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The Tone of Light

Lesson 25 from: Powerful Portraits using Body Language and Lighting

Stacy Pearsall

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Lesson Info

25. The Tone of Light


Lesson Info

The Tone of Light

You gotta give it to the Hollywood folks, 'cause the lighting crews out there really, kind of, gave things a name. Especially during the television time, but high key is in reference to that something that has a very reduced lighting ratio. So it's very bright, on bright, on bright. On the opposite end of the spectrum is low key that's predominantly dark with just a sliver of light. We talked about the tenor of light, hard light exemplifies somebody who is a little bit more hard edged. Maybe has a little bit more weathered look to them, fierce, defiant, steadfast maybe, even. Then we talked about soft light, which is a little bit more elegant, a little, literally, softer side of somebody. The same can be said for the tone of the image. High key versus low key, has very different feels to them, and different moods. We do this everyday when we go home and we walk into the house and it's dark and we flip the light switch. Or in the restaurant and you get there during happy hour and then a...

ll of a sudden they put the mood lighting on and you're like, "Wow, that just changed a lot." Do you know what I'm saying? What happens to you when you're in that restaurant and the lights go down? What are you saying to yourself? (mimicking porn music) (laughing) Everybody finally gets into the mood 'cause they put the mood lighting on, right? There's a certain association with that. In the high key sphere of tonalities, we associate brighter lights and this type of image with spring, summer. With an effervescence, with an energy. On the low key side, we associate it with the fall and winter... The shorter days. Maybe not, not depressing but a little bit more of a calm, serene, low key feeling. I said pretty low key, you ever associated that before? A little double entendre for you. For me the language of high key can be used for people with a joyful personality, faithfulness, definitely silly and quirky, coy, and engaging. Somebody who is making direct eye contact with me, depending... Oh, you just gave me like laser beam eyes. (laughing) (mimicking laser sound) I see you. Somebody who's making eye contact with me who seems a little intense, I'm gonna go more on the low key side of things. And maybe with a little bit more of a contrasted hard light. And somebody who comes to me with a joyful smile, ear to ear, always effervescent, kind of like a Kenna. I wouldn't put dark light on Kenna, I would slap some high key light on her. Just because you exude happiness and for me, I associate bright light, high key, with that effervescence and that happiness. How many of you have made a study of famous painters? What? (audience laughing) She's like the uh, there's like, okay, two. Alright, okay, so y'all, here's your homework. I want you to go to your art history books, even Google these days. But there's so much we can learn about lighting in art history. A lot of the labels we have for styles of lighting, come from famous painters. I'm sure you guys can name a couple, or at least one I hope. Well we'll get to that. When referring to low key, seriously, I believe it was the Italian painters who really mastered dramatic, low key lighting. I'm gonna do my best to totally murder Italian. For any Italians out there, I apologize. Chiaroscuro. (laughs) I don't know if I did that right. Anyway, Italian painters, basically, used a dark setting in a dark scene and just demarcated their subjects by using just a little pool of light. That is low key in it's purest art form. Low key is very dramatic. It typically involves heavy contrast. It also has it's opposite from high key in that it has that mood. It's not for everybody. So again, just as we are reading body language and being attentive, we're going to be watching one's personality and energy level in that exchange to say, okay, if she's effervescent and bubbly, Ms. Kenna, I'm not gonna necessarily put her in this, sort of, low key situation. I'm gonna leave this for somebody who seems to have more of a prudent personality. Perhaps somewhat somber or reflective. Somebody who seems to be caught up in their own thoughts. Looking to the left a lot, know what I'm saying. Somebody who seems diminutive. Remember what we talked about yesterday, somebody who... Somebody seems a little slouchy, maybe. What does that body language say to you? Maybe a little shy, maybe a little relaxed. Probably a combination of insecurity too. So it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to do light, on light, on light, on light in a situation like this. Read that body language and associate what best I can to the tone and the tenor of the individual. Sometimes low key can be dramatic and harsh and sometimes you can't really reveal a person's face, unless you're doing a really nice tight portrait in a low key situation. So this individual is more about body language. You can still see his face, but you're not necessarily seeing his eyes. It's more about the expression of his body. All of these are conscious decisions when we are interacting with our subjects and we're watching that body language, what are we gonna do? Full length, mid length, tight portrait? Is the body language saying more than their face? Because I tell you what, he did not reveal a whole lot in this area, but his arm, from his arms down really did. So for me that's how I made that decision. Question Kenna? I do have a question. So yesterday we were really focused on body language and we talked about how those body language changes throughout the conversation. And you, kind of, pick up on those things. So are you selecting the light based on your first impression of somebody? And then how much are you changing it to get these effects or as, you know, as their mood, or whatever, changes. Well most times when I'm meeting an individual for the first time, I'm not necessarily meeting them for real, I'm meeting a representation of who they are. Because each and every one of us will come with that barrier in front of us, that sort of, projected persona a that I talked so much about yesterday. So I'm not gonna let my first impressions really dictate how I'm going to set the mood for my light with tone and tenor. I'm going to continue to talk to them and I may even have an epiphany while I'm in the studio after taking one shot and saying, "This does not feel right." And totally flip the switch and go a whole nother route. I've done it before. So you don't have to be so committed to the idea of saying, "Okay well, "I went with high key, I'm gonna stick with high key. "I decided to go with soft, I'm gonna stay with soft." No. After talking to somebody and, maybe, you cut through a layer, and you're like, "Oh, I see it now." And that reveals itself, you can switch your tactics as well. I like to capture in black and white because it gives me a better perception of that tone and tenor that I'm creating in a portrait. I tend to find, and this is again, my own personal preference, that for me when I'm dealing with portrait journalism, I want to it to be timeless. And sometimes, color I feel like if somebody is wearing, let's say day glow orange, it's distracting from what I want more to focus on. Which is personality.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

The Foundations of Light (PDF)
The Accents of Light (PDF)

Ratings and Reviews

Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience and absolutely loved this class! First of all, Stacy is very funny and is really good at explaining and showing examples of the body language. I loved learning about how to read people faces and body to know more about them. And recommended the class to my husband who is a therapist for this reason. The other part of the class was so awakening, I never really thought about how having the wrong lighting for someone's personality would bring something off on the picture. Once again, Stacy was amazing at explaining why this lighting would work with one person and not another by showing us examples. If you want to bring your subject personality into life on photos, I highly recommend this class!

a Creativelive Student

This class is amazing! Stacy is an awesome person and listening to her teach and review the class concepts was so easy and fun and entertaining! It is jam packed with information on how to connect with talent and clients. Plus you get to see Stacy in action with subjects in the Demo and Shoot videos. I highly recommend this class! I learned so much and feel so much more comfortable and confident working with a variety of people now.

Jovi Jhash

wow, what an amazing class to learn from. you covered all from body language to storytelling and to reveal almost the true souls of the subjects through portraits. Amazing work and thank you so much, Stacy and creative live team. Stay blessed

Student Work