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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

How to Position Lights for Photography

Half of online photography courses technology is owning a great camera and knowing how to operate it. The other half having a great set of lights and accessories and knowing how to use them. To position lights for photography in a portrait studio situation, you will need to know how lights, diffusers, reflectors and light modifiers work in concert with the subject, background and camera itself. This article will explain that relationship step by step and show you how to create the right lighting situation.

1. The main light is your first priority. It defines the character of your shot. The most popular method for positioning the main light in a studio setting is "short lighting", which creates distinct pools of light and areas of shadow on your subject. For short lighting, set the main light off to one side 45 degrees from the camera-subject axis, just above the level of the subject. The light should shine slightly downward and onto the side of the subject that is facing away from the camera.

2. For "butterfly lighting” place the main light directly in front of the subject. Adjust the height of the light so that a subtle butterfly shape appears just under the nose of the subject.

3. For "broad lighting", you can position the main light directly in front of the subject, flattening out the subject's features and correcting blemishes. The light should shine on the side of the face that is closest to the camera.

4. To create the "Rembrandt" effect, position the main light as you would for short lighting, but raise it to higher in relation to the subject. This technique creates greater contrast by illuminating the top and shadowing the lower part of the subject.

5. The last main lighting technique is called "split lighting". Here you position the main light at a 90-degree angle from the camera-subject axis. This makes for some dramatic shadows, can be used to hide blemishes on the near side of the face, and can narrow a broad nose.

6. The fill light is the second most-important part of studio lighting. Position it to the side of the camera so that its light falls in the shadows created by the main light. It is not as powerful as the main light, but that is why it is so great for fine tuning the contrast between the light and dark portions of the subject. Move it closer or farther away from the subject to soften or harden the shadows. Make sure the fill light does not create an extra pair of catch lights (reflections in the subject's eyes), as the main light already does this, and to double the catch lights is to deaden the subject's eyes.

7. Background lights can liven up a boring backdrop. Place it behind the subject and on the floor. Aim the background light upwards at the backdrop.

8. A hair light (a.k.a. kick light or side light) can be placed above the subject's level so that the light falls on his or her hair. Make sure it does not spill onto the face. This will create extra depth and serve to separate the subject from the background.

9. A back light is optional. Set it on the floor behind the subject. You can aim it upward towards the subject to create a subtle silver lining. This can increase the excitement of an image, but takes practice.

10. Light diffusers and reflectors are just as important as lights for achieving the right contrast and coverage in your shot. Light diffusers, such as umbrellas and diffusion panels, are used to soften light. You attach the umbrella to the main light or fill light. Diffusion panels are set the light and the subject. You also may use umbrellas and diffusers in combination. Light diffusers usually come in white, but they also come in gold and silver for added warmth.

11. Light reflectors are flat panels that can be placed near the subject to reflect existing light (or "spilled light") back onto the subject. Move them closer or further away to attain the desired contrast or softness. Some reflectors are standalone; others are held by the photographer's free hand. If a handheld reflector is used, simply extend the reflector toward the subject so that existing (or "spill") light bounces off it and onto the subject.

12. Soft are a special kind of lighting accessory in that they can serve as the main or fill light as well as a reflector and diffuser in one package. A soft is shaped like a box (as the name implies) with five of the sides opaque and lined with aluminum, and one side translucent and tinted white, silver or gold. The light at the back of the soft bounces around the aluminum walls (reflector aspect) and filters out through the translucent front of the box (diffuser aspect). It behaves much like an umbrella diffuser, but its effects are more splendid. The light is consistent, the tones and contrasts soft as butter.

13. To change the size or shape of a pool of light, a variety of accessories are available. Barndoors, for example, attach to lights and are used to change the size and direction of the cone of light. Open or shut the four flaps however much you wish. The idea is to spread the light evenly, sculpting the light so that it illuminates only what needs illuminating.

14. Grids are perforated discs that attach to lights and perform a function similar to that of barn doors. In essence they adjust the angle of the light cone--usually ranging from 10 degrees to 80 degrees--so that the pool of light grows or shrinks according to the requirements of the shot. Grids are useful for hair lighting.

15. Snoots are similar to grids in that they adjust the size of the pool of light, only they are shaped like cones. They attach to the light source and are most useful for hair lighting.

16. Gobos are perforated discs similar to grids, only they have distinct designs carved out of them to create special light patterns on a backdrop. They are most often used in background lighting.

17. For modifying light hues (or colors) there are filters and gels. Often used in conjunction with barn doors, filters and gels serve to change the color spectrum that is shining on the subject from the light source. For example, one type of filter can filter out the ultraviolet color that tends to plague outdoor shots. Gels are generally just colored plastic that you insert into a barn door to add color effects to a backdrop.

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