Photography is subjective, but to be considered at a “professional” level, your images must meet the industry standards of a few key elements. Now, that’s not to say that every photographer has to take the same type of photos to be welcomed in the industry. How uninspiring would THAT be? But, they DO need to demonstrate their ability to conceptually compose an image based on what makes a “good” photo. My Top Five Elements For A Good Image are:
To best explain these, they’ll be broken up into one blog post for each. Today, we take a look at LIGHTING.
There’s a LOT to be said about lighting as far as photography goes. How a photographer chooses to light an image is completely up to them. Some prefer natural light, some create their own controlled light. Either way, there are a few fundamentals that should be applied no matter what type of light you use. Once you learn to “see the light” you can alter and manipulate it to create the look you want. Personally, I prefer to shoot outdoors with available light. Based on client desires, sometimes I’ll shoot indoors with window light, or the occasional bounce flash if needed. One thing’s for sure though…I ALWAYS make sure there’s a “catch light” in the subject’s eye. When I edit images, if there’s not a catch light in the eye, it’s automatically deleted. So, rather than giving a Lighting 101 tutorial, here’s some examples of ways I use light and how I achieve each look:
OPEN SHADE: What’s the difference between “open” shade and regular shade? Shade is really any kind of shade, and to label it as “open” simply means there’s actually nothing above you (meaning, you can see the sky if you look up) but you’re still in the shade. This happens when the sun is low, creating long shadows unlike when it’s high in the sky. Open Shade is a great area of light because it’s nondirectional. When you want an evenly light subject without any harsh shadows, open shade is where it’s at. It’s awesome because you get the soft light from the shade with the bright catch light in the eye from the exposed sky.
DIRECT SUN: I’m not really a big fan of direct sunlight mainly because of the harsh shadows it produces. It acts as such a strong Key Light that you often need some sort of Fill Light, such as a reflector or fill flash, to balance it. And since I don’t necessarily dig the look of flash and reflectors require an assistant, I tend to stay out of the direct sun whenever possible. Not to mention, it often makes for a squinty-eyed subject.
DAPPLED: If you’re looking to add something unique, like texture or patterns, dabbled lighting is a great way to achieve it. With this type of light, the sun is transformed by peering through bushes, trees and objects, creating interesting patterns of light on the ground or other nearby surface. Dappled light can give an image that extra something that it needs, however, you must keep an extra eye out for any spots of light that fall somewhere unwanted, because that’s more distracting than enhancing.
OVERCAST/CLOUDY: There’s good news and bad news about shooting in overcast or cloudy light. The good news is that it acts like a giant diffuser, creating a soft, flattering light that’s great for portraits. It also produces great catch light in the eyes because the gray sky is so bright. The bad news is that there’s no blue sky. So, if you’re looking to have sky in the image, overcast grey isn’t a very pleasing color.
BACKLIGHT: I. LOVE. BACKLIGHT. Using the sun (whether it’s totally directional or dabbled) as a backlight adds this lovely glow to your subject that I think is just beautiful. It’s almost angelic. I use this technique as often as possible. In fact, if I had at least one image from EVERY shoot that was backlit, I’d be a very happy photographer. The only trick with backlighting a subject is to make sure you expose for there face (unless, of course, you want a silhouette). Using a reflector or other type of fill light can help balance the face with the background, however, it’s not necessary.
WINDOW: Placing your subject by a window (whether the window is in the image frame or not) can produce very nice light for portraiture, so long as the light coming through the window is nondirectional. Depending on how dramatic you want it to look, a reflector can offer a nice fill (less dramatic) to the side of the subject that’s away from the window.
FLASH: I. HATE. FLASH. Ok, that may sound a little harsh, but that’s exactly what flash light looks to me…harsh. It is VERY rare that you will find me shooting with a flash and the ONLY exceptions I make are for the following situations: the indoor and window light just aren’t enough, I need to shoot at a slow shutter speed but capture action (that hardly ever happens), or it’s night time. The few times I DO use a flash to light my subject, it’s usually bounced and set at a fairly low brightness (like -1 stop). Meaning, I point it at the ceiling or whatever surface I want it to reflect off of, instead of directly at the subject. This image was shot indoors where the window light just wasn’t enough to light up the eyes of my subject (he looks about how I felt having to use flash). I bounced the flash off the ceiling, creating the illusion of a skylight. You can also bounce the flash to the side of the subject, creating the illusion of a window. Either way, I highly recommend bouncing the light as opposed to hitting your subject straight on. There are diffusers for flashes which can soften the light a bit, but I just try to stay away from flash all together.
So, there you have it. What did we learn? Backlight rules and flash drools! Haha. Which way will you choose to light your subjects now that you can “see the light?”