The word photography is derived from the Greek word for photos which loosely translates as 'light' and graphé which loosely translates as 'to draw'. Photography or 'drawing with light' is in its simplest terms the art of capturing light – learning how to control the light is therefore essential to creating great images. Here are ten simple points that form the basis of working with light.
Images by Jacob James.
1. Relative Size
The softness of light is controlled by the relative size of the light source. The bigger the relative size of a light source the softer the light (less harsh shadows). By applying this property of light you can still create soft light from relatively small light sources by placing them much closer to your subject.
2. Light Source Distance
The distance of your light source away from your subject is intrinsically linked with the relative size of your light source. The further a light source moves away from the subject the smaller its relative size. This property of light is what causes a huge light source such as the sun to create harsh shadows at midday despite its enormous size.
Diffusion will cause the light to be spread wider, increase the light source’s relative size and therefore give softer light. The downside to this is that if you spread the same quantity of light over a larger area, the overall power of your light will be slightly decreased.
4. Bouncing Light
A simple trick to increase the relative light source size is to bounce a smaller sized light source such as a flash into the ceiling above. This then converts the ceiling into your light source and therefore greatly increases its relative size. Make sure that the ceiling is a neutral colour however or you could end up with some crazy results!
The cheapest and simplest way to add control to your lighting is with a reflector. A reflector can be used to soften shadows or bounce light onto your subject from a stronger light source. In the same way as before, the larger the reflector the softer the light it will produce!
6. Fall Off
The rate in which light falls off is not linear. As you double the distance away from the light source you divide the intensity of the light source by 4. Therefore the closer to the light source your subject is the greater the fall off. This is important to remember if you are shooting a group of people as you will want the lighting to remain as equal as possible over the entire group. To counter this effect the light source will have to be placed further back due to fall off. If it is placed too close there will be a larger difference in exposure between the people in the group (especially if you have a multi-row group) and the subjects in the row behind will be darker than those in front.
7. Lighting Angle
The angle of your light to your subject controls the depth of the shadows on your subjects and therefore controls texture. Placing your light directly in front of your subject will remove texture and shape whereas placing it at 90 degrees will greatly emphasise it (possibly too extreme). A good starting point is around 45 degrees between yourself and your subject.
Don’t be afraid of shadows. When used correctly shadows give your subject depth rather than just rendering them as a flat surface. This is often used for highly structured faces to emphasis this characteristic. This can be achieved by placing your subject so that the light falls onto them at an angle rather than straight on, allowing their facial features to cast shadows.
The position of the sun in the sky controls how hard the natural light is. Shooting during the early and late hours of the day close to sunset and sunrise will give much softer light and allow you to shoot outside without the typical unflattering shadows of midday. However shooting in shade or on an over cast day can produce really flatteringly soft light for your subjects.
The colour of your light is also important. Throughout the day the colour temperature varies and tends to be warmer 'golden light' closer to sunrise and sunset. If you wish to add artificial light to the scene consider using coloured gels to replicate the natural light.
More information about Jacob James and his work can be found at: Jacob James Photography
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Jacob James is just one of the many talented photographers who host free Manfrotto School of Xcellence webinars. To see what events are coming up, visit the Manfrotto website
. You'll also find LED lights
as well as various lighting accessories
over on the Manfrotto website.