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Essential Skill #3 - Low Contrast Lighting

Lesson 9 from: Real World Lighting: Advanced Techniques

Scott Robert Lim

Essential Skill #3 - Low Contrast Lighting

Lesson 9 from: Real World Lighting: Advanced Techniques

Scott Robert Lim

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Lesson Info

9. Essential Skill #3 - Low Contrast Lighting


Class Trailer

Day 1


Course Introduction


What Photographers Should Know


Lighting Gear Box


My Camera Gear


Understanding the Magic of Flash


Shoot: Essential Skill #1 - Lighting Positions


Essential Skill #2 - Bright Light Situations


Lesson Info

Essential Skill #3 - Low Contrast Lighting

Essential skill number three how to shoot in overcast or what I call low contrast lighting this is exactly what I mean it's low contrast there's not a lot of bright and dark there's not a lot of highlight in dark areas there and sometimes if you're not at the louvre in paris it's a little bit difficult taking a shot because a lot of times we're not in a situation like this so and I find for myself my heart sinks a little bit when I got to go out and shoot and I get that overcast light because I'm all about you know bright dance colors bam hit it with the light contrast in the background boom you know, knocking it out that's the kind of stuff that I like and so I find when I shoot this and actually doing workshops is great because you can't control the weather you got to go out there and you get this and what do you do? And this is something that I really didn't cover and crazy stupid light I didn't specifically say hey when you've got this blah situation do this so this is something ne...

