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Understanding the directions of light

From: Up and Running with Lighting: Studio Lights and Flash

Video: Understanding the directions of light

The angle of light falling upon your subject is an important concern in photography. Whether you're shooting with natural or artificial light, the direction of light dictates the outcome of your image. By simply adjusting the direction of light in your scene, a cheery image turns moody or a flat image takes on shape and dimension. The basic concepts for light direction apply to both constant light and flash. But for the purposes of this course, it'll be easier to show you the examples using constant light.

Understanding the directions of light

The angle of light falling upon your subject is an important concern in photography. Whether you're shooting with natural or artificial light, the direction of light dictates the outcome of your image. By simply adjusting the direction of light in your scene, a cheery image turns moody or a flat image takes on shape and dimension. The basic concepts for light direction apply to both constant light and flash. But for the purposes of this course, it'll be easier to show you the examples using constant light.

The 4 basic angles of light are front light, side light, top light and back light. You could also include under light as a fifth category, but unless you're photographing a sinister subject for a horror film, it doesn't work very well for portraits. Front light is also known as beauty lighting, because it typically makes people look, well, more beautiful. The light's positioned directly in front of your subject. And the beauty of working with studio lights is you can control the light any time of day.

Rain or shine. The angle of front light falling upon your subjects tends to create a somewhat flat effect. But the good news is, is it diminishes imperfections like lumps;, lines and wrinkles. It's often my choice for lighting women, myself included. So let's take a picture of a fabulous model I have back here, named Christina. Hey Cristina. >> Hello. >> Thanks for patiently waiting back there. >> Absolutely. >> We're going to turn a little light on, and I'll be taking some pictures of you today and thanks for helping out.

>> Happy to do it. >> Okay. So here's what we're going to start with, is our front lighting. And front lighting whenever you have. A light on a light stand, which by the way, this is a daylight balanced fluorescent soft box. Whenever you have a light on a light stand and you want front light, you're going to be putting the light in front of her, right. Well it's kind of hard for me to take a photograph that way if I want to make sure she's on the backdrop. So I'll need to raise the light a little bit. And here I have just my little adjustment knobs.

On the light stand. So, I'll pull this light up, and kind of like, like about that. So, one of the great things about this front beauty light is it does diminish any imperfections, lines, wrinkles. Cristina doesn't really have any of those things. She has perfect skin. But what she does have is beautiful cheek bones here, and what this light does,when I raise it up above her, is it really really creates some shadow beneath the cheekbones. It really makes them pop out.

Now I can also tilt this down a little bit, and what you wan to make sure you do whenever you're using. In creating this front light is 1, I want to have enough room under here to actual shoot a picture of her, and then 2, I don't want it to be so high that it's say, over her head like that, and I'm getting a lot of dark shadows under her eyes. I want her eyes to still be lit up, to have a little catch light. Little sparkle. So I'm going to take a shot and see what this looks like.

Okay, you're looking great. Fabulous. Take a look at that, that looks pretty good. I'm going to get back a little bit more and very pretty. Nice. Ugh, I love how your cheekbones are just popping out of the picture. Now if I were to raise this a little bit more Like so, I get even more drama. And bring this down a little bit, and move it in. Just make sure I don't hit her with the stand. Now, the beauty of working with the daylight balance fluorescent is they're really cool to the touch, so this light is not.

Burning her up. It's very cool right over her head. So right now I'm looking at her. Gosh, this is almost not front lighting anymore because it's almost over the top of her head and pull it out a little bit. And take one more shot. Looks great. Okay, now we've covered front light. Let's talk a little about the side light. If you'd like to explore the creative side of photography, side lighting is a great place to begin. The nature of an image is 2-dimensional, but by using side light you can accentuate facial features, emphasize texture, and create a 3-dimensional quality in your photograph.

Side light can occur outdoors in a natural light setting when the sun is lower in the sky, like early morning or late afternoon. But you can easily create your own side light indoors, anytime of day, when you're using studio lights. That's the beauty of using artificial light. So, I'll show you some shots of Christina using side light. Okay, so we'll just move the light off to the side. And yes, it is that simple. (LAUGH) And why do we want to use sidelight? Well, as I mentioned it does tend to Accentuate facial features, and it also creates more dimension in your photograph.

So, anything you're photographing, person, place, or thing. If you can introduce some side light in your image, you'll create a lot more drama. shapes will reveal themselves. Now for a portrait shot I can come and actually kind of close on this can actually see the shadow on her face. On one side of the face and it's highlight on the other side. Now this is something to think about to if you wanted to Diminish say someone's imperfections and accentuate the positive on their face.

You would put whatever you wanted to not show up in the dark areas, because shadows recede and highlights advance. So right now Of course as I mentioned Christina has a fabulous beautiful almost perfect face. so there's nothing to hide over there, but what I'm doing is creating a very dramatic evocative portrait this way. Try taking this shot like this, it looks great. Lovely. Okay. So this is the light at this height. Now let's say I want to raise this light up a little bit and create a little bit of a different look.

