Photographic lighting 1.0

9 Apr

Now the course has come to the ultimate in photography….can one call himself photographer without billions of flashes and other lighting equipment? Not when thinking as the general public.

Big cameras and the more flashes the more professional the photographer. Is that true?

As you can guess….NO!

But photographic lighting is a big, big chapter in photography.

Looking at light meant looking at artificial and natural light, then came the available light, often a mixture and now the photographic, often artificial light. When being there you have to think about balancing it with the ambient light or going to the studio where you can control everything.

One of the advantages of studio/photographic light is that you can control everything. One of the disadvantages is that you have to control everything.

That means you have to know what you want.

Looking at the light you can think about the colour, the quality (hard, soft), direction, intensity. You can get that by having a lightsource of reflecting it of something like e.g. a reflector or another shiny surface.

You have to know how and what you want to show with the subject or object you are taking a picture of.

Looking at Irving Penn: Still Life: Irving Penn Photographs 1938-2000 av Penn, Irving,  ISBN 9780821227022 

I think one can clearly see the thoughts of the photographer behind the pictures.  Looking at a master of portraiture Yousuf Karsh ( you see the same precision in the pictures.

According to the coursematerial you can get three different lighting-equipment-sets for photographic lighting.

  • On-camera
  • Off-camera portable flash
  • Tungsten lighting
  • Main flashes

On-camera is almost always unsatisfactory photographically.

Off-camera portable flash is usable but according to the material has the disadvantages of being too weak when e.g. diffusing them, often lack of fittings for light modifiers and not to forget that you do not have a modelling light, in other words you cannot see how the light is going to fall before you have fired off.
On the other hand are they highly portable and affordable in comparison with battery-driven flashes. Looking at you see what amazing things can be done with them.

Tungsten lighting is a good low-budget alternative and WYSIWYG…What you see is what you get. in other words the light that falls on the subject is the light you can record, not having to care about flash-intensity and so on. Advantage is also that you do not get the extra tension of flashes going off in a short amount of time when doing portrait-photography and the model can relax and don’t have to feel as being on the red carpet. Disadvantage is that they tend to get warm which minimizes the availability of light modifiers to those that are heat resistant.

Main flashes, everybody’s dream?
It to a certain extend is for me. Advantages. highly modifiable, strong (can “get rid of the ambient light”) and look professional. On the other hand often very big and need electricity or they get very expensive when looking at battery-driven ones. Prices are from 200 £ to several tens of thousands.

When interested in it:

The Complete Guide to Light & Lighting in Digital Photography (Complete Guides) by Michael Freeman (ISBN 190470588x)

Just to show some pictures in all the text a picture of me by Johan (

off-camera flash from the right, no modifier.

off-camera flash from the right, no modifier.
(c) Johan Niklasson


Physics, nothing for you?

You have to keep in mind though that light changes according to an inverse square law when changing the distance.

Softness/Hardness depends to a vast extent on the size of the light source. The sun, though being very large is just a tiny spot in the sky and with that giving hard light when not having its own diffusers in form of clouds.

You get the same problem with photographic light so that you have to decide if you want to modify its softness.

Down here two pictures of a timer in steel, one with direct light from the top and the other with a sheet of tracing paper between the light and the timer. The red reflections you see are the support of the tracing paper. I did not do anything about it as the light was the interesting part in this exercise.

IMG_3969 IMG_3970

Can you guess which one is which?

Secondis the un-diffused light, harder borders between shadow and lighter areas, faster decreasing of the light, lightsource looks smaller than on the other side.

Within the first picture you got more diffuse shadow, light is getting slower and more pleasant darker.

I prefer the diffused version but I think undiffused has its uses when wanting a more “edgy” look.


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