w and so let's get right into it so there's advantages right? I said every situation has some advantages into what are do you think the advantages are in shooting in even lighting low contrast you guys, what advantages are there less harsh shadows right? Which means don't wait. But don't we like that shadow for that? Contrast there? Well, I guess like, if you have a background that you want to use, you can use it because you have to worry about the raccoon eyes and things like that on the face. Right? Right. Okay, good. Good point. Composition wise. You can go anywhere, right? And so all areas are open to you to shoot because there's. Not a lot of bright light anywhere and highlights that will blow it out. You don't have to worry about matching exposures because it's a match everywhere you shoot in every way you look right. So your advantages composition, that's. Good. Anybody else have any ideas with cement? Yes, it's. Like you have a soft umbrella following you everywhere, right? That's. You kind of have that to a certain extent. Yeah, although the light is above and so it tends to dole things out. So one even exposure and every camera angle which we talked about, but no hot spots or super dark areas. So that means right when you have those advantages like that, you can compose with an amazing background easier. Because you can go in any area and don't have to worry about it you don't have to put a subject in one area and say over there the shade here and then this bright light over there oh my gosh how am I going to even that out and I had to bring flash in here and it's got to match that or opposite or super bright light here and then it's shade there and then you go you meet her for that and like oh man if I do that then it's going to be like all too dark back there and I don't have seven hundred flashes delight up that mountain and the time to do what I'm gonna do right but when it's all even you can compose a really could shot that's why I can do this type of shot here all areas are access to me so I can work my composition skills that's why it's important okay disadvantages uh even exposure and every camera angle you're not going to get that high contrast just like when you're shooting at night with the city lights behind high contrast or when their son back there you know like or sunset is creating a contrast in the sky blue and orange is the new law you get none of that right so it's a blessing and it's also a curse at the same time you have potential for blogger that's the disadvantage so here's the low cost okay low contrast lighting options for awhile images so in my mind I feel like you've got when you're in that situation you've got a certain amount of options not as many as bright light okay fewer but if you just work these you can pull off something that's really well okay uh superior background okay you can put in a superior background because all areas are open to you compositionally you can use anything anything because everything is evenly lit okay and we're going to talk a little bit um on day three about composition tomorrow tomorrow about composition to but anyways superior background strong composition okay, look for that iconic setting so if you've got law there's a certain there's a reason why you shot in this particular area or there's you know some sort of icon or some sort of building or there's some sort of whatever mountain whatever you can get it in there you can shoot it it's very easy to shoot because everything is lit evenly ok um phil flash okay so what is phil flashed by the what what I mean by phil flash that's a good question anybody okay phil flat sh is when you're matching your flash is really close to the ambient light okay so the background light if it's sword if you slightly under exposed let's say almost make maybe could even evenly expels let's say you're shooting your background and it's got we allow a lot of ambient light in the background and then you're just adding a little bit of flash to match that that's what phil flashes doing because it's matching the ambient light rest when you're using a regular flash right you can create contrast and make your background darker and then the light that's on your subject that is the main flash you're using okay, but phil is taking account of the ambient light that you also want to let into your picture so you don't see a big contract remember that shot that we did here and I moved it one and a half feet and she was lit up in the background was dark that's not feel flash because there was a fill flash would be with that background is almost as bright as or or can be as bright as her face at the same time and it almost looks like there's no flash at all but there's just a hint of it okay that's what? Phil flashes so you can do feel that flash right and that's kind of like what I did here but this is in complete shade. Well anyways we'll get into that picture a little bit later this is a key which I just realized that I was going over these images I just figured out this rule as I was going through my images and what was looking good is when you're in a overcast situation if you use big soft light it looks okay what? Because you're matching lights soft light out their soft light on your subject it looks believable it looks matching it looks good now that's the reason why when we're indoors here right and you use your your flash bear flash and you're at six eight feet away and you fire it and remember was doing those pictures they don't look very pleasant don't maybe you don't write right? Because it's hard light I'm using hard light in a soft light situation it's not believable okay the cool thing about soft light soft light is king soft light looks good wherever you can use soft light on your subject with hard light behind it looks awesome I love that stuff you also match when you're in a low contrast situation like this and you saw flight with soft light it looks really good and I'll show you examples of what that looks like ok um too you can create contrast you can be a master of light and you can actually create contrast which means what you can replicate sun set lighting okay, you can replicate it. All you got to do is kind of under exposed your background and bring in a light source that is stronger and then you're creating a contrast the subject is bride er than your background and it's giving the illusion of a sun set that's what a sunset ihs field is you can also uh ok you khun used the off camera lighting ok, so I'm sorry this one here that sunset line I think what I meant by that was lens slayer back the sun coming behind the subject so you could create a sunset as backlight does that make sense to you so you could put what you do is you have your subject here you're shooting here you have another flash firing back into the lens and you can make it look like the sun so you're creating a contrast in your background does that make sense? I just messed up everybody because I said the wrong thing you guys get it ok then the second one is you could put the flash on your subject and create that contrast to right you don't have to always cab that andy and phil flash look you khun create more of a contrast and also look that's what I did here that's exactly what I did right here okay and then you can do off camera light to create backlight. Okay? And all these things here are replicating what the sun will do as if it was strong so what happens is is the overcast lowers down the light so now you can recreate the sun because you don't have to overpower the son you can do some things with your life because the ceiling of light is dropped down lower you can use that to make contrast in your backgrounds or contrast on the subject because it's not you're not having to battle the bright sun it'll it'll come or interview as we do it ok so let's show you some images using bare flash okay, this setting the background is close to the exposure value and it creates fill flash using a lot of ambient light okay when the setting in