Raise this up, we point this down like so. So you can really change things up with your side lighting just by adjusting the height. Of the light, and what I have now on her face, is a little Rembrandt lighting pattern. I'm going to get into lighting patterns a little bit later in the course, but something else I wanted to share with you too. When you're shooting pictures of someone in front of a light like this, you don't always have to keep standing in the same place. You as the photographer can keep moving around.

To change your point of view. You can also have your subject move around and right now she's on a swivel stool so it makes it really easy. So that's great, Christina perfect. Just kind of turn yourself towards that light a little bit. Great. Looks really nice. So now I've got shadow on this side of her face, but the shadow is towards me and the highlight Is over here. So it creates a little bit different look. So you can mix things up. Side light doesn't always just have to be from the side on this side.

You move around. Move your subject around and create some variety in your images. Okay that looked really good. Now somewhere in the past you've probably taken a snapshot of a friend or family member outside in bright sunlight or in the middle of the day. Or perhaps you've been seated in a restaurant with harsh overhead lighting. Remember what it looked like? You and your friends most likely had dark shadows under your eyes and any lines, bumps and wrinkles on faces seem to be more prominent than usual. It's not very flattering, is it? The same thing can occur with studio lighting too, if the light is positioned directly as a top light.

I'm going to go ahead and position the light above Christina so you can see what I mean. Okay. So you're looking fabulous here in your sidelight. We're now going to change it to top light. And top light is exactly that. It just comes in over the top, Of her head. Not a very attractive light. and typically if we're going to do something like this you may want to incorporate another light with it that's going to fill in shadows, things like that.

So this is not that front beauty lighting. This is like, light right overhead. So, as you can see, there're shadows beneath her eyes. I'm actually not even really getting a catch light in her eyes because the light's up here. Now just to tell you, we are in a studio, so we do have lights here that are lighting me. So on occasion, you might see a little bit of catch light in her eye that's happening from one of the other lights in our studio. But as you can see, this light up here It's not going to produce a catch light in her eyes, because it's over her head.

(LAUGH) It's directly over her head, because it's top light. Now this is also not a great light if you're photographing someone who is bald, or has thinning hair. Because anything bright's really going to stand out, and be accentuated. Not a good look. So just for example's sake, let me take a picture of you with this top light. Okay. You look good anyway. Okay. Now we have the top light picture. I'm just going to take this away so you don't have to be sitting in this terrible top light.

The fourth direction we want to explore is back light. Now, back light occurs when the sun or another light source is coming from behind your subject. And it can be used to create a rim light, a silhouette. Lens flare or reveal transparency of an object. Back light essentially means that you're shooting into the light. Now, the upside to back lighting is that if carefully placed, a back light can provide a nice rim light around your subject, brightening up their hair, and popping them up out of the background. In portrait lighting, this is often referred to as a hair light.

I'm going to position the light behind Christina, so you can see what I mean. Alright, so now we're moving from this very ugly top light situation to back light, so I'll bring the light down. And what I'm going to show is how you can use this back light creatively in studio lighting. To pop your subject off the background. So what I'm doing right now is the light's actually off to the side, right? But it's really in back of her off to the side, so the light's skimming her shoulders and creating a nice little rim light around her hair.

Just from what I can see from there and from here, too. And there are a couple different ways you can do this. One, I could bring it off on the side and kind of play around with it and just have it Skim her shoulders, and the top of her head. And usually, with the hair light it's up a little bit higher, like so. You can kind of play around with it. And also, you could use different types of light sources to, to create this hair light. You can also light up the background a little bit. Just by kind of positioning a light, and turning it so a little bit of light hits her, and a little bit of light hits the backdrop.

So, now I've got a nice. Kind of room light on her. And, you would also use another light to probably light her face. Right now it's kind of comin' around the front. But, I just wanted you to see what this looks like. And just for, an example. I'll take a picture of her with this room light. I'll move it around a little bit more. And if you're positioning this. You're going to have to get. in front of your subject as you are shooting them, unless you have someone helping you, you can kind of give them some direction.

See, and you look good even with (LAUGH) no light on your face. So you get the idea. You can kind of play around and create a nice rim light, hair light and put some light on the backdrop at the same time if you need to. Although this is one of the most popular lighting options for creating drama in your images, it can present some challenges. Number 1: exposure. Unless you specifically meter the light for, and expose for your subject, they may end up in shadow, or sillouette.

And 2, lens flare. Although lens flare can be an artistic choice, it does result in an overexposed, hazy, washed out look, and it can produce star bursts, rings, or other scattered light artifacts you may not want in your image. Lens hoods can help reduce the rays of light hitting your lens from the side, but not if you're shooting directly into the light. So a good way to begin thinking about light is to really study it, and notice where the light's coming from. Observe how the light falls upon people and places and things at different times of the day and then experiment with your studio lights inside.

The more you observe natural light in your everyday life, when you not looking through the lens. The more creative you'll be when shooting in artificial light. If you've watched my course on natural light, you can see multiple examples of how the same principles apply outdoors when you're working with sunlight. In that course, I share many images from my portfolio. Illustrating how the direction of light influences the overall look of a photograph. Using a variety of angles with your studio lighting can really change the way a subject looks.

Once you're able to identify and then recreate the various directions of light, you'll have more confidence using studio lighting.

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