Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Photography with Jessica - Lighting

In the world of photography, lighting is extremely important!  It really makes or breaks a picture.  It's what makes the difference between an everyday snapshot and an awesome photo, and after today you'll know how to deal with it like a pro!
The first thing you need to know is that the camera does not process light and shadow the same way our eyes do.  Our eyes are really good at taking in a scene which contains both bright areas and shadowy areas, but a camera can't do that.  In your photos you can only expose properly for the light areas or the dark areas.  If you choose your exposure for the light areas, the shadowed areas will look super dark.  If you choose your exposure for the darker areas, the highlighted areas will be over-bright.  Either of these look especially bad when it happens on a person!  So in order to learn to master lighting, you need to find/create situations in which there isn't so much contrast between the light and dark parts of the scene.
So there are a couple of no-fail lighting situations where it's easy to get a great picture.  The first is shooting on an overcast day.  In that case, you can shoot anywhere and in any direction and it will look good because the clouds diffuse the sunlight, eliminating the harsh light/shadow contrast (remember you can click on any of these photos to enlarge).

The second is shooting in what's called open shade, which means that you're not really deep into a shaded area, but are near the edge of the shade closer to the light.  And when you shoot in the shade, you want to have your subject face towards the light so you don't get what's commonly referred to as "dead eyes".  You want the light to reflects as catch lights which gives the eyes life and sparkle!  This particular photo was taken under the small shaded overhang of a building.

While shooting in overcast situations and in open shade can be great, I really love using sunlight!  The best times to shoot with sunlight are within the first hour or so after sunrise or in the last hour or two before sunset.  At these times the light is soft, golden and beautiful.  Soft light doesn't produce the harsh contrast that you get at other times of the day.   I like to use back lighting in these morning and evening situations (more on that coming right up).

Indoors near a large window with indirect lighting you can also get nice soft light!
Another important aspect of lighting is the direction that it's coming from.  This can be divided into three main categories:  side lighting, front lighting and back lighting.
This illustration is a perfect tool in understanding the direction that the light is coming from and what it does to your subject.

You can see how the light coming from the side (and slightly downward) creates a highlighted area, and then shadows gradually wrap around to the shaded side.  This is what gives the sphere dimension.  Without this shading, the sphere would just appear as a plain, flat circle.  This is a perfect example of what happens with side lighting.

You can see how the side lighting on subject's face looks just like what is happening on the sphere illustration.  The areas receiving the light from the windows are the highlighted areas, then the shadow gradually wraps around the contours of the face, giving a beautiful sense of dimension.
Front lighting would be as if you were looking at the sphere from the same direction as the light was coming.  You would only see the highlighted areas, and the shadows are now lost from your view.  This produces a flatter, two dimensional look.  But this can be flattering because it tends to minimize the appearance of any imperfections such as blemishes or wrinkles (since they do not cast a shadow as they would with side lighting).

My favorite is back lighting!  This would be as if you were looking at the sphere directly opposite from where the light was coming, so you would just see the shaded side of your subject.  I love the soft hazy look that the light creates as it comes directly at the lens!

Remember that you are now on the shaded side of your subject, and in order for your subject to be properly exposed (not too dark), you'll need to over-expose the scene in general.  You can see that the background is very bright and over-exposed, but the subject is perfectly exposed (with no harsh contrast) and that's what's important.
So go out and start  experimenting with lighting!  It's a really fun subject and it's so exciting when it all begins to make sense and your pictures begin to look amazing!