the background is under exposed minus exposure value it creates drama and more contrast ratio between the subject in the background ok, that makes sense so you could do it both ways so you can under expose the background and light the subject and you're going to get contrast you're going to get more drama with it or you could use it as phil flash and you could do this in so here you're reducing the ambient light and here you're using the ambient light so in this situation you're reducing it so let's get to some situations here this is more of a bill flash situation right? Because you have a background there's not a lot of contrast in the summer you could see that I used the bear flash there because you could see the catch light in her eye just even the shadows out but I wanted to look very natural and organic okay, so what I did was I fired the flash and I actually feathered the light does you guys know what feathering the light is is instead of you I'm using the bottom half of the light which is softer so originally had it like this I got the explosion right that's no problem, okay? But then I had to work at getting that light, right? So it looks more natural and it didn't happen in britain because we're in the water here is like what? We're gonna have a like holding umbrella and this is like no way so it just took a flash out there and I just used the bottom half of the light on my subject, okay? And that's a softer light and it doesn't give me a strong reflection here on so that's why I was able to create that by feathering that light off like that this is a fill flash situation here, okay? You see that ambient light and the subject is about the same here's. Another situation where it's a fill flash kind of feel where does it look like a strong contrast of lighting and let's kind of organic and natural feeling to it, some just keeping that background kind of bright and illuminated and is feeling it in with a little bit of light but we're going to demonstrate how to do this anyway so don't worry about put the subject in the shade okay you have depth that's another thing that I'll talk about compositionally later on but I always have to be subject where I can create some depth it makes it more interesting than just plastering the them up against the wall for that wall sky look pretty darn interesting but if not I always loved we all love to look at images with that shallow background right by shallow depth of field so put the subject in depth but I have some centering elements here where I have this colored gold here and she's in between these gold areas and I also put something important for her in the background which was the rules royce that they had it their weddings I put that in the background so I did something very it's not anything complicated everything that I do really is not complicated it's just doing some thing basic but trying to do it perfectly ok that's really? What advanced photography is it's not anything way maur you know life shattering information or whatever it's really just doing something basic but doing it perfectly that's what a masterpiece is right that's why people line up look at the mona lisa is the mona lisa doing some kind of like awesome and amazing pose with no it's very basic but it's it's kind of a standard of perfection you start to produce those images like that. The lighting is perfect. The composition is perfect. The posing is perfect. It may not be over the top, but your work starts to becoming classic. But start to become that ferrari and had this bulk of images that is enduring. But that's really what you know, advanced is and photography, in my opinion. Okay, so bear flash bill here's. Another situation here where I'm doing the same sort of thing. I want that light, airy feel, you know, blurred background. Let me just kiss her a little bit with flash because I want that catch light right there, okay? And then maybe I go into different situation where I want to change it up a bit and I create that you see, the contrast now is the same situation, but I got two different looks, okay? Because now I'm making the background darker. The flash power is the same. So so how hard is this for you to do to change the shutter speed? But so now I'm under exposing the background and doing the flash. So what do you want? I feel flash, but you want more drama into it. It's up to you you get decide what is your vision? I just need to give you the tools to execute your vision. I don't know what it is, but I want to give you the tools to be able to do this and understand this. And this is just with one bear flash. Ok, that's all it is it's close it's moved up there's not six feet away, but it's one bear flash. So here's a situation of law, ms ok? Yeah. Here. Oh, shoot, man here was central park, right? We're doing the shooting looking as the sun setting and I get much here. Okay, let's, go over here and take a shot. Let's, kind of line it up, you shoot it and it's what you think okay was like right. Then you take one simple flash this flash here you put the cto jail over it, but so the background here slightly under exposed. You get something more like that where you're simulating the sunset. Don't you notice the little bit of shadow on her cheek? It took me a force a few shots to do that I got exposure right away that's not a problem. Oh, well it's a little bit can you turn your head that way a bit more move over red there you guys would you happen to see me shoot fish? You guys were there actually yeah, I didn't didn't do it right away. I had that mess with that flash position a lot so I could get that natural field because if I just blaster with no shadow it doesn't look real it looks fake the lighting looks manufactured oh he's got on camera flash on oh, wow cool you've got a great exposure but it doesn't have that organic sunset feel to it so that's why I gotta concentrate on that using that george got a little catch like there see the loop right there but giving me an indication that I'm showing some detail look at your images do you see that? You see when you use your flash are you seeing some shadow in there, right? Okay and so that's a huge difference so I'm popping this subject right? Here's I showed this picture a lot like the same situation it's in the shade one flash coming across creating that loop lighting there right giving that now it look now we got something, man we got something here when we can create that light and that contrast creating the contrast on them okay, so that's what the off camera flash can do is create the contrast on them here's the situation on the wall right um and uh creating that sunset sort of feel so there was like coming in but I just accented it mohr with the flash coming in that way another shot with that feeling but it was just like this right here um here's another uh where we got two flashes group together here um and just kind of creating that that contrast on that person toe pop that background a little bit more so you're kind of getting that background a little bit under exposed actually this monitor looks a little bit brighter but in real life that background is a little bit darker that's what I wanted toe under expose it and then pop the image so you make that dark ground just a tad darker and then you pop that image no poppet with on camera flash but you still need the shadow there that's the advanced lighting is this shadow right there because a lot of people will do that all under expels get the flash bam but see that subtlety in the shadow of that of this guy's face that's what really makes it nice that subtlety right there and you pop it but get that civility of flash of shadow on the face too uh here popping the flash but nice backgrounds who you guys were in vegas two right were here it was overcast that day, right? Definitely okay, I hear your new york overcast day but I want to create a little contrast I want to pop her read out so I add I under expose it I use one bear flash damn poppet bring it out create a little