Multiple Lighting With Only One Light


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Multiple Lighting With Only One Light

10 Feb 2021 10:23PM   Views : 694 Unique : 504

One light is all you need for most photography, but sometimes two or more are needed for practical reasons or creativity.

The majority of photography makes do with one light. The one that's been burning continuously for four and a half billion years serves us well. Some say an image with more than one light source isn't natural. Clearly they haven't opened their eyes and don't want to be creative. Even early humans knew about multiple light sources the full moon and a campfire. Multiple light sources inside dwellings too, whether that's oil lamps or LEDs (take your pick, it's a generational thing), windows at either end of a room, the glow from smartphones and monitors. You get the idea.

You can shoot a whole host of portraits using just one light, with modifying devices giving endless possibilities. Add a backlight or hairlight and the image takes on a whole new look. The same is true of still life setups. Interiors and exteriors of buildings too. Using more than one light gives a lot o creative scope. But if you've only one light, there are still options. The technique I'm describing is best suited to static subjects, but that does leave room for experimentation.

Let's consider a practical issue. You want to light a structure but you need several floodlights. This is classic painting with light. You can walk around the structure illuminating it with an LED work lamp or firing multiple flashes. OK, so that's not new, it's a well used technique. The image is built up on one frame as the shutter is held open. Indeed you can still do it that way if desired.


There is another way that offers greater control over the final result and this involves blending together several images using Layers. This is why a static subject is much easier to cope with as the camera needs to stay firmly fixed so that layering up multiple images mean they all align. There is also more freedom and flexibility around capture. You can light specific parts of your subject one at a time and make sure it's looking good. Consider spending half a minute perfectly panting a building only to mess up on the final bit and having to start again. However, when using the technique with film, as I did many years ago, I had to do it 'all in one go' and to be fair the results were fine. Even then, I used flash with coloured gels, just holding them in front of the flash and changing them over while the flash recycled. It was a great help to have someone cover the lens between exposures, something unnecessary if shooting multiple frames with remote controlled flash and blending the images together later.


Exposure with flash isn't hard. With coloured gels giving lower levels of illumination you need all the light you can get. Keeping two to four metres away and setting the flash output to Manual (often on full power) gives fine results and is a good starting point which you may or may not need to adjust.

Exposure using LED lamps or torches can be determined much more easily in the same way as you would for any subject lit with a continuous light source (continuous in terms of being on continuously, rather than emitting a continuous spectrum, there may be physicists reading this!). Look out for illumination and shadows from one light source and how they interact with those from another.


Still life is ideal for this technique and a small LED torch is fine. Indeed you don't need more than that. That said I have used my small LED hand torch to put light on a building albeit at high ISO. In the cottage image, I used ISO 6400 to record the sky and Milky Way but the building only needed to be illuminated for two to three seconds, and I was a distance away. My torch has individually switchable white, red, green and blue LEDs so I have enough options to play with (and of course I can easily create yellow, magenta and cyan too).

Once you have your series of images you need to stack them and then remove the parts of those images you don't want. You could use the Eraser tool, but the best option is to use Layer Masks because while you can adjust opacity and alter blend modes the important thing is that any changes are easily reversible just by painting the mask back in or out as required. Experiment.


All text and images Keith Rowley 2021

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