Building Your Light

Today we're talking photography stuff. You may be wondering, what does "building your light" mean? In simple terms "building light" is how you turn on multiple lights and at what strength they contribute to your final photograph.

The light we're talking about today is from our recent Thunder Girls photoshoot.

I had plenty of time to setup for this recent shoot. Which is always a huge plus and not always possible. The other thing I had going for me was a huge space with plenty of room to setup and lots of power outlets, also not always possible but greatly appreciated when it is.

A lot of space allows you plenty of room to separate your subject from the background. It means we can light the background independently of the subject, which is what we want for maximum control of the scene.

Below you can see Zac functioning as our stand-in. As you can see, he's mostly silhouetted against the backdrop. That's because the lights on the backdrop are behind him and flagged off with black foamcore to prevent any light from spilling onto him. There's some ambient room light still helping to light him just a bit, but we've got a mostly blank palette to work from. Here the backdrop is a light grey, but I knew that once I added the other lights into the equation I would get just a bit of extra light on the backdrop and still have room to increase the exposure a bit in post-production.

The photo below shows the placement of the lights for the backdrop and the foamcore flags.The subject would be standing well in front of the two background lights, more towards the very front of the paper. The two background lights are also firing into two white shoot-through umbrellas to soften the lights and give more even coverage on the backdrop.

The light in the upper right hand corner of the above picture is our keylight. It's a 22 inch white beauty dish. This light is to provide some directional lighting on our subject. I use a beauty dish over a softbox a lot of times when lighting people. The quality of light has a bit more punch and clarity that I really like. Below you can see the effect of the beauty dish on the photo.

Now you can see that we have direction to our light. There's a strong shadow down the left hand side of the photo on our subject. The beauty dish is off to camera right and slightly above eye level. But our shadow areas are too dark for my tastes. One of the ways we could modify this is to bring the beauty dish more towards the front of the subject, which would provide a more even light. But I don't want to lose the directional quality of the light.

The second way we can affect the light is to bring in an additional light to light the shadow areas. In this case, I'm going to use a 7 foot parabolic umbrella as my fill light. It's functioning as an on-axis fill, which means it's directly in front of the model.

You can see the fill light in the video screen capture below. (I didn't have any setup shots from this angle.) I'm standing directly in front of the parabolic umbrella when photographing the model.

You might be wondering if me standing in front of the light affects the lighting at all. The answer is yes and no. The parabolic is such a large light source that it wraps around me and still fills in the shadows on the model quite nicely. If I would get very close to the model then I might block more of it, but it would still be doing its job.

Below is a shot of the quality of light with the addition of the on-axis fill.

We've also added in a color chart and I'm now using it to set my white balance and make some minor adjustments to color, contrast and exposure. The shadow areas have been brightened up nicely and we still have the directional quality of light from our keylight to give the photo depth and dimension.

Finally I added a back/edge light on from camera left to provide some extra punch to the model's hair and the shadow side. You can see that light in action along the left side of the photo of Zac below. The background is still a stop or so below pure white. Again, this will probably be taken up a bit brighter in post-production as the other edits are being made.

There you have it, today's lesson in building light. Stay tuned to see how the final photos from the Thunder Girls photo shoot turned out in the coming weeks.


• In other is Apple's big product launch for the new iPhone. People are going to lose their #*$% when this thing gets announced. Follow the news here

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