Lighting (I): Basics of the light

Fighting the light

A couple weeks ago I enrolled a new photography workshop, this time to learn a little bit more about light and how it works. As we already know, photography is all about working with the light you have (natural light) or the one you can create (mostly from the use of flashguns) and if you’re starting in this photography world, you may also be lost while learning about light and stuff, so… I am going to try to share through a series of posts the things I am learning in this workshop, and I hope you find them useful.

First of all light has five characteristics we’ve to think about when shooting, as always sounds way easier than it really is and requires loads of practice. Anyways, here we go!

1. DirectionWhere does the light come from? This means what’s the origin of our light, or in case there are many, where are our lightsources physically standing. Are they in front, on a side, maybe at the back?

Knowing the direction is important as it is responsible of creating shapes and texture on our pictures, and also controls and directs the shadows. A clear example of the importance of the direction would be when we’re setting the flashes, as using an angle or the other will create different shadows and textures.

Three different ilumination ways.
Direction of the light

2. Intensity: This will refer to the brightness of the light. When we’re working with different light sources their intensity will affect the contrast of our picture, when one of the lights is more intense than the other it creates more shadows, which makes the picture look deeper. This is pretty cool because then we know that if we want to make things look flatter you just have to set the intensity at the same level, and if we want shadows and more dramatic and contrasted pictures, we’ll turn the intensity of one of the light sources up, or down, regarding the other one.

Another important thing related with the intensity of the light must be the Inverse-square law, which I will cover on another post, but basically tells us that the closer the source of light is to the subject, more intense it would be on it and the darker the background will be.

3. Color: Refering to the type of light and its white balance, light has tints itself (for example the light on a sunset hasn’t got the same tints as the light on midday) which goes from warm to cold tones. We can say then that the cold light will have tones like blue, green, and purple, is perceive usually as calming and cold. On the other hand we have warm tints, like red, orange and yellow, which suggest comfort and warmth.

4. Contrast: This will be the transition from highlights to shadows. The brightest ares are the highlights, while the darkest obviously are the shadows, and in between we have lights, midtones and dark tones.

The contrast also sets the dynamic range of your picture, and it makes reference to how much brighter the brightest spot is than the darkest one. The dynamic range will be an important issue when we’re looking for new gear to add, and is also something we’ve to take into account as the dynamic range narrows down from our eye, to our camera, to our monitor, to our printers.

5. Hardness: How the look of the shadows is, are the edges well defined? Or on the other hand are soft and fuzzy? We can say that sharply defined shadows are made by hard light, and the fuzzy edges shadows would be the result of soft lights.

Hard shadows are created with a small light source, and soft lights will have a large light source, always relative with the size of the subject of our photography. The idea will be changing the size of our light source by the use of reflectors, duffusion panels, umbrellas, softboxes, reflective places…

Hope you’ve found this useful, and I will recommend you this post with exercises to work on this five light characteristics. Don’t forget to tell me how you’re doing with light and share your tricks!

Also if you want to give it a try and practice you’d check this site! Is amazing!

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