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One-light setup

From: The Elements of Effective Photographs

Video: One-light setup

We've talked about the message of light, but now let's take a look at how to create it. This is Margo, and she's going to be helping us out today. Thank you so much for coming in. We'll start with a simple one-light setup. This will be our main, or key, light. To better illustrate this, let's bring down the house lights and I'll fire this one up. You can see, as I move this light around, how the contours in her face really change.

One-light setup

We've talked about the message of light, but now let's take a look at how to create it. This is Margo, and she's going to be helping us out today. Thank you so much for coming in. We'll start with a simple one-light setup. This will be our main, or key, light. To better illustrate this, let's bring down the house lights and I'll fire this one up. You can see, as I move this light around, how the contours in her face really change.

Now this is what's known as a hair light and you can see that it eliminates the hair and separates her from the background. This is more of a silhouette. Now Margo, could you please turn toward the right. There we go, and see how pretty that is on her face. We've got kind of a room light. I'll bring it a little bit further. Very, very pretty! Now this is the kind of light-- go ahead and look straight please-- this is the kind of light that our flashes create-- not nearly as pretty. It's very flat.

You lose the depth and the contouring around her face, and this was the glamour light that often Hollywood would use on their actresses. Now one thing to look at, too, is the sharp line between the highlights and the shadows. As I move the light back, you can see how that line kind of diffuses; it becomes softer. The closer the light source to the subject, the harder, more contrasty the light; the further away, the softer the light.

So go ahead and smile for me, a bigger smile, even bigger. Now her smile is beautiful, but the lighting message we're sending is a more serious one, so go ahead and just kind of be a little serious, a little somber. So now her expression is fitting the lighting message that we're trying to send. With a softer and more even light, you can have that big happy smile. So far we've been using a direct light source, but other examples of a direct light source might be a flash or the sun.

You can also make your light source indirect, meaning that the light bounces off something before it hits the subject. For this, you would use a reflector, a white card, a concrete driveway; basically anything that reflects light will work. So I'm going to have my assistant come in here and lend me a hand of this demo. I'm also going to increase her light source, because we are bouncing it a greater distance. So check out this and how the light really becomes softer on her face.

Look at how the line between the highlights and the shadows really has become softer and more diffused. And see that beautiful triangle? Turn your head just a little and now bring it back this way please, even a little bit more. See that beautiful triangle that's highlighting her eye? It creates all sorts of depths in her face, and really is just a lovely caressing light. So give me a little bit of a smile. There you go.

I love the smile still, I love the light, but I'm still thinking that the smile is not matching our lighting message. So go ahead and just a small smile though. There you go, much better. So you can achieve this same soft light by adding a diffusion between your light and the subject. I'm going to point this back at you.

Again, look at how harsh those shadows are and look at that triangle by her eye. Now watch this. Oh, is that sweet? So if you had a choice, which kind of light would you like to be photographed under: this or this? Definitely this one. Now this is a commercial product, but there are a lots of other things that can work for you: a bed sheet, a shower curtain, a window sheer.

Now that you've got a working understanding of a single light source, let's take a look at adding a second light source in the next movie.

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The Elements of Effective Photographs

29 video lessons · 25339 viewers

Natalie Fobes
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