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Digital Photography 101 - Learn about basic principles of Light
Tags:Basic principles of Light usage in Photography,hard light,soft light,learn photography,photography lessons,photography tutorials,principles of light,snapfactory
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You are watching Digital Photography One on One, where we answer your questions. Here is your host, Mark Wallace.
Welcome back to another episode of Digital Photography One on One. In this episode, we are going to talk about the question that is asked more than any other question. It also happens to be my least favorite question. So, let us dive right in. First the question, Razzak Khan asks “what type of lighting would you recommend for me? I need to know what kind of strobe, how powerful it should be, if I should get any umbrellas and if I should get any reflectors or not.” Now, I do not need to pick on Razzak. He is just asking the same question hundreds of other people have asked. And that is what should I buy? Well, there is an old proverb that says “Give a man a fish and you fed him for the day. Teach the man to fish and you fed him for a lifetime.” Now, there are two reasons I have a difficult time answering the question of what should I buy. The first is that you are asking me for a fish and I would really rather teach you how to fish. And the second reason is because it all depends. I mean imagine if somebody came up to you and said, “Hey, what kind of car should I buy?” Well, it depends on what they wanted to do with their car. And if they are holding lumber, they probably want a truck, but if they are holding kids they probably want a mini van or maybe one of those big Suburbans or even a VW bus. Anyway, there is a lots of different answers to that question and even if somebody came up to you and said, “Hey, what kind of mini van should I buy?” You would still have a bunch of options. There is Dodge and Ford and Volvo and Chrysler and Volkswagen and Pontiac. And the truth is they probably all do the job. It comes down to personal preference or budget or maybe the closest dealership. Now, all of these things are true with photography equipment and studio lighting equipment as well. So, to help you answer the question of what should I buy, let me teach you how to fish. I am going to dedicate three One on One episodes to this question.
In this episode, we will begin by learning about some basic principles of light. In the next episode we are going to look at some lighting equipment and do some comparisons and then in the final episode we are going to look at a basic three light setups to sort of put it altogether. So, let us get started.
There are lots of words that photographers used to describe light. Let us start by talking about two of the most common terms in studio lighting, hard light and soft light. The best way to tell if light is hard or soft is by looking at the shadows it casts. Hard light casts a very clearly defined shadow, its edges are hard. Soft light cast the shadow that is hard to tell where it starts and stops. Its edges are soft. On a day where the sky is clear, the sun will throw a concentrated beam of light that will produce deep sharp shadows on the subject. And this is hard light. But if the clouds come out then the light becomes diffused. Instead of the light traveling in the same direction it is casts in different directions and the source of the light becomes much larger. A larger light source will throw a wider beam of light with shadows that are more open because the light is bouncing around and spilling into the shadows.
This is soft light. An important term is effective size. The effective size of a light is based both on the physical size of the light and its position in relation to this subject. In other words, the closer a light is to the subject, the larger its effective size and the softer the light will be. The farther away the light is from the subject, the smaller the effective size and the harder the light will be. To illustrate this point, let us look at the sun. Although the sun is 100 times the width of the earth, it looks like a tiny spec in the sky. That is because it is 93 million miles from the earth. This makes the sense effective size is very small. And therefore, it gives off very hard light. Now, if we were able to move the sun very close to the earth, its effective size would be much larger and the lighted casts would be much softer. We can change the quality of light by changing the effective size of our light source. Since moving closer to the earth would be impossible and a really bad idea, there is another way to modify our light source. We can use modifiers. Now, let us bring that to clouds.
In this scenario, the sun would be the light source and the clouds would be the light modifier. The sun lights up the clouds and the clouds become a huge light over the earth. Now, our illumination is the entire sky not just the tiny dot of the sun. The effective size of the light is much larger and the light is much softer. Sometimes, soft light is called diffused light and hard light is called harsh light. Contrast is the difference between the darkest and the lightest areas in an image. The greater the difference, the higher the contrast and much the same way, you can change how hard or soft the light is by moving a light closer or farther from the subject. You can also change the contrast of your image by changing the position of a light. When you position the light in front of your subject, you get low contrast lighting. If you move your light to the site of the subject, you would get much higher contrast lighting.
Now, those are just some very, very basic principles of lighting. I mean the very tip of the top of the iceberg. For more information about lighting, check out a couple of books, “Lighting for Portrait Photography” by Steven Bavister and “Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers” by Christopher Grey. Also check out a couple of cool websites, studiolighting.net and strobist.blogspot.com. And we also go into a lot of detail about light and color in our workshops. Our Studio Lighting One on One Workshop is perfect for beginners.
In the next episode, I am going to show you how to take these principles and relate them directly to different types of Studio Lighting equipment. And then you will be well on your way to knowing what to buy. I will see you next time.
This episode is brought to you by snapfactory.com and studiolighting.net. For more information about our workshops, visit snapfactory.com.