The Theory Behind Lighting
Let's talk about the power of amazing, amazing lighting, because lighting is the key to so many things for us photographers, in fact without light, really, we don't have a photograph. Light is everything to us. Light, most importantly, is the key to emotion. The way we light a subject, it has everything to do with how that subject is rendered. Not only on a volumetric scale, but also how it appears on a tonal scale. The other thing we need to also respect, or understand, is color of light. Color interplays with emotions. We can associate a warm sunset, like what you see here on the screen, with a nice pleasant feeling, because oranges, reds, yellows are pleasant colors. On the opposite end of the scale, if we take then, an image of these trees on a foggy morning, it's a totally different feeling. We associate these blue, cold colors with exactly that, cold, coldness. Color temperature is extremely important in invoking emotion, as well as light placement, to create drama, and of course...
to create mood. Let's have a look at some theory behind lighting, and the way we use lighting. The key lighting style, really, that influences our lighting, is I guess, short light and back light. We'll explain what those two things are a little bit later on, but there's a certain lighting style that we use. The ideas behind that come from looking at art, and understanding art, especially painters, and what they used to do with light. There's a couple of painters that we love, which we'll get to in a sec, but lighting can be the difference between a good shot, and a great shot. That is the most important fundamental to really understand.
I think what we'll do over the course of this afternoon is, take you through actually finding great, available light, or light that's just present within the scene that we're photographing, but then actually creating that light as well. The key thing is that, whether we're trying to find the light or create the light, is that the style of light, and the way we place that light and we place those shadows, tends to be, in a very, very similar manner. So I think first understanding how to find it, and look for it, and what you're looking for is key, to then actually understanding how to create it. If you can find it, trust me, it's so much easier just to create it as well. But if it's there and it's usable, we use it.
Essentially the more power and mastery we have over light, the more creativity we have. Lighting is the most creative and effecting imaging tool. Unfortunately though, many photographers have shifted there focus from understanding how to light a subject, to post production, thinking that's gonna be the answer on how to create amazing images. Well it's not, post productions there to enhance, it's not there to fix. The idea is to get it right in camera with amazing lighting. One of the questions we always get asked is, how do I know where to place the light? Where do you place light? How do you work with something like window light? How do you work with the sun, how'd you work with a flash? How do you work with a continuous light source, like a light panel or an ice light, how do you do that? The answer to that really begins, with a trip to the museum. Classical art paintings in particular, hold the majority of clues we need, to begin our lighting journey. One of my favorite painters of all time is Caravaggio. Now Caravaggio, his technique, was the Chiaro Scuro technique, or the light and dark technique. He was actually one of the first painters to render a three dimensional subject, on a two dimensional medium, which was the canvas that we're painting on. A lot of his paintings were of course religious paintings, so the Church was his major client. Before this time, a lot of religious paintings were very much two dimensional. Caravaggio was the first one to introduce the Chiaro Scuro, which is really an effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light, falling from a particular direction of an object. Let's explain this further. If we take a ball or a sphere, and we photograph it front on, that sphere is pretty much rendered like a disc, would you agree, there is no shape. So the minute that light source, is on the same plane as your focal plane, what happens is that, everything is rendered two dimensionally. Well what do we wanna do? We wanna render that three dimensionally, in a two dimensional world of our computer screens, and eventually, the printed print. We move that light now, 45 degrees to the main subject, and things change dramatically. Now we've rendered it as a sphere. And once again, we have a dark, a light area, a dark and a light area again. Pretty cool yeah? So it all has to do with positioning of that light. This is why you never see a shoot with flash on camera, 'cause what's flash on camera? Flash on camera is directly front on. You can modify with things I guess, and you'll get a softer version of front light. You can bounce it, which is great. Bouncing is better, because then, you have direction from the bounce source, but once again it's very broad. Also the light source takes on the characteristics of the surface you're bouncing off. Whether it's color, diffusion and all sorts of things. But just working with a flash, or working with something like an ice light, and we move that light 45 degrees to that shooting plane, magical things start to happen. We can start accentuating then where the eye needs to go, by just increasing the intensity of the light source, on one subject as opposed to the other subject. So now not only do we have shape, but we can work with intensity of light to vary that focus, or attention of where your idea actually goes to. In a real world what does this look like? Well, it looks like this. So we have here, just a studio portrait, but we have a dark area, followed by a light area, followed by a dark area, followed by a light area again. This is implementation of the Chiaro Scuro. Portrait of the groom, same thing. The window is 90 degrees to the groom. We have beautiful light direction, but we have a dark area, a lighter area, a darker area, and then a lighter area again. Giving us a three dimensional rendition, in a two dimensional space.
To bring back up the point of us going through art galleries, we've done this plenty of times before, where we've visited art galleries together, and gone and looked, or bought the books, that have these old paintings in them, to get a lot of influence on our lighting style. More than that, we've actually been getting a lot of compositional influence as well, by these painters, four or five hundred years ago. Actually, this shot here reminded me of a compositional element we've been using recently, is to give subjects importance or dominance. By placing the subject within the frame, but then actually having something that draws the eye into that subject as well. So if you look at the placement of that frame, behind the groom, and a lot of people say, "Oh, you must not have things running through heads" or into heads or whatever it may be, well Vermeer did it. Johannes Vermeer 400 years ago, used to run these paintings and these big frames, and run the lines, the vertical and horizontal lines of those frames into the subject, to give the subject dominance and importance within the picture. So I think there's a lot to learn, just from a couple of trips to a museum, or picking up a book, or researching the paintings online. There is nothing like looking at a Caravaggio in real life though is there?
No, and I had the pleasure of that not that long ago, and it's just amazing, like I said, rendering something so three dimensional, on a two dimensional medium. And this is not photography obviously, this is painting, but just the placement of light, and the way the highlights were painted and shadows, rich, full of details. It really is where a lot of our inspiration begins, when it comes to lighting.
Think about the word photography, it's two words. Photo and graphy, draw with light. That's basically what it means, so we're not doing anything ground breaking here. In fact, we're just going back so long in time, just to gather this inspiration and use it, and use it to our best ability. If we're ever looking for inspiration on images, or a style, or anything like that, trust me, we don't look through our Facebook feed to get that. We're not looking at other photographers, because I think that's great. Other photographers, it's fantastic what they're doing, but I don't necessarily need that to gather the inspiration. I want it from history, and art, and all the rest that comes with it.