Lights and Light Modification – What’s your options?

October 21, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Lights and Light Modification – What’s your options?

I’m using four Calumet 750 Travelites with a number of different light modifiers ranging from the typical rectangular softbox‘s, a Bowens Beautydish, which is great for portraits but also wonderful for table top work with the soft light around the edge and a grid in the center for a tad of specular highlights and of course reflectors and a grid set and of course the simple umbrella.  I also have Barn Doors for each of my lights, which help me control light from spilling over into areas that I don’t want it when using the grid set or a straight reflector.  The Calumet / Bowen mono lights are very sturdy, but with use and traveling with them they get jostled a bit so I have two that are in need of repair.  One just won’t flash and it is in the shop and I’m waiting on the estimate and to get it fixed.  The other will not allow you to adjust the output.  It is full blast!  So, I can’t use it properly so it is the next one going into the shop.

In addition to the studio strobes I have a couple of Canon 580 EX II’s and a 480.  These are great combined with PocketWizard TT1 and TT5’s.  It is amazing what you can do with the miracle of radio controls and off camera flash while shooting outdoors.  I love my PocketWizards and my SpeedLights!  If you look at the gallery with the images from the 3rd Annual Ministry Momentum Support Dinner and Golf Tournament two 580 EX II’s were used off camera on light stands to take any number of the images of the golfers.  The ambient light was extremely bright with deep dark shadows.  I placed a color correction filter on each flash to warm up the light:  Color Temperature Orange ½ and Color Temperature Orange 1/4, which warmed up the images, but didn’t over do it.  What I accomplished was to fill in the shadows under the golfers caps on their faces and balance it with the ambient light at their backs.  This way I didn’t have people squinting while facing the sun nor did I have pictures where their faces were in deep shadow.  You will also notice the fill of a couple of pictures of golfers sitting in their carts.  Without the use of these lights I would have had to struggle with the proper exposure for the main subject, which would have led to blown out highlights.  In many of the images you won’t even notice that the flashes were used, but they were there to save the day.

Lighting, to include mixed ambient and strobe, is a subject that many books have been written on and there are some great “How To” articles on the web.  As always, I recommend the books by Michael Freeman and a book “Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers” by Christopher Grey.  Grey’s book is filled with excellent examples of how each light modifier will look under various conditions, backgrounds, and what your goal is for the portrait.  It is full of “Lighting Ratio’s”, which I won’t go into here, but you might find useful to learn along with the inverse square law.  A very straight forward and easy to understand explanation can be found at:

Rules for Perfect Lighting: Understanding the Inverse-Square Law

It is far more important that you grasp the concept rather than the mathematics and physics involved.  That is way over my head and doesn’t help me in an easy way to apply it.  It is also important to learn about “The Arc of Equal Distance”, which is simply that if you keep the light the equal distance from your subject then you won’t have to re-meter the light as you move it around your subject.  The output and f stop will remain constant.  The only thing that changes is how it interacts with your subject.  Also in Grey’s book you will learn about the following type of lights in a typical portrait setting:

  • Key Light
  • Fill Light
  • Kicker Lights
  • Background Lights

You will also learn about the different properties or characteristics of light:

  1. Direction
  2. Intensity (brightness)
  3. Quality
    1. Softness – Diffused
    2. Hardness – Specular
  4. Color or Light Temperature (Measured in Degrees Kelvin – Daylight is 5500)

If you take a medium sized softbox and keep moving it away from your subject it will eventually change from a diffused and soft light to a point source and become specular or hard.  The sun is a long way off and without clouds in the sky to diffuse the light it is very harsh and specular – a point light source.  Imagine a bare lamp bulb hanging from the ceiling at the center of the room.

Also if you research all of the light manufacturer’s web sites you will find some excellent information on the use of their particular equipment, but also that is transferable regardless of what brand you are using.

Wow, there is so much that can be said about ambient and strobe / flash light that there are books written on some of the most narrow aspects of lighting for photography.  I actually went deeper into the subject than I intended, but I still just scratched the surface. 

The portrait of Snickers, a twelve year old Golden Retriver, was taken with a beautydish camera left and a medium softbox camera right that was pushed back enough to provide separation from the background and fill at a 1:2 ratio.  


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