Lighting is one of, if not the most, important elements in photography. Light is what the camera captures to make the image and without it, there are no photos. In fact, the word “photo” means “light.” The lighting of an image can change the mood, message, and personality of a photo, so it’s important not to ignore this aspect of your photography. Whether you’re the photographer or the subject, looking through all of the options and sources can be daunting, so dive in a little deeper and check out this lighting guide before your next session.
There are two types of light: Natural and Artificial
Natural: This kind of light comes from the sun. The pros are that it’s free, and once you understand how to manipulate the camera settings to match the available light, you’re done. However, it’s unpredictable and entirely dependent on your environment, the weather, and the time of day.
Artificial: This includes light that you have brought into the situation. It is not dependent on weather or time of day. You have complete control and are able to recreate the same look no matter where you are.
Under the umbrella of “Artificial Lights,” there are:
Continuous Lights: The light stays on and allows the photographer to visualize exactly how the light will fall on the subject (whether it’s a person or an object) before they take the photo. This provides the opportunity to manipulate your settings ahead of time. I use these kinds of lights to avoid uncomfortable flashes on my client, because they close the subjects’ pupils to show more of their eyes, and because they mimic daylight.
Strobe Lights: This kind of light flashes as you take the photo. As opposed to continuous lighting, you will not see how the image will be captured until you generate the flash. However, they offer extremely powerful light and are often more portable than continuous lights.
Two kinds of strobes:
Speedlight: These are external flash units that can either be attached to your camera or separate from it. They are Immensely powerful and the large amount of light that they emit provides for more freedom in your aperture and ISO settings.
Monolight: Even more powerful than speedlights, these are self-contained, using their own power sources, reflectors, and stands. They can be used both in the field and in the studio.
In addition to the lights themselves, you’ll want to have a selection of light modifiers. These include umbrellas, softboxes, and reflectors and serve to increase the size of your light source as well as direct it.
Softboxes: These are devices made of a lightweight material that surround the light source, providing diffused light over the subject. The larger the softbox, the softer the light.
Umbrellas: These bounce the light in alternate directions as opposed to allowing the light to directly hit the subject. This creates a more diffused look and spread the light so that it covers more area.
Reflectors: A tool that reflects light into darker areas, removing shadows and harsh edges.
A few considerations to make when selecting and setting up your lighting:
Hard light vs. Soft light: Hard light creates shadows that will have harder edges and adversely, soft light creates diffused shadows with softer edges. The smaller the light source, the harder the light and vice versa.
Color Temperature: Every light source has its own color temperature, measuring from warm to cool. Be sure to always set your white balance before a shoot
Recharging/Recycling Time: This is the amount of time needed for a strobe light to recharge itself after a photo is taken and before taking the next. The lower recycle time, the better.
A little bit about my setup:
I use the Westcott 2-Pack Spiderlite TD6 Show PROMO Kit in my studio. It has six sockets for exceptional light output and has three separate controls that allow for multiple combinations of bulbs. It has an all-metal construction with four built-in receptacles for attachment of a softbox. It comes with two TD6 heads, two Tilter Brackets, twelve 50W daylight-balanced fluorescents, and two Softboxes for portrait or product work.
I use the Profoto B1X for when I’m on location. It’s a cordless, battery-powered monolight that is 10 times more powerful than the average speedlight, according to Profoto. It has an easy and fast set up, is easy to use with its intuitive controls and large LED display, and offers high-powered light output that works great in both bright sun and low light situations.
I also use the Profoto A1 flash that can be used both on and off-camera. It has a magnetic mount that can attach to a variety of modifiers, recycles very quickly, and its round head provides truly beautiful and natural light. It’s high-powered, has an excellent battery-life, is easy to use, and being very compact and light, it’s perfect for shooting out in the field.
Lighting equipment can be pricey. I’ve invested in quality lighting products so that I know I’ll have consistent outcomes with my images and be able to provide premium photos for my clients. Be sure to do your research before investing; however, once you find what’s best for you, you can truly take your photography to another level. Experiment, play around, have fun!