LEARNING FROM NATURE

Nature s beauty with studio lighting The wonderful thing about photography today is that you can immediately see the results of any lighting alterations you make. A phrase I often hear from natural light photographers is: "I don t tike the look of flash lighting." The key concept to understand when approaching studio lighting is that artificial light looks strange to the human eye. Our eyes have grown accustomed to the light from the sun, which they have experienced for millennia. This is a reason why photographs taken with on-camera flash usually look so terrible —the possum-in-the-headlights look. It s very unusual to view a scene with the light source being two inches above the eyes of the viewer (unless you spend a lot of time wearing a head torch!). Studio lighting is your tool to create any look you can think of. Here we ll concentrate on what lights are most often used for —replicating light from the natural world. Almost all studio lighting you see in commercial and editorial photography (not to mention virtually every movie you have ever seen) is trying to replicate natural light. That could be the hard, directional light of a sunny day; the diffused, soft light of an overcast day; or the warm, soft light of dusk. If we are simply recreating light from the natural world, you might ask. Why bother with artificial light at all? The reason studio lighting is superior to daylight for making photographs is that artificial light is malleable, repeatable, precise, accurate and predictable. Winter sunlight The sun is a very small and extremely powerful light source and it is directional, meaning it casts hard, crisp shadows. We replace the sun with a flash head placed high up and relatively far from the subject with the light shaped by a snoot. This classic modifier restricts light fall-off but does not affect the power of the bare flash tube. Note the hard shadows, the  hotspots  and the vibrant, punchy colours. Overcast day On an overcast day the light of the sun is diffused through a thick layer of cloud. The light is refracted innumerable times as it passes through the cloud, creating an omnidirectional light. By the time it hits the subject, the location of the light source is not obvious and shadows are eliminated almost entirely. This flattering, even light is the purpose of a softbox. The light from the flash head travels through the internal baffle (sheet of fabric), then the front diffusion screen of the softbox. We replicate the look of a cloudy day using a medium softbox. I added a third layer of diffusion with a one-stop diffusion fabric on a frame. Having the diffusion screen as close as possible to the subject creates a very targe light source resulting in this soft, even light. Note the shadowless, even light with balanced colour tones. Dusk light The so-called  golden hours  of dawn and dusk light have historically been very appealing. The sun is low in the sky and less harsh, causing softer shadows and a gentle graduation between light and shadow. This type of light results in especially pleasing portraits and is often referred to as  Rembrandt lighting . In our set-up, a flash head with a shoot-through umbrella stands in for the sun. It is located nearer the  horizon  and the hardness is taken out of the flash by the umbrella. This type of light is typically  warm . For easier comparison, these photographs have not been processed but I would usually adjust the white balance in post to make the image warmer. Note the directional, graduated light with soft, unobtrusive shadows. Also the rich colour tones and representation of different textures. While we have been discussing flash lighting, of course the principles can be used with constant lighting or even daylight (if you carefully choose the time of day and are lucky with weather) —you can learn a lot from nature.

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