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Weekly Post – Eleven

“I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical.”

                                                                                                               — Trent Park




●      SwedishGolliwogCake

●      TheFantasyWorldofAnts: PhotographsbyAndreyPavlov

●      Threepointlight

●      GuidetoImageSharpening

●      DearPhotograph

●      AfrikanerBlood(World Press Multimedia Award Winner 2012)

●      HopeonHold


ASSIGNMENT  (Post a link to your Flickr set below)




First I’d like to do a quick review of light and terminology and then move into some more advanced techniques. Here are the two overarching approaches to lighting:

●      High key light – is a lighting set up that is comparatively bright and comparatively flat. Initially popularized in photo after being introduced to solve lighting problems in the early days of television broadcast

●      Low key light – tends to include a wider range between the highlights and shadows in an image and tends to convey a more subdued mood overall

Within the two broad categories above photographers often employ one of the techniques outlines below

●      Rembrandt lighting – as the name implies this technique for lighting a portrait subject was established by Rembrandt. It remains the most common form of portrait. The photographer is sculpting one side of the face with light while leaving the other one or two F/stops darker.

●      Butterfly lighting –  the light source (s) are off to the side on either side of the subject’s face creating an even, flat effect

●      Strong-side lighting – the brighter light source is fall on the side of the subjects face that is most visible in the photograph

●      Weak-side lighting – the briger light source is falling on the side of the subject’s face that is least visible


Three point lighting


In a studio environment all of the above build out from a basic lighting set up called three-point lighting. With a three point set up the photographer can illuminate a subject in a variety of ways, while also controlling (or eliminating entirely) the shading and shadows produced by direct lighting. Each of the three light sources has a specific name and roll.  By building the light in layers with each source the photographer can control the lighting with a great deal of precision.


●      The key light (sometimes called the main light) as the name suggests, shines directly upon the subject and serves as the primary light source.  More than anything else, the strength, color and angle of the key determines the shot’s overall lighting design.

In a studio shoot, the key light is typically positioned slight to the right or left of subject. It will also be placed higher than the subject and pointed down at about a 45-degree angle. On location shoots the Sun often serves as the key light. Time of day because important both because of the quality of light — warm, golden — and the angle of light. Kickers — larger reflective light disks are often used to cancel out unwanted shadows or to enhance the quality of the light.


●      The fill light also shines on the subject, but typically on the opposite side of the subject’s center line from the  key. It is often placed at a lower position than the key (about at the level of the subject’s face) to ‘fill’ in shadows and illuminate shaded surfaces, lessening or eliminatingchiaroscuro effects — high contrast and harsh shadows.

The fill light is typically a softer and less powerful light, often set 2 f/stops in output below the key light. Some studio lights are designed to ‘zoom’ from spot to a wider flood light for use as fill. In some situations a photographer can use a reflector (such as a large piece of white foam core or card stock mounted off-camera, or even a white-painted wall) as a fill light instead of an actual light. Reflecting and redirecting the key light’s rays back upon the subject from a different angle can producing the same effect.


●      The back light (rim light or hair light) shines on the subject from behind, often (but not necessarily) to one side or the other. It gives the subject a slight corona of light, serving to separate the subject from the background and highlighting contours. Sometimes the back light or rim light can be placed slightly more to the side to  ‘kick’  up light that contributes to a portion of the shading on the visible surface of the subject. When used this way the third light is called a kicker.


Now let’s develop out from the basic lighting set up into different ways to think about light in both studio and location work. Photographers routinely add lights, remove lights, change the angle of lights and employ different kinds of lights to expand on the basic set up. Below are a few common examples.


Four-point lighting starts with the basic three-point set up and adds a fourth background light. The background light is placed behind the subject(s), on a high grid, or low to the ground. Unlike the other three lights, which illuminate foreground elements like actors and props, it illuminates background elements, such as walls or scenery. This technique can be used to eliminate shadows cast by foreground elements onto the background, or to draw more attention to the background. It also helps to off-set the single eye nature of the camera, this means that it helps give depth to the image.


This is probably a good place to revisit something we discussed in section 3,misenscene. Some photographers create elaborate sets for their work in the interest of telling more elaborate stories. As those sets  become more complex, so must the lighting. The four-point set up can become the five, six, seven-or more point set up as more characters and props need to be illuminated. Still, the principles of building the lighting in layers, controlling shadows and angling the lighting for effect all apply.


High key light  has been adopted and expanded upon by many photographers because of its very contemporary look. Backgrounds are often light in color and relatively plan. Butterfly lighting is employed that reduces the distinction between the key and fill lights. In some cases two equally balanced lights are placed to the right and left of the subject that provide frontal illumination as well as some kick or contour lighting on the subject’s face (NOTE: a single, strong light source almost directly in front of the subject with white reflectors on the sides can achieve a similar effect. Often the back light is eliminated all together or used as a strong kicker to enhance the corona around the subject.


The look above is twisted out even further through the use of a ring flash. Originally developed to illuminate small objects, ring flash comes in and out of favor in studio photo circles and even among news photographers.  a ring flash produced a very even lighting with distinct highlights and shadow pattern.


I want to point out what is called the catch light. Photographers invest a lot of energy in controlling the catch light, the reflection of the light source(s) in the subject’s eye. Serious portrait photographers will use special octagonal soft boxes to control the shape of the catch light to make it look less like a rectangle and more like a circle and the eye’s pupil.


You can sometimes tell a lot about how the lighting in a photograph was set up by looking at the catch light. Additionally a bit of catch light can be quite flattering. Note the difference between the two images below. The one on the left has been retouched and features a catch light from an off-camera strobe.


Silhouetting is a powerful but often underused lighting technique. At its best silhouetting a subject can move an ordinary picture into the extraordinary or at least the unusual. One of its strengths is the ability to transform the literal into the more symbolic, as illustrated here. 


Light’s impact on color in photography, especially digital photography, is an extremely powerful creative tool. How different films or sensors render color related to color space, light temperature and saturation offer a host of creative opportunities to photographers. New types of light bulbs have color signatures that have never before been photographed!  Working photographers should learn to see and use this in innovative ways.