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PHOTOGRAPHIC LIGHTING

In this discussion of lighting, the basic lighting techniques used by photographers are presented. Lighting used primarily with a certain segment of photography, such as motion picture, TV, portrait, and studio, are discussed in the chapters relevant to that particular subject.

OUTDOOR LIGHTING

As a photographer, you work with light to produce quality pictures. The color, direction, quantity, and quality of the light you use determines how your subjects appear. In the studio, with artificial light sources, you can precisely control these four effects; however, most of the pictures you make are taken outdoors. Daylight and sunlight are not a constant source, because they change hourly and with the weather, season, location, and latitude. This changing daylight can alter the apparent shapes, colors, tones, and forms of a scene. The color of sunlight changes most rapidly at the extreme ends of the day. Strong color changes also occur during storms, haze, or mist and on blue wintery days. The direction of light changes as the sun moves across the sky. The shape and direction of shadows are altered, and the different directions of sunlight greatly affect the appearance of a scene.

The quality of sunlight depends on its strength and direction. Strong, direct sunlight is "hard" because it produces dark, well-defined shadows and brilliant highlights, with strong modeling of form. Sunlight is hardest on clear summer days at noon. Strong sunlight makes strong colors more brilliant, but weak colors pale. Sunlight is diffused by haze, mist, and pollution in the air. This diffused or reflected light is softer; it produces weak, soft shadows and dull highlights. Directionless, diffused sunlight is often called "flat" lighting because it produces fine detail but subdues or flattens form. Weak, directionless sunlight provides vibrant, well-saturated colors.

Frontlighting

The old adage about keeping the sun at your back is a good place to continue our discussion of outdoor lighting. The type of lighting created when the sun is in back of the photographer is called frontlighting. This over-the-shoulder lighting was probably the first photographic advice you ever received. This may seem to be a universal recipe for good photography. But it is not. The case against over-the-shoulder lighting is it produces a flattened effect, doing nothing to bring out detail or provide an impression of depth. The human eye sees in three dimensions and can compensate for poor lighting. A photograph is only two-dimensional; therefore, to give an impression of form, depth, and texture to the subject, you should ideally have the light come from the side or at least at an angle.

Side Lighting

As you gain experience with various types of outdoor lighting, you discover that interesting effects can be achieved by changing the angle of the light falling on your subject. As you turn your subject, change the camera viewpoint, or wait for the sun to move, the light falls more on one side, and more shadows are cast on the opposite side of the subject. For pictures in which rendering texture is important, side lighting is ideal.

Look at a brick wall, first in direct front sunlight and then in side lighting. Direct, front sunlight shows the pattern of the bricks and mortar in a flat, uninformative way, but side lighting creates shadows in every little crevice (fig. 5-24). The effect increases as the light is more parallel with the wall until long shadows fall from the smallest irregularity in the brickwork This can give an almost 3-D effect to a photograph.

fig0524.gif (52939 bytes)

Side lighting is particularly important with black-and- white photography that relies on gray tones, rather than color, to record the subject. Shadows caused by side lighting reveal details that can create striking pictures from ordinary objects that are otherwise hardly worth photographing in black and white. Anything that has a noticeable texture-like the ripples of sand on a beach, for example-gains impact when lit from the side. Landscapes, buildings, people, all look better when sidelighted.

This applies to color photography as well. Color gives the viewer extra information about the subject that may make up for a lack of texture in frontlighting, but often the result is much better when lit from the side.

Pictures made with side lighting usually have harsh shadows and are contrasty. To lighten the shadows and reduce the contrast, you may want to use some type of reflector to direct additional skylight into the shadow areas or use fill-in flash, whichever is more convenient.

Backlighting

When the sun is in front of the photographer, coming directly at the camera, you have what is referred to as backlighting; that is, the subject is backlit. This type of lighting can be very effective for pictures of people outdoors in bright sunlight. In bright sunlight, when subjects are front-lighted or even sidelighted, they may be uncomfortable and squint their eyes. Backlighting helps to eliminate this problem. Backlighting may also require the use of a reflector or fill-in flash to brighten up the dark shadows and improve subject detail. Backlighting is also used to produce a silhouette effect.

When you use backlighting, avoid having the sun rays fall directly on the lens (except for special effects). A lens hood or some other means of shading the lens should be used to prevent lens flare.

EXISTING LIGHT

Existing light photography, sometimes called available or natural light photography, is the making of pictures by the light that happens to be on the scene. This includes light from table, floor, and ceiling lights, neon signs, windows, skylights, candles, fireplaces, auto mobile headlights, and any other type of light that provides the natural lighting of a scene-except daylight outdoors. (Moonlight is considered existing light.) Existing light then is that type of light found in the home, in the office, in the hangar bay, in the chapel, in the club, in the sports arenas, and so on. Outdoor scenes at twilight or after dark are also existing light situations.

Photography by existing light produces pictures that look natural. Even the most skillfully lighted flash picture may look artificial when compared to a good existing light photograph. With existing light photography, the photographer has an opportunity to make dramatic, creative pictures. Existing light allows the photographer greater freedom of movement because extra lighting equipment is not required. Subject distance, when not using flash, has no effect on exposure; therefore, you can easily photograph distant subjects that could not otherwise be photographed using flash or some other means of auxiliary lighting. With existing light, you can make pictures that could not be taken with other types of lighting; for example, flash may not be appropriate during a change of command ceremony or chapel service. Not only can the flash disturb the proceedings, but it may not carry far enough to light the subject adequately.

For existing light pictures, your camera should be equipped with a fast lens-at least f/2.8, but preferably about f/1.4. The camera shutter should have a B or T setting, and for exposures longer than about 1/60 second, you need a tripod or other means of supporting the camera.

