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Sculpting with Hard and Soft Light

Lesson 4 of 6

Controlling Contrast in Portrait

Erik Valind

Sculpting with Hard and Soft Light

Erik Valind

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Lesson Info

4. Controlling Contrast in Portrait

Lesson Info

Controlling Contrast in Portrait

So let's talk a little bit about understanding contrast and controlling that, and then we're gonna get into shooting. And I swear, all of this is gonna make so much more sense once you start seeing it set up in shot. So contrast is basically the difference between the darkness, the dark side and the light side of your image. And it's not a Star Wars thing, it's just an intensity thing or a contrast thing. Is this a low contrast or high contrast photo? Anyone? This is very low contrast. You can see how there's not a big difference between the illumination on my subject's face, the brightness of her shirt, the brightness of the background. Everything's about the same brightness. So this isn't a very contrasty or confrontational or like a riveting image. This is beautiful and soft and open and inviting. It's neat tryna find different descriptor words for lighting because when you start to shoot and you're trying to interpret like you subject's or your client's vision they might come to yo...

u with all this flowery wording and you're like okay how do I turn this into practical lighting. Like how do I interpret your words or the feeling you want into an image. Well, low contrast is one thing. Now this is high contrast, so if you want something edgy and daring and bold and empowering you might go more contrasty, and that means the difference between the exposure on her face and the rest of her and the background is very intense. So the background's like six stops darker and her shirt and everything is about three stops darker. So this is high contrast. So working through that, kinda figuring out and envisioning what you want and the feeling you want now you guys can start to put lighting styles to those different feelings and interpreting it that way. So low contrast, high contrast. So let's get into the practical of how we actually achieve that, alright? So tips to control contrast. Fill lights, you've seen some examples of how I use the big soft fill light after I use the hard light. Reflectors are the quickest way we do this. How many of you own a reflector? A couple people. How many of you guys use it? Okay, good. The reflector's amazing. You hit someone with a light, you get nice shadow detail and use the reflector to build it up. That's the first thing we're gonna talk about. And then also ambient light so I can in the picture of the girl out there with the blue sky, I simply used a slow shutter speed so that the ambient light from the sun was building up and was nice and soft and bright around her. If I used a fast shutter speed, the sky would've gone dark and that would've been more contrasty. And finally you can use special effects, like haze or if you've ever photographed in the rain. It's so cool when light goes through the rain, fog, things like that. Special effects like that are what allow you to kind of see the atmosphere in the air between your subject and the background and your camera. And it allows you to bring out another dimension there. So let's go ahead and jump in. Our very first section is gonna be talking about controlling contrast and the light. Alright so for that, we're gonna start out with a hard light cause that's a great place to start for sculpting. And let's go ahead and pull the grid off of that if we could and we'll start of with our beauty dish. This is a great hard light to start with. Alright, so we can kinda clear this out of the way too, cause we're gonna get to shooting. And my camera set-up is gonna stay pretty consistent. I'm on the Nikon D850 and I love shooting this in the studio because it's super high definition files. I think they're like 47, 50 megapixels something like that. Which means the more megapixels, the more retouching I have to do. So it's a double-edged sword. And I'm on a portrait lens here, cause our first shot is going to be a portrait and its 70-200. So I'm on the Tamron 70-200mm lens, and that's good because the longer your lens the more compression you're gonna get to the face. Which means it's gonna render them more realistic it's gonna make people look more narrow, the cheekbones are gonna look appropriate. If you use a wide-angle lens, it starts to make people swell out a little bit because of the distortion. So we're gonna start with the telephoto lens, it's our Tamron 70-200 and we are going to be on our Nikon D850. Nothing special, I'm on manual mode here. And I'll show you what I'm gonna do for my very first shot. So if I could have my subject go ahead and hop in here please. I'll have you stand like right about here. And you know what? I think I'm gonna hand-hold this. He's tall, we gotta go all the way up on this, alright cool. How are we looking tether wise? We're good to go. We're good to go? Alright, perfect. So, the very first shot I'm gonna take I'm not gonna have any of my lights going off This is kind of like my canvas shot, or I'm tryna find my blank canvas here that I'm working with. So I manually set my camera and if you guys look over on the screen, you'll be able to see my camera settings. I'm gonna be at ISO100, I'm gonna actually drop that down to 200 now, alright. I'm at F8, I'm at 