conquer I am now being being able to compose a great image because of the overcast I'm using the iconic image on creating a come I'm making it compositionally very strong ok so when youre overcast situation you might have to do that so get your wide angle lens on and shoot something that's that's compositionally very strong here they were this situation it was incomplete shade complete shade so I did two things here I created the sun with the cto gel on her nose towards that light so I get a little shadow on her face here to see the catch light in her eye here and then I wanted to brighten up that background so I put a flash on the ground I put a cto gel on it and I lit the background just to create that interest ok it's a completely blog's situation but I'm bringing my light into it to create contrast see that contrast on her popping that light in the contrast of the shadows in the background of light and darkness and makes it interesting a lot of times what's going to draw you tow a photo if it's not compositionally strong is the contrast of lighting why do you think we're so we like looking at these skyline nighttime shots or those shots of the sky that look amazing why there's a lot of contrast right is bright and dark so you have to learn how to kind of create that to create more wow in your situation here here's that same situation some meeting for the background he's in complete shade it is looking very block here one flash off to the side boom hit it doesn't look like sunset right there it's not it's just a flash but I'm creating the contrast another situation I have two flashes going two sidelights here amusing cto jails to make it give more of a sunset feel okay there was a little bit of contrast in these particular bushes but so I wanted to but where she was standing it was incomplete shade so she there was no contrast on her so I had to use my flashes to give me some contrasts to make that match what it still looks very natural okay all right so here are images using a flash but not bear but using and in barilla so here this is my favorite method this is to me if I want to get wow I do this okay so I slightly under exposed the background and I just popped that that image with some umbrella on it in the soft light so matching soft light with soft light and you get a nice look so very oh hey who's who's right there holding up that umbrella there looks like someone's here okay, well anyways here I am looking this is blocked how can you tell that this is block do you see any shadow the sun casting any shadow on the ground you know you're an overcast situation that's blah blah blah claw I take one in morella hey jodi how long did I take to shoot this image literally everybody had you had promised the models a picture everybody had gotten on the bus and they were like you didn't we didn't get our picture s o he ran over and literally was in within three minutes right? The whole thing picture was done and we're headed back to the bus right boom right? So blah weather okay I need some umbrella and no shadow on the ground right? Nice soft light right? Good composition right hidden in three minutes we're done right in and out get a couple shots right? I'm choosing sometimes when you use to people I got to choose who I'm gonna kind of feature here so because I can't put the light action into areas so I kind of chose her as the featured there so I put the light off to the side here to give a little bit of a shadow there, right? And so you got that or got that yes, I do want to say that uh you know, I had watched I had watched your crazy stupid like before we went to this and and I kind of doubted you still ahead my can and everything and we did that and that's what sold me thie three minutes that that picture right do it right away because you know you've got to be able to manage the slight situation because there's all this other stuff you've got to manage is like you've got people yelling at the boats come on, we got to get going and you've got you know then you gotta pulls the models and then you got it all this stuff so if you don't know the lighting is going to be hard for you to get everything together to rip off a shot like that three minutes or less ok, so but that's the soft with the soft I'm finding it that's what I go to so you you're in a here's the other one right? We've all seen this picture of crazy stupid like you got to get this picture all over the place it's the same thing it was overcast it was like literally raining I think just a few hours before they're right is completely overcast used to soft like bam it looks cool ok here's, another technique overcast soft, light damn excellent thinking I've been demonstrating the nd filter here but either case, I'm still using an umbrella it's a very soft look too another situation soft even lighting that's a lie that's added and photo shop okay that's not really the son there I'm just pretending it is ok, but it was very even lighting there was some there light there to see that the highlight on her hair it was really there, so I'm not lying. I'm just kind of exaggerate. I do that a lot if the presence of, like was there, I exaggerated and it's still gonna look believable, but it creates contrast in my background that's why draws a little bit to me a little bit more interest in this subject but using very soft light it's very even lighting right but what's the um so when you're when you're doing the background, make sure you're getting some detail in the darks you don't want to close it up all the way, and a lot of people who sent me images actually do that they big it's the first time ever that they've like created contrast like they've made their bark ground really dark and then they pop the image. And so they're so happy about that look and they showed it to me and then I look in the dark areas and it's just too dark in there I don't see any detail in there so make sure that you when you line up that background that you've got some detail in there still you don't close it all the way up, okay? And so if that's the situation you're in the water there it's like uh um and you've got a soft umbrella, right? And so you set the background exposure to taste and keep your shutter under two hundred he exposed the subject with the flash he had two more stops of light if you're six feet away and you can't get closer and we couldn't because the guy was sitting on a island there to do the lighting and you know, you didn't want to stand in the water all day holding the light for us, so he was standing on the island who's constantly six feet away, so he did just for that the umbrella lowers the lights we had up to me or stops to compensate for the umbrella, right? And basically this is basically that right we'll kind of get into this here's another situation where it was blogger complete shade, but I created the shadows. There was a light from above coming down to create those shadows right there, but how did I like her up? Any ideas? Um yeah, it was a little bit off it was actually kind of in the middle and so what I did doesn't that look kind of soft because I had a flash on the ground, so I had my ambarella she's there, well, our let's, demonstrate let's, say those were the chairs there. I don't know where the camera is, um, let's, say their chairs there, right? So I just did this put my flash underneath like that, and I have one flash on top coming down just to create some interest, too, because it was completely blog's situation. So you had a little bit of light here and there, you're messing around. You're having fun, you're experimenting, you're practicing, practicing, practicing, because when you practice that's, when you can come kind of experiment with stuff, and if you do it in practice, you're going to do it in real life. But if you don't do it in practice, you won't do it in real life.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Crazy Stupid Light Review
Keynote 1
Keynote 2
Keynote 3
Gear Guide
Final Exam
Going Big on a Tiny Budget - HD

