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Deconstructing photos to study lighting

From: Lighting for Photographers: Portraiture

Video: Deconstructing photos to study lighting

Great photographers know how to control light, how to bend it, how to incorporate it into their photographs. One of the best ways to learn about lighting is to deconstruct or reverse engineer the photograph. There are lots of clues that can help you analyze the lighting. Let's take a look at a few of the images I took for this course and deconstruct them together. It's obvious to me that there are two lights in this photograph. You can see one in the backdrop, and then one illuminating our subject.

Deconstructing photos to study lighting

Great photographers know how to control light, how to bend it, how to incorporate it into their photographs. One of the best ways to learn about lighting is to deconstruct or reverse engineer the photograph. There are lots of clues that can help you analyze the lighting. Let's take a look at a few of the images I took for this course and deconstruct them together. It's obvious to me that there are two lights in this photograph. You can see one in the backdrop, and then one illuminating our subject.

But there's more information that we can learn from examining the shadows. For example, I can tell that in the background the light is probably pretty high and very close to the backdrop. The reason I can tell it's high is because I can see the shadows underneath the fabric folds. The reason I know that is very close to the backdrop is because I can see that the falloff from light to dark is very fast.

So that indicates that it's very close to that background cloth. Taking a look at his face I can see by the shadows that the light is placed camera left, and it's up probably about 45 degrees, because of the angle that the light spills over his nose onto the other side of his face. Looking at the shadow edge, I can tell that it is a soft light source, meaning that there is a wide falloff from this side to the dark side, and then looking at his eyes, I can see that the modifier for this light was a rectangle. So probably a soft box of some kind.

Let's go onto the next photograph. How many lights do you think are in this photograph? I see one on the background. I see one on her hair. I see a key light on her face, and I know because the shadows are not very deep, that there is a fill light. Looking again at the shadows, I can tell that the placement of the key light is off on camera left, and it's up again at about a 45 degree angle, coming down over her nose creating this nice triangle right here.

Now the hair light is positioned up into camera left also. I can see that because there's shading here. There is a shadow here that's not evident over here. The fill light is in front, because it's softly lighting the shadows, but looking at the reflection of the lights in her eyes reinforces this. You can see the soft box over here, that's indicated by a rectangle and you can see a small soft box fill.

You can also tell the difference between the sizes and placement of these soft boxes. This one is very small or far away, and this one is very big or close to her. The shadows again tell us that this is a very soft light. There's a broad falloff here, it's a very gentle falloff between the lighter area here and the deeper shadow here. There is also a small bit of illumination here.

This is from a reflector. Now looking at the background light, I see that it is close to the background, again, because of the falloff between highlight and shadow, and it is slightly down, because there's falloff going up here too. So the radius of the falloff is both up and over. So there are four lights total in this photograph with a reflector bouncing light into her hair, just enough to give it a little bit of detail.

So remember that when you're deconstructing lighting, you look at the eyes to see if you can see the reflections of the light, and look at the shadows for the placement of the light and how close they are to the person. Look at the edges between the midtones and the shadows, so you can tell whether it is a hard light or a soft light. As I mentioned, these photographs were shot during this course. In upcoming movies, you'll see exactly how I set up the lights for each of the shots.

Observing how someone else lit their photographs is the first step in mastering the use of light in your photography.

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Lighting for Photographers: Portraiture

13 video lessons · 18805 viewers

Natalie Fobes
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