1/60th of a second. I'm gonna go to 1/200th of a second. And now if you look at my first photo, we can barely see my subject, right? That's what we want. I don't want any of the light here in the room because we have all these stage lights on so you can see me, I don't want them to affect my subject. Cause I'm sculpting the light, so I don't want any weird colored lights coming from fluorescent or windows or anything like that. So I started here and then I ended up going from 200 ISO to 100 ISO, which will make my photo one stop darker. And I sped up the shutter speed just a little bit to make it slightly more dark. So if I take this photograph again, we should have an image that's almost completely dark. Good! There's not much registering there. That's a good place to start and I always start here. And I always start with my camera in manual because I wanna make sure none of my ambient light is gonna affect my exposure. The only light I want is coming from my camera or from my strobes, so let's go ahead and turn that guy on. And let's bring it in to right about here if you can. Alright, perfect. And just like I said earlier when I like to start with my main light, I like to bring it in, and this is on camera lighting right here. Alright, I like to bring it in, I like to get the bottom of my light just about eye level so that the direction of the light's coming slightly down and that's how we solve that little nose shadow and the cheek shadow. And then I like to bring it over just slightly off camera, just like that. Perfect. And now it's gonna give me some now sideways shadow. So I'm getting some depth down and depth and dimension to the side and that shadow is gonna make him look very 3D. Alright, and I am not gonna use the light meter for this. We're gonna do the very scientific approach and we're just gonna chimp. So that's our very first shot. I like the shadow detail we're getting, so I like the placement of the light. But it's a little bright, so I'm gonna go ahead and turn the flash down one full stop. And what I have here on top of my camera is a wireless transmitter, it is a transmitter and the receiver is built into the strobe. So through a radio signal they're able to communicate. And what's really cool is I can even set the power. So by holding down one of the down arrows here I actually turn the power down on the strobe one stop. Let's go ahead and take that again. Excellent. I like it. So there's our first exposure. I even want to add a little more depth to this. So if I wanted to add more drama and depth to this, what would I do? Move it over a little bit? Yeah. The farther off camera this light gets, or the farther away from the angle of my lens this gets, the more detail we get. So you guys wanna see a cheat? Just turn your modeling light on. Modeling light, there we go. Now I can see where that's gonna come. It's gonna give me a little more shadow on the left side of his face, perfect. And for you sticklers at home, It's also moving the beauty dish out of the frame a little bit too. So I know I'm gonna get some comments there. I usually do a vertical crop. Another reason I shoot the D850 is the files are so large, I can go ahead and shoot horizontally here and then I can crop vertically and still have a very large file. So, I know this'll probably this is an actor's headshot I'll be cropping this 8x10 vertical so I know I can just take a nice large section and have plenty of file size to work with. You're seeing my mess of crops there. Perfect there you go, see? So that would be our 8x10 crop. Just like that. Excellent. So, now I look at that and I have my three-dimensionality and my depth, okay? I wanna start talking about contrast though cause the whole portion of this class is contrast. And the contrast is that difference between the highlight and shadow, right? So if we look over here, we have nice highlight, nice shadow but these shadows are very, very deep alright? If I don't want that completely deep, can you mouse over that actually? Let's see how deep the shadow are. Okay, there's almost no data there whatsoever. You can see that number, So pewter white or overexposed to be 255. And over here you can see that it's almost zero, which means there's almost no color data there at all. And I don't want that. If I'm in Photoshop and I'm working on a file, I want to be able to make it more dark and contrasty or raise it up. So I never try to overexpose my highlights and I never really want a background, or very seldom, do I want a background to go completely black. So, we have to add something in here to boost or lower the contrast. So can we grab one of the silver or white reflectors that we have over there? Here's the first way you do it, the easiest way. Just get a reflector, okay? You don't always need to have a second strobe to do things. There's a benefit to it, but you don't have to have that. So, I'm gonna have John kinda hold that straight up, just this way. Yep, and I'm gonna have him that's perfect right there. And then hold that, and I'll have you move in a little bit closer. And can you step a little bit farther back towards the background? Oh don't, you're good! I'll have Temple stay right where he is, excellent. Beautiful! And can I get a comparison between those two, that and the first one without the reflector. Let's see if you can punch in on the face just a little bit. There we go! There's that 50 megapixel file! I'm glad you shaved this morning, we just saw every