Photo Notes

July 22, 2010

Balancing Light

Filed under: Architectural Lighting,Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 2:40 pm

This just came up for discussion in my Commercial Photography Class. I think this is a basic concept, but I’ve been lighting things for a few decades now, so my point of view isn’t average. When you light a subject each light source should bring the right amount of illumination to the party, too much or too little and the shot doesn’t look right. In addition the color of the light source must be right, for the circumstances, or the shot won’t look good. Of course you can do some of this in Photoshop, and I do, but I think that I get a more natural feel when the light is actually in the shot.
In this shot I used five lights. The idea is to keep the light the room even and to make the light from the widows feel like a natural part of the shot. Of course the actual available light in the room didn’t match the window light, so I had to bring in all those strobes. You can see an article that discusses the lighting here, as well as an alternative version with HDR. In order to make the lighting work in this shot I had the camera tethered to a laptop. I can not stress enough that you just won’t be able to do really creative controlled lighting without feedback. While the camera back is good a larger device, like a laptop is MUCH better. I set up my lights for a portrait with the camera connected to the computer. When the set up is done. I disconnect and shoot the portraits. For architectural shot and for product shots I keep the camera tethered. Before digital, I used a lot of Polaroid material, usually in the same camera that I was shooting, to make sure the light was right. I need positive visual feed back even when I shoot with continuous light, just have to see how the camera sees.
In this shot there is only one strobe, but as before it has to be balanced with the light from outside. Strobes make that easier than it would be with a continuous light source. You can change your shutter speed and change the amount of light from all the continuous sources in a shot, but the shutter won’t affect the amount of light from the strobe. The strobe only stays on for 1/1000th of a second, so the shutter doesn’t affect it. If you’d like more information about this check this article. One more thing to mention about this shot, the color of the interior and exterior light in the shot are a good match. Strobes match to daylight, but you can filter them to match other sources. The soft quality of the light also fits in well with the shot, if I’d used harder light the shot wouldn’t have worked as well.
So to balance light you have to be aware of all the qualities of light: quantity, color and how hard the light is. Each light in a shot should be fit to the others, including any ambient light.
I hope you’ll consider taking one of my classes:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started In Commercial Photography
Or buy my book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers(ok it won’t be out until November, but you can order it now).
Thanks John
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