Ratings and Reviews

Dan Frumkin

I read several reviews on this site which gave me hesitation to buy this course. Nonetheless, I pressed on. Now I have a suggestion for those considering parting with their cash. Before you buy, go to any of Scott’s galleries online. If you can shoot at Scott’s level move on. If you cannot see the artistry in Scott’s work, move on. If you cannot conceive of the technical proficiency Scott has with flash, move on. But if you are mortal photographer that desires to improve your work, compare your personal portfolio to Scott’s. He wins awards for good reasons. Invest the time and money. You will be amply rewarded. Real World Lighting: Advanced Techniques is worth every penny. So is Crazy, Stupid, Light. I purchased both and now use Scott’s advice and techniques daily. Plus, he provides a good dose of inspiration and humor. Scott is an awesome professional, fantastic photographer and a wonderful teacher.


I already own Lim's class, "Crazy, Stupid Light" as well as two of his Strobie 230 flashes with transmitter (in addition to my Canon speedlight). I appreciate being able to get into lighting with flashes and equipment that costs much less than Profoto lights etc. that I couldn't afford yet. Lim has a very organized and energetic teaching style. He is a great speaker in that he is excited about what he is doing and seems to love to help others learn how to be successful with their lighting. He is very animated and funny and has the right blend of being confident yet self-effacing and admits his mess-ups during class. I find him very engaging and interesting. If you have less than $500 or $600 to spend on lights, but want to start adding lighting to your photo shoots, he is a great place to start.

a Creativelive Student

This class was fantastic! I've always opted for the easy way out when it came to lighting my subjects, usually resorting to using just natural light and a reflector even though I always have my lighting kit with me. I learned in this class how creating my own light can be the easiest way to get the results I want. It's much easier than trying to make the natural light do what I want it to do. Scott's passion for photography and teaching are evident, and his commitment to the success of his students is amazing. I definitely recommend this course for photographers at any level. I came away with many ideas on how to build upon the lighting tips presented here to make it my own. Thanks Scott Robert Lim!

Student Work