detail, beautiful. So as he puts them up side by side, look at what we did. Just bring in a white reflector and slightly we were able to lower the contrast by bringing our darks closer to our brights. So it's a more easily appealing and approachable photograph. But we kept all the definition in there. So we don't wanna completely obliterate the contrast, we just wanna raise the contrast or lower the contrast a little bit, so it's a little bit easier to manage. And now if I look at that and I was like, "Man, I like the darker shadow" I can just go into curves or crank my contrast lighter in Photoshop or LightRoom and boom! I have my dark, deep shadows and all my contrast back. So in the studio and out on location, I like to control my contrast and limit that range so that if I want to later I can make it more contrasty and crunchy and crush the blacks, or I can leave it as is and it looks nice and beautiful and volumous and full. I don't like 2D photos. I don't wanna just have a highlight and a black shadow, I like to have that whole range. I like the tonality to it. So that's the first way I would approach this. I would use a simple reflector, and can I see the reflector for a second? Thank you. The reflectors have two sides. Usually there's a white side and there's a silver. This is the white reflector. This is a great way to start because it doesn't create competing shadows. And what I mean by that is the white is simply gonna bounce light back in and raise the shadow side. If I had a silver side to this, if I open this up there's actually a silver side, the silver becomes more like direct sunlight. It's a very specular reflection, so sure it's gonna bounce light and fill the shadow, but it's gonna create it's own shadow too. So that's why I like, to lower contrast, I like to use white reflectors or white foam core or you can go down to the Duane Reade or Walgreens and buy a piece of white foam core for two bucks and just hold it up, and then you've controlled contrast and raised the shadow values a little bit. So that's a great way to start right there. The second thing I like to do is use a second light. So I'll go ahead and bring this around. This is our five foot octa, you guys are familiar with this. This is the cheater light, remember? Now if I had just hit him with an octa, It wouldn't have all the depth and detail that I want. Cause unfortunately, oh we can bring her around to the other side so it's easier to see. So the five foot octa, the softer light, remember the characteristics of that? You can't really see where the shadow begins and the highlight ends. We want that. Because just like we didn't use the silver reflector because it would create competing cross shadows, we don't wanna add another light over here that's gonna create it's own shadow again. I want one direction to my light. I want the light coming from left to right and then raising that shadow detail up. So for fill lights, I love to use soft light cause soft light is kinda, like, it's sneaky. Soft light just gets in there and doesn't leave much of a trace. So let's go ahead and bring that up. Now I'm bringing this in really close. Can I actually have you walk it in? I'm gonna look through the camera and I'll have you walk it until it's just out of the frame. I think we can actually go a little more, keep going. Alright perfect, right there, back up just a little bit. Perfect. Alright so I'm bringing that in as close as possible, which means it's gonna be as soft as possible. Now I'm gonna turn off my main light, cause I always like to dial my lights in one at a time. It's a lot easier to see what you're doing if you have your lights turned on one at a time. So I don't wanna overfill because if my fill light's too bright, how do you know which direction the light's supposed to be coming from? Oh wow, Trip put that the one and the first one together. See how one looks much softer and one looks crunchier? That's the difference between our hard and soft light right there, but that's too bright for a fill. So let's go ahead and back just to the main photo. I'm gonna turn this down about two and a half stops. And I'm gonna dump the power out of that, there we go. Alright, and we'll take this again. All I'm tryna do with my fill light is just barely raise it up. Okay, I like that. That might be even a little too much. Let's go down one, two, three, four, five tenths of a stop which is a half stop and let's take this shot again. Thank you very much for not moving. That like makes it so much easier to do the comparisons. He's like, "You're paying me here to just hang out, okay fine, done. I like it." Alright, so I like this as our starting point for our fill light. But do you see why I'm doing this one light at a time? I wouldn't be able to see this subtle differences if they were also competing with this big bright crunchy beauty dish up here. So let's turn them both on, and we should have a shot that has nice definition in the face, great cheekbone sculpting and jawline there. But now we can see detail on the shadow side too. Beautiful, I know before we even took it. There we go. So now we have that. And now if I want to I can turn this up a stop, take another photo, we'll lower the contrast a little bit by raising our shadow value, alright. And I can do it again, raise it another stop, we're gonna lower our contrast again by raising our shadow value. That one comes in. See what we're doing here? He's still defined, but by playing with the contrast, if