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Sharing experience, advice, and photos to all with the shutterbug.

An Introduction to lighting: Source sizes

Studio lighting or lighting you control can be a beast. Some of you may already know this visually, but are unaware of the technical way of things. So this will serve as a basic introduction to the qualities of light. Todays topic: Light Source sizes.

Small

A small light source, such as a single light bulb or a high lamp post will give you very harsh and contrasty shadows. This may sound familiar to some, and they may be thinking of the noon sun. The sun is billions of miles across, so how could it be a small source?? The answer is because it’s a million miles away. You can setup any light source at a great distance to give it a “Small” light source effect.

A photo lit with a single light bulb.

A photo lit with a single light bulb.

Notice the sharp shadow that her nose makes, and how the shadow is very distinct and has hard lines.

Medium

If you are using a single light bulb, you can simply move your light source closer to your model, effectively increasing it’s size and softening the shadows… but I wouldn’t recommend this. You would have to have a lightbulb only about two to three feet away from your model, and it might make them hot or uncomfortable. If you are using a clamp lamp, the kind you can purchase at a hardware store, you can simply put the reflector dish on it, which increases it’s size.

A photo lit with a medium size light source.

A photo lit with a medium size light source.

Notice that the shadows on her nose and arms get softer at the edges. It’s very important to not simply write off what I said about moving your light source. While moving your single bulb two feet from your model is inappropriate in this situation, the distance of your light source to your subject is *ALWAYS* the key, and should be first in your checklist when you are trouble shooting.

Large

A large light source will give you shadows that are very soft on all the edges, and barely noticeable all together. A large source can be a small light source that is very far away, or a strobe with a soft box attached or a clamp lamp reflecting light off of a large flat surface.

A photo lit with bounced light from a large flat surface.

A photo lit with bounced light from a large flat surface.

If you are reflecting light, your light source will effectively take on the size of the surface you are reflecting it from, which will give you soft gorgeous light complete with soft shadows.

Painting

Something that’s a lot of fun to do is to “Paint” with a light source. Turn off your lights, set your camera to a long exposure (at least 10 seconds) and “Paint” your subject with a flashlight or other source.

A photo lit with a Cell Phone

A photo lit with a Cell Phone

Doing this will not only give you a cool looking photograph, but it actually gives you complete control over your light and shadows. While it is difficult to master, you can sculpt some very interesting light using this technique.

In closing

The important things to remember are this: A small or far away light source will give you sharp shadows and brilliant highlights. A large light source will give you soft, soft, soft everything. A medium size source is in between. Distance from your light source to your subject is always a solution. Keep your models happy.

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One response

  1. Pingback: Photo-Shoot: Phantom of the Opera Circus « Some Photographer

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