Because the level of illumination for many existing light scenes is quite low, you may want to consider using a high-speed film. When making pictures with plenty of existing light or when you particularly want long exposures for special effect, you can use a slower film; however, the advantages of high-speed film are as follows:

  • Allows you to get adequate exposure for hand-held shots.
  • Allows you to use faster shutter speeds to reduce camera and image motion.
  • Permits the use of longer focal-length lenses when the camera is hand-held.
  • Allows the use of smaller f/stops for greater depth of field.

When you are making existing-light color pictures indoors of scenes illuminated by tungsten light, use a tungsten type of film. When the light for your indoor color pictures is daylight from a window or skylight, use a daylight type of color film or use tungsten film with a No. 85B filter. Always use an exposure meter to calculate your indoor existing light exposure. When a bright window is included in the background, take a closeup meter reading of the subject to prevent the meter from being overly influenced by light from the window.

Pictures made indoors by existing daylight are pleasing to the viewer, because of the soft diffused light and the squint-free expression of your subjects. Open all the window drapes in the room to get the highest level of illumination possible. Pose your subject to allow diffused daylight to fall on the front or side of their face.Try not to pose your subject in a position where too much of the facial features are in shadow, unless you are trying for a special effect, such as a silhouette. When you photograph your subject in direct nondiffused sunlight coming through a window, you have more light to work with, but the light is contrasty and your subject has a tendency to squint.

Indoor existing light, artificial or otherwise, may be quite contrasty; for example, when your subjects are close to the source of light and well-illuminated, while other areas of the scene are comparatively dark. By turning on all the lights in the room, you can make the illumination more even and provide additional light for exposure and at the same time reduce the scene contrast. The contrast created by some artificial lighting can also be reduced in an average size room by bouncing auxiliary light off the ceiling or by using reflectors. Adding auxiliary bounce lighting or reflectors means you are not making true existing light pictures, but this extra light helps to reduce contrast without spoiling the natural appearance of the scene.

Fluorescent Lighting

Indoor scenes illuminated by fluorescent lights usually appear pleasing and natural in real life; however, color pictures of these same scenes often have an overall color cast that makes them appear unnatural. Fluorescent light emits blue and green light primarily and is deficient in red light. Most color pictures made without a filter under fluorescent light are also deficient in red and have an overall greenish appearance. Used correctly, fluorescent light has some advantages over other types of available light. A room illuminated by fluorescent lamps is usually brighter and more evenly lighted than a room illuminated by tungsten lamps. This higher level of light makes it easier to get enough exposure for your existing light photography and helps record detail that may have been lost in the shadow areas with other types of existing light. When photographing people, however, fluorescent lighting often causes dark shadows under the subject's eyes. These shadows cause the eyes to appear dark and sunk in.

For making color pictures under fluorescent lighting, a negative color film with the appropriate filter is most often your best bet. Color negative film has a wide exposure latitude that permits, to some extent, a variation in exposure without detracting from the quality of the finished print. The greenish effect caused by fluorescent lighting can be partially corrected when the color negatives are printed..

For color slides with fluorescent light, a daylight type of film with the appropriate filter is best. Tungsten film usually produces slides with too much blue or green when made with fluorescent light.

As discussed in chapter 3, the use of filters for color photography helps to overcome the deficiency of red light in fluorescent lamps. Always consult the Photo-Lab Index for the best film filter combinations to use.

Pictures Outdoors at Night

Outdoor night scenes usually include large areas of darkness broken by smaller areas of light from buildings, signs, and streetlights. Pictures of outdoor scenes are quite easy to make because good results are obtainable over a wide range of exposures. Using short exposures emphasizes well-lit areas by preserving the highlight detail, while the shadow areas are dark because of underexposure. Long exposures help retain the detail of the dark areas, while highlight detail is lost because of overexposure.

Large, dark areas in night scenes make it difficult to make accurate exposure meter readings from your camera position. The best meter reading results are obtained when you take closeup readings of important scene areas.

Color outdoor pictures at night can be made on either daylight or tungsten-type films. Pictures made on daylight film have a warm, yellow-red appearance. Those made on tungsten film have a colder more natural look; however, both films provide pleasing results, so it is a matter of personal preference which you use. A good time to make outdoor night color pictures is just before it gets completely dark. At this time, some rich blue (or even orange) is in the sky. This deep color at dusk gives a dramatic background to your pictures. Neon signs, streetlights, and building lights make bright subjects for your pictures. At night, right after it stops raining and everything is still wet, is another good time to make outdoor pictures. The lights in the scene produce many colorful reflections on the wet pavement, adding interest to what may otherwise be a lifeless, dull picture.

Many buildings look rather ordinary in daylight, but at night, they are often interestingly lighted. Try photographing the hangar at night, with the lights on and the hangar doors open. Also, your ship at night, especially a rainy night may make a very striking picture.

Outdoor events that take place at night in a sports stadium are usually well-lighted and make excellent subjects for existing light pictures. Most sports stadiums (as well as streets) are illuminated by mercury-vapor lamps that look blue-green in color when compared to tungsten lamps. Your best color pictures made under mercury-vapor lighting will be shot on daylight color film, although they will appear bluish green because the lights are deficient in red.

  • Tips for existing light photography are as follows:
  • Carry a flashlight so you can see to make camera settings.
  • If you do not have an exposure meter or cannot get a good reading, bracket your exposure.
  • Focus carefully; depth of field is shallow at the wide apertures required for existing light photography.
  • When you have a scene illuminated by a combination of light sources, use the type of color film recommended for the predominant light source.
  • For pictures of fireworks, support your camera on a tripod, focus at infinity, and aim the camera toward the sky area where the display will take place. Open the shutter for several bursts.
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