you can look at those last three, he's still very defined. We still see his chiseled jawline and great shadow from the nose. He doesn't look flat, but he looks very full and approachable and bright. So these are very nuanced things but controlling contrast here, we can create a different feel for the image. And then if you go back and add the very first one with no fill as well. Perfect, look at that. That's what we did. All we did here was start adding fill light in. So this is closer to a one to one ratio where he's very bright. We could've had an on-camera flash for flat lighting but it didn't look very appealing right, but we could see all the detail. By still using a hard and soft, we can still see all the detail in his face but it looks much more 3D. So I wish we had a flat one that we could compare it to. I'll take another here at the end. But that's the way I like to start with this kinda setup. And how do you think I could lower the contrast range even more? Remember how we initially talked about how the woman on the rooftop had a bright shirt, and her bright face, and nice fill on also a bright background? If we were to add a light to the background and raise that up, then we would have a really low contrast or high key image. Let's do that. Let's flip one more light on the back. And I'm gonna turn these guys both off. Alright, and where are we at? Six, okay. Let's get a shot there. Now we're just gonna try to illuminate the background. That works for me, doesn't need to be pure white. We'll get into that next. But notice what we have in the back. We can take a peek at that. We've got our Siros, so it's our monolight. And we've got our standard reflector on that, so that is our L40 it's a 40 degree spread. And the reason we have that on there is because it's pretty far away. If you didn't have a reflector on there, it'd be lighting me, it'd be lighting our modifiers, it'd be lighting the back of the subject, we're tryna control here and the big thing about controlling light is to not contaminate anything else in the photograph. So I like to focus the light on just what I want to light and not let it bounce off a ceiling or a wall. Cause if you're not careful and you have an uncontrolled light, imagine what that's gonna do bouncing off the ceiling. Remember what it did when we bounced the beauty dish off of the reflector? It changed the contrast and raised the shadows, same thing if I accidentally let that bounce off the ceiling, it would fill light everything. And maybe I don't want fill light cause I want some shadow detail. So we've got that on. Let me flip everything else on. And we'll take one more shot and no we're gonna further change the contrast by raising up our dark background, after filling in our shadows. And this all started with one hard light to define the face. Excellent. Okay there's our final photo. So let's do an 8x10 crop on that. And let me get another stop and a half into this. And you can just apply that so it hits the next shot too when it comes in. So this is what I would give someone if they needed a commercial kinda acting headshot. He's worked out, he's fit so he can kinda go ahead and play those roles. So I wanna make sure that you see the detail in his jawline and face and we chisel out all the work he's done. But I don't wanna make this too contrasty and scary with too much shadow because he's still gotta be able to play the relatable nice guy, alright? So I need to fill that shadow in to get a lighter more approachable happy feel. And I don't want it to look like I'm some amateur shooting in my bedroom or my living room, so I wanna have that nice bright background. So it looks, again, bright and inviting and low contrast. So that's how we would control contrast for a headshot or portrait, really easily with a reflector or with a big strobe so we've got more control. And then finally keeping in mind the background plays a big part of the feeling of our photograph too. So we're gonna do a switch now, and I'm gonna show you how we can take this concept and how we can use it to create images you see everyday. So how many people by stuff on Amazon? I buy toilet paper on Amazon cause it's faster than going to the corner store to buy it, like everything.

Class Description

Would you like to expand your lighting repertoire beyond traditional portraits but don’t know where to start? Photographer and educator Erik Valind will teach you lighting techniques that you can use to sculpt curves and enhance features while photographing athletes.

In this intermediate class, Erik will show you how to:

  • Understand and use the tools necessary to shape light
  • Create dimensions and depth with light and angles
  • Use special effects to control contrast and atmosphere

You know how to shape light for portraiture work, but it’s time to expand your knowledge and learn to take images that don’t focus on the face. After this class, you’ll be able to control and shape light in ways you couldn’t have previously imagined.

Reviews

a Creativelive Student
 

He has good demeanor and there a few good tricks.

Travis Harvey
 

Good class, I like how he doesn't waste any time and moves through the course quickly, but covers the material needed.

a Creativelive Student
 

Erik is an incredible teacher. He is very humble and able to transmit all his knowledge in a very easy way, the course flow very well and is a combination of theory, practice and real studio issues. So happy by buying this class.