I’m back. Sorry for the brief absence, I was shooting quite a bit, was waiting for something to be released from an embargo (I’m still waiting…) and got sidetracked creating the first couple of online courses – which you can check out at Teachable if you’re interested. For now though, I’d like to talk about light.
I love light – I love the drama I can create with careful use of lights, and I love gradually crafting a perfect image in the studio or on location – slowly layering up the light piece by piece until I reach what I think is perfection. I firmly believe that an understanding of light is one of the basic foundations of success as a photographer.
However, sometimes light can be a trap, and a straitjacket. It can be very easy to a) assume that you must always use a certain light, otherwise your work will look flat, and more frequently b) end up in a situation where yourself and the subject can’t move because the light you’ve created is very restrictive.
An elaborate lighting setup can look fantastic, but in some cases your subject only has to move by a few inches to alter the look dramatically. With a professional model or experienced celebrity, this isn’t a big deal – they’ll usually be experienced enough to use facial expressions and may be OK holding uncomfortable poses. For almost everyone else, sitting in a rigid pose will be very unnatural, and will probably create expressions that look awful, and shots that aren’t great.
If you’re able to move around more, and are working with lighting that gives you more room to manoeuvre, the subject is much more able to express themselves. Not only that, but both of you will probably spot other things to do, and rather than have to stay put where the lighting is, you can follow your inspiration. True, you might be able to move the lighting, but if it’s complex, then by the time you’ve set it up again, the “moment” may well have passed.
Essentially, what I’m getting at is something which has cropped up in my Logbook time and time again when I write my “lessons” or “conclusions” – Narrative. What’s actually happening in the frame is more important than what light you shot it in. It’s certainly more important than whether you used a Profoto, a Bowens, a torch, or an open fire. If you light something perfectly, but the subject is sitting very uncomfortably with a face that’s dead behind the eyes, then you’ll have succeeded in making a very competent technical illustration. Well done you – get some practice with these, so you can reproduce them when requested, but keep them out of the portfolio, eh?
If you engineer a lighting situation that allows you more freedom, you can concentrate more on the performance within the frame, and you stand a much better chance of capturing a memorable shot, without the constricting feeling of knowing you and your subject can’t move very far before ending up in the dark! You can often use ambient light for this – open shade or overcast being some of the best options – or design a lighting rig that allows you to move around within your set. Either way, remember that the lighting you choose to use is just one part of the image you’re creating, rather than the sole reason for shooting in the first place. Apart from sunsets – you can just go and shoot the hell out of them for no good reason – just don’t add too many filters, OK?