Lighting for Your Subject
Alright, so let's talk about lighting for your subject. We've covered this a little bit, but this is a grid that I pulled from my Con Man shoot. Typically, I will always start with my key light, the light that defines the subject. But in this particular case, the first thing that we did was we independently lit the background, and I wanted to make sure that the background light was not affecting the subject. So we got the background at the right tone that I wanted for the image, and we had him in there for perspective, and then also had him in there to make sure that light wasn't gonna be hitting him or wrapping around him or anything. Then, in the second image, we turned a key light on, and it's pretty good. You could kind of leave it there. Again, it's personal preference at this point. Excuse me. But we got the key light on there. This monitor is a little brighter than how the image actually appears, but so now you can see the background light hasn't changed at all. The subject's fa...
r enough away from the background light that my key light's not affecting the background and the background light's not affecting my subject, so they truly are both independent. But then, after that, I felt like the shadow was just a little too heavy on camera right, on his left side. So I wanted to bring that up a little bit. I still want there to be some definition. I want there to be shadow over there, but just not that heavy. So then I brought in a light right behind me at a slightly lower power than the key light, and you can see on this final frame, all that's changed is the shadow has gotten a little brighter, his eyes are a little brighter, and then from there I can add and control that contrast in post through retouching to the level that I want. This is an example of how I generally like to light things. Now, I've heard a lot of people ask about certain rules or things they've been told that you can never do. Rules are mean to be broken. Your images should feel like you want them to feel. I don't really have a lot of rules. I was trying to think of some things that I don't like or I try to avoid. One thing that jumped to mind is I do not like nose shadows crossing lips. Sometimes people will do that, maybe if it achieves a desired effect in terms of trying to feel spooky or something, but, in general, to me, it's like horrifying and it's distracting and I just hate it. So, I always try to make sure that that nose shadow doesn't cross somebody's mouth. I've heard various people ask me all the time about catch lights, which were basically like the lights reflecting in somebody's eyes, and I don't know if people still say this, but I think people have been taught over the years it's not a real portrait if you don't have catch lights. I could give two hoots about catch lights. It doesn't do a thing for me, and generally I think they're in my pictures because I'm using lights in front of people. But if they're not, it doesn't matter to me. I've seen it both ways and that's the last thing I'm concerned with. So, people have all kinds of rules and want to know what's the best way to light, what's the best place to put your key light or whatever, and the answer is it depends on what you're most interested in. There is no best way to do anything, really. I've seen and met photographers whose lighting is not that good, and they'll be the first to tell you that they don't even know the first thing about light, but their pictures are like so fascinating and amazing because there's so much soul in there. They put themselves into their work and it's like, especially when you meet them, you're like, "Holy cow, your work makes so much more sense to me now that I know you, because I get the same feeling having dinner with you as I do looking at your images." That should be the goal. That's the most interesting kind of work, when someone is able to pour themselves into their work. Not whether a portrait has catch lights or not, or even whether or not there's a nose shadow, but, again, you just have to decide what's important to you, what makes you feel most content and happy in your work, and those are your rules, but don't have to be anyone else's.
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Learn from the authority: John Keatley
John’s photos have filled the pages of Rolling Stone, Wired, and the New York Times Magazine. He’s covered celebrities from Anthony Hopkins to Macklemore and even had the rare opportunity to photograph Annie Leibovitz. He’s also passionate about education and supporting artists to find their personal style.
In this one-of-a-kind class, John breaks down how to conceptualize, produce, style, light and fine-tune your ideas. He leads you through the creation of an environmental portrait series, showing you how to make a vision come to life with any budget.
What you get out of this exclusive shoot:
- Find inspiration and execute your vision
- Research and create desired environments for set design or location scouting
- Cast for portrait and direct subjects on set
- Build a team of support around your project
- Lighting and styles to make the background and subject work together
- Creative ways to build your vision, regardless of budgetary limitations
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