Lighting for people photographs

Like viewpoint and framing, there are no absolute 'rights' or 'wrongs' of organizing lighting. There are basic guidelines, but you must decide which subject features you want to emphasize or suppress and the general mood you need to set, and manipulate your lights accordingly. You can dramatize and dominate the subject matter with your lighting, or keep the light simple and subsidiary so that subject features alone make your shot.

Experiment until you can forecast and control how the final picture will look. Lighting control doesn't start and end with a studio environment and a set of studio lamps but rather also encompasses those times when you are photographing outdoors or using an on-camera flash system as your main light source. The approach should be the same in all these circumstances. The photographer works with the light available, sometimes modifying the quality and direction and other times adjusting the position of the subject to take advantage of a light source that cannot be moved or modified.

When working indoors remember what you learnt by observing natural lighting outdoors. Think of a spotlight as direct sunlight and diffused or reflected light like slightly hazy sun. The difference is that you can set their position instantly instead of waiting for different times of day for the sun to move. As you get more experienced, it becomes helpful to use more than one lighting unit at a time or to modify the main light source with reflectors or diffusers. Don't allow this to interfere with your main lighting, though, destroying its 'natural light' basis of causing only one set of shadows. In the studio a second lamp might, for example, separately illuminate the background behind a portrait or still life. This allows you to separate the subject from the background by making it lighter, or graduated in tone, or even colored (by filtering the light source). Alternatively, when working outdoors a well-positioned reflector can add much needed light into dark shadow areas of the portrait (see Figures 23.1 and 23.2).

Figure 23.1 Adding another light to the set-up to illuminate the background provides separation between the dark hair of the model and what would be an equally dark background if left unlit.

The two main light qualities are:

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