Using Light

I really could not come up with a better title for this post than the one above. Anything else is just too specific. What my goal is here, is to talk about using light more in a natural environment to enhance or build an image. My own use of lighting for photographs is all over the place. I use natural available light when I can, and mix natural light with flash often. I do use continuous lighting, both the kind you might find available in a location (artificial), which is a pain to mix with flash but it happens, and the kind you bring to control a location's light or lack of. Continuous lighting works very well with product shots, and of course video, provided its flicker free at the frame rate you want to work at. I use LED continuous lights and they are finally producing very good lights now with excellent, stable color output with suitable power. LED lights rule for low heat and less flicker - generally. For people pictures though, I prefer to use flash and most often some form of flash mixed with some other available light, either natural or artificial. 

Any light you supply, in studio or on location, is oft times subject to modification in use, meaning you put something in front of it to change it's (the light's) characteristics. Or, you place it so that the light emitted is pointed at something and bounced or reflected back to your subject which alters it's characteristics. And some times, you just point the light directly at something and go. All these "methods" are just mimicking what you see normally, i.e., clouds filter light from the sun, light from the sun, street lights, traffic lights, etc. are reflected on to a subject from buildings, cars, signs, etc, And of course the sun does blare down full force on many cloudless blue sky days. What you want to do is "match" the light thats present using your techniques. I find that you can often also enhance an image by adding a little more light than whats there. Or a lot of light. It really depends on the effect you want, your vision of the image, but in most situations, its about the direction the light is coming from that will matter most. An image can really look bad if you have light coming from opposing directions producing cross shadows because that just looks unnatural. The same image can look surreal or have impact though if the surrounding light is subdued, no matter the direction, and the subject is brightly lit. Playing with the level or intensity of the surrounding light and the altering the same control of your artificial light gives you the ability to control what a final image will look like. It can be natural and enhanced or it can be something 180 degrees opposite. You use your vision to define the image. Even in a studio where all the light is controlled, you still light your subject based on mood, their or it's features and again the effect or look you want. Skin texture, facial or body features, or often a pose will affect what direction the light comes from. 

That look your are after certainly has a lot more to it than your light direction or it's intensity. Depending on the "look" desire you will need to use a certain aperture and or shutter speed to achieve it. Light may need to be adjusted, added or subtracted. All these things combine to accomplish the end image you "see". Or want. Use your lighting to sculpt the picture. To define your style. Some times, I see a picture and know that it can benefit from a splash of light here or there to emphasize a feature or bring out a color or colors and especially to separate a subject from its background. For awhile now, a lot of photographers use an open aperture technique to "blur" out the background and surroundings keeping their subject in focus. All the pictures look the same. No matter who shot them. Just a tiny pop from a flash would seriously bring out the subject, define edges, add some zip to a color or colors, or at the very least, give the eyes catch lights. Perhaps add or subdue a shadow? It also distinguishes you from the thousands of others shooting a wide open aperture for the blurred effect because those images are still "flat" and same same. It just makes for a better photo 99.9% of the time so regardless of the other photographers out there, it should make you feel more satisfied with your work, 

I think people with cameras, and photographers (there is a difference), get a bit lazy about lugging a light with them, setting it up and working to get the look they could get. We live in an age of "easy" so people just want to point the camera and take a picture. Oddly, some will use software to simulate light after the fact, so they spend a bunch of time on the back end post processing a picture instead of getting it right in camera and in real time. I personally find in camera to be much more satisfying and real. I think its more challenging and if you are a working photographer its a much faster workflow from beginning to delivery. But thats me. Besides, some  jobs have a requirement to provide imaging right away so you need to shoot JPEG and deliver right to the customer. No post processing to save you. 

I also think people get nervous working with a light that they carry along. Especially speed lights or portable studio strobes. Its not easy to mix a flash or even a LED light with natural light and its even tougher to mix your light with other artificial light, such as street lamps, or indoors incandescent or fluorescent light. Try mixing all that if you have masochistic tendencies. But some times, you are faced with doing that on a job. You should know then, how to deal with ANY light or ANY absence of light. Learn to use your speed lights and don't be afraid to experiment. 

