Basic Fundamentals of Lighting That Every Beginner Forgets

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lumopro LP-180 and Profoto Speedlite Speedring test with Natalie (6 of 10)ISO 12501-40 sec at f - 4.0

When a photographer is just trying to get into lighting they don’t realize a heck of a lot. It can also be very tough–and that’s why lots of them also say that they’re a natural light photographer. But just like riding a bike without training wheels, it takes some practice. As you continue to experiment with lighting, you’ll get better and better after trying it out and experimenting with what it can do.

Here are some basics to keep in mind.

Metering Mode

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer CES 2014 Panasonic 42.5mm f1.2 first impressions (7 of 9)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 1.2

First off, we can’t tell you how many times we get emails saying stuff like “Why is my subject so dark but the background is very bright?” The answer is in metering. Your camera is usually set to an evaluative metering mode which meters the entire scene. What you should be doing instead is working with spot metering. Spot metering meters a scene based on the focusing point. It works out very well and will help you get the scene that you’re looking for.

A simpler answer is to embrace the idea of backlighting. Also be sure to remember that not every image needs to look like an HDR.

Direction of the Lighting

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lulu Left 4 Dead Witch Westcott Ice Light color re-edit (1 of 8)ISO 64001-30 sec at f - 1.4

In this image, the light is behind the subject and on top. That is how you get the effect of the darkness on her frontal portion while the light wraps around her. Also notice the shadow from the pipe on the right.

Something that you’re going to need to learn is how to tell the direction of the light and to keep that in mind. The reason why this is so important is because even though your eyes see one thing, a camera sensor will see something completely different. This is the theory behind what’s called dynamic range.

Either way, if the light is coming from behind your subject, then there is no frontal lighting on their face. So you’ll need to illuminate that in some way or another.

This can be done by adding light to your subject’s face or using something as simple as a reflector.

Looking Carefully at the Shadows

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Photos of Katie slight retouches (18 of 21)

Another thing that you’ll need to understand beyond taking notice of the lighting direction is how to look carefully at the shadows in your scene. Depending on how you approach the scene, you’ll notice that shadows can either make a subject look great or really horrible. The factors for this vary from shape of their face, how large the light source is, etc. It’s something that can be controlled in many different ways.

What you should know first off is that when a flash is attached to your camera or being fired remotely, the following happens:

– Shutter speed turns into the control for how much ambient lighting is in a scene

– The ISO controls the overall exposure and light sensitivity

– The aperture controls how much light from the flash actually affects the scene. This more or less gets thrown out of the window when you work with TTL lighting since TTL is more or less the equivalent of auto mode in the lighting world. More on this later.

– Flash output is also a factor. If your flash is capable of producing 100 watt seconds of light (which really isn’t that much) then when it is set to half power it will fire out 50 watt seconds.

How does this factor into looking at the shadows? It will help you to emphasize or minimize the shadows as needed in a scene.

Clipping and Flashes

Are you shooting at a really fast shutter speed? Don’t.

For the most part, many cameras have what is called a sync speed where they can only fire with a flash or strobe at a certain shutter speed before what is known as clipping occurs. Clipping is when the scene gets a bit of the shutter curtain in the final image. Many cameras have a flash sync speed of around 1/60th to 1/250th. In order to get beyond this speed, what you’ll need to do is use a flash (often a TTL one) that lets you do what is know was high speed shooting.

If you’re working with a studio strobe or monolight though, you can do what’s called overpowering the sun to get the same look.

How Aperture Controls Flash Exposure

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Round flash review with Chrissy as Lara Croft (20 of 35)

The basics of exposure when working with artificial lighting like a flash is changed as we stated earlier before. Yes, aperture will still affect the depth of field but it also affects how much light from the flash affects the scene. The wider open the aperture, the more light from the flash that will affect the scene. But as you stop down, you’ll start that see that less and less light will affect the scene providing that your flash is staying at a constant output setting.

Then you’ll need to consider things like working with light modifiers. By definition, light modifiers tend to shape but also tend to cut down its power output due to the fact that they’re spreading it around. What that means is that when the lights are all set to the equal power output:

– A direct flash will have the most powerful affect

– A softbox that is 32″ by 42″ will cut it down quite a bit.

– An umbrella that is six feet wide will cut it down even more

Keep this all in mind as you experiment more with lighting.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.