is relative weak in light output compared to flash or the sun.  The color temperature is also much lower than daylight 3300 degrees Kelvin compared to 5500degrees kelvin for daylight.  What this meant that you had to use fast (IE grainy) film specifically formulated for tungsten, or use filters either on the lens or on the camera to add more blue to the light.  This also meant faster film as it cut the low light even more.  Now with modern digital cameras you can adjust the color temperature right on the camera (often in degrees kelvin) and there is no need to add grain.  I recommend you experiment with tungsten as it is a cheap tool.   Spot lights are fun! You will need at lease 1000 watts to get good skin coverage without much digital noise.  I particularly like to use tungsten light when shooting black and white film.  I like the grain, and i can use a hard light to accentuate the subjects curves.  Color balance becomes a non-issue then too!


TIP: You can use household lamps very easily.   Camera stores have cheap 500watt bulbs you can use, and clamp on fixtures are very inexpensive at the hardware store.  The closer you get to the model, the softer the light will become. They get hot easily so be careful!

 Zdenka Chair (Tungsten)

Modern Lighting


The fourth type of lighting we are discussing here is really a mix of new technology sources.  With recent technological advances comes many new types of lights that are just now gaining popularity.   The motion pictures industry has embraced fluorescent lighting, long the dire enemy of film photographers, as its new light source supreme.  Kino Flo's as they are called give off a very soft light and can be dialed up or down in intensity.  They have new color corrected bulbs and can be used as fill mixed with other daylight or tungsten balanced lights.  They are still quite low intensity and are more used for video work than stills.  Quartz lights are very popular, and they can give off a lot more intensity than tungsten with the same amount of heat and power usage. Quartz tend to be cooler light too so they are a good choice if you are mixing with daylight. Finally we have HMI Lighting. This is the holy grail of photo lighting.  HMI lights are a constant light (IE not strobe) source that is very cool (air temperature ) and is also very cold (color temperature) They run off of a separate ballast that generate an extremely high current.  Will these you can get a nice 5000 watts of daylight balanced light from one head and not heat up your room.  The trade off (isn't there always one) is that they are wayyyyy expensive.   One 5000w light will run you about $6000 US.  Yikes.   

TIP: Work with quartz lights before you try anything crazy here. You get a lot of intensity and the bulbs are cheap.  Worker light rigs are enclosed and you can get them with a 1000w bulb for about $30 at a hardware store.  Try using quartz light to light you set when you are shooting with tungsten.  Will give you a nice strong blue background 




 Sharka Shower (KinoFlos)


Look for more detailed articles discussing each type of lightsource coming soon!

 (c) 2008 Jay Allan Productions. 

May not be reused for any purpose.


  Image 1 is a picture of Charlie Laine  


Last Updated ( Thursday, 09 October 2008 22:27 )