As I said, I go back and forth between flash light and I'm all all over the place. My jobs demand it. All my flash lighting are portable and battery operated. Some of it is can also be powered by inline AC voltage. My LED lights are also a mix of battery capable and AC powered. I find the LED lighting to be more tedious to set up and use so those are usually indoors and stationary. I will use speed lights for a several gigs, then bring a studio level strobe of 200 w/s and use it. Lately, I have needed to work fast and shoot in TTL so its been speed lights, although those 200 w/s strobes support TTL, they are not as quick to move around with and the power just wasn't needed. I have taken to carrying a speed light in each of my kits. I use Godox for most of my work but a couple recent uses of speed lights have been with the pricey Fujifilm X-500 system speed light. I used it on camera with it bounced into a wall and or corner or straight up using the tiny white card built in. Don't underestimate that little white card for some nice fill when bouncing light in a hurry. I also have been using my MagMod products to bounce and modify light. I wanted to go off camera for a few shots, so I went wireless triggering with the Serene Automation RoboShoot triggers which work exclusively with Fuji cameras and Fuji or a few name brands as well. They work very good with Nikon flash. Serene Automation is in a holding pattern for now with no production, shut down but supposedly not out of business. I hope they regroup and come back. They make probably the best overall trigger I have ever used. Its constructed very well, and its flash protocols are unsurpassed. Meaning its communication is extremely robust and exact, once connected its really connected. It connects and lets you know it via LED lights. My Godox stuff doesn't have that level of awareness. Sure the Godox will show that you are connected but you need to look at the flash unit's display to know. What if its way up on a boom arm? Or on a the sill of a balcony above? You can hit the test button and if you get a flash then you can be reasonably sure of a connection...but I digress...the point of using the FujiFilm X-500 is that it works well, and is easily deployed. I also use a tiny but powerful TT350F Godox speed light. These two are always with me. I tend to have the X-500 and RoboShoot's in my GFX kit bag and the TT350F in my X system bag with a Godox manual trigger. I also have a "flash" bag with full sized high powered Godox speed lights (2), X1T-F triggers (2) and Godox AD200 (2) portable strobes which is about the size of a thick briefcase and easy to take along on a shoot. I find that I can pretty much handle anything I encounter and often use only a fraction of the light I have with me. I really only bring along a few Bowens and Godox mount modifiers and a MagMod kit with grids, gels and bounce attachments. It is all quite compact. 

Yes, I do have more location larger kit for serious portrait work, or heavy duty commercial location work. Thats C-stands, booms, other stands, beauty dishes, soft boxes, large umbrellas, more gels, scrims, backgrounds and hard reflectors but thats for shoots with more purpose, read that to mean complicated or specialized imagery. I still use my speed lights and AD200's though, because they are all adaptable to Bowens. Yes, I do have Profoto studio lights. Some. I'm probably going to get rid of them and stick with Bowens mount lights. Probably Godox. Take stock of what you shoot, what customers ask for and buy and bring lights accordingly. I'm betting you can get by with two speed lights and a couple modifiers. 

If you are not a user of flash or continuous lighting, or a just a "part time" user, or a sort of afraid of flash user and you are reading this, then you need to step up and add a bit of light to your life and pictures. Go small, with a speed light to start. You will be amazed at what you can light with a smallish speed light. Bump your camera to ISO800-ISO1200 to help the light out so it doesn't have to work so hard; set your aperture from wide to f/5.6 (f/8 or 11 if using medium format) and some shutter speed anywhere from 1/15th sec. to 1/250th or if Canon 1/180th sec. Play with High Speed Sync and shoot faster than 1/250th if you dare! High Speed Sync (HSS) offers some pretty creative options. Remember, shutter speed is only going to affect your ambient light, not the flash (HSS uses super fast pulses so it will affect the power of the flash). Adjust your ISO if you want a keep a certain aperture, or use Auto ISO if your camera offers it. The main thing is dial things in to make your pictures pop. For a more unique difference. A quick tip is, under expose by at least a third stop, Nikon and Fuji cameras will allow you to under expose more, I can't speak for other brands. You can use exposure compensation for this. Experiment. When using TTL, I pretty much always apply a minus 1/3 stop to the light out of the gate, usually more. Not more than 1 1/3 though. I shoot in manual most of the time so its not an issue but the camera's meter will expose for grey card 18% reflectivity and that will render a good picture, but a bit on the over exposed side - usually. Just watch for it. A histogram can be your friend here. Otherwise, keep your batteries fresh and charged, keep a flash on hand and experiment. Add something to your images and wow your customers. It can be addictive. You have been warned. 

Wally KilburgComment