Light Qualities

Previously we learned a bit about photography lighting and light qualities that have to be considered when you are planning your creative vision. Some of the questions to consider include; it hard light? Is it soft light? Does the light give off a white or yellow tone?

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Hard LightThis is a sample of how hard light can present on a subject. Notice how the distinction between light and shadow is very obvious. The lighter areas between the nose and lips, and on the chin are a stark contrast to the shadow cast by the nose running over onto the cheek.

Controlling hard light to achieve the desired effect is something that you should practice. When you can work with hard light confidently you can create some very appealing effects and draw on viewer emotion to get your audience to connect with your work in a way that they might otherwise not be able to.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightThis is a sample of how soft light can appear on a subject. Notice how there are no strong distinctions between light and shadow, even the shadow cast between the right cheek and jawline under the layers of hair are quite subtle.

Look at how the balance of light and shadow moves down the neck, gently emphasizing the shape of the neck, rather than being bold and obvious, which would draw the viewers attention away from the eyes. Again, controlling the light to communicate what it is that you want to share with your audience is an art that needs to be mastered in the initial shoot; and not so much in post-production.

We’ve defined and discussed the key light in posts here, which is the main, or most powerful light, but we also need to consider the source of the light, the intensity, direction, and color. We’ve learned that shadow defines form. With no shadows, your subject will appear flat and two dimensional.  So to make our photos more realistic and more 3D, we need to give a lot of attention to the shadows.

Notice how the shadows make this photo of a mannequin look three dimensional as a result of the photography lighting? And, here is a sample of a photo with fewer shadows. Notice how it makes this real person looks more two dimensional (or flatter) than the mannequin photo?

Comparatively this photo of the young girl also looks faded and washed out when compared to the mannequin. There are so many things wrong with this photo, and through your Dark Photography journey, you will learn how to avoid taking photos that do not convey the message that you want.

We’ve also learned to study shadows. They are more important than most beginners to photography realize. In fact, in portrait photography, all six of the most popular lighting setups are named for the shadows they create! Broad light, narrow light, split light, loop light, butterfly light and Rembrandt light. Always ask yourself:

  • Are there any shadows?
  • What is their direction?
  • What about the shadow’s depth?

Remember: if the shadow is too dark, we lose all the facial details. If it is too light, we lose our roundness and 3D effect.

We’ve also learned that we can manipulate our shadows with photography lighting by adding in a secondary light called a fill light. The fill light is generally set opposite to the main, or key light, and adjusted so that its intensity is less than that of the key light. In this way, it fills in the shadow areas but doesn’t completely eliminate them. Your on-camera flash can be used as a fill light, so can white reflectors, walls, or even a van!

There are many different photography hacks that can provide you with the different results you are looking for, and many we will teach you that will cost you almost nothing to use compared to the commercial alternative. To get access to these you will need to subscribe to Dark Photography.

A key thing to remember is that a light source doesn’t have to actually generate the light; it can merely reflect light from another source. Are your shadows not dark enough? Try using a black reflector. Yes, that’s right, a black reflector!

We learned about raccoon eyes and several ways to fix them. We did several exercises to help sharpen our “creative eye” and learn to predict the effect of various light and shadows affecting our subject.

Here are a couple samples of raccoon eyes. Can you see why they are called raccoon eyes?

We learned how to take a lot of weight off our subjects by controlling the depth of shadows and the color of their clothing. We learned how to make our subjects look younger by filling in the shadows created by the wrinkles on their skin.

We’ve learned about the causes of the glare in our subject’s spectacles or sunglasses, and several easy ways to remove it. We’ve learned why studio photographers use umbrellas and softboxes in their photography lighting aresenal to soften and diffuse the light in order to control the shadows.

In this review of ambient light, we’ve briefly touched on and covered a lot of ground. It wouldn’t hurt you to go back and re-read about light shaping and snoots, and cookies and gobos. Re-do the photo exercises. Light and shadow is an important area to master.

Moving on – Let’s get more into hard light and how to shape and control it.