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Lighting is Easy Blog

Free resource for learning how to use off-camera flash and studio lighting.

Broad Lighting and Narrow Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, April 16, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Emma the Mannequin at Studio 3

You've heard the saying that the camera adds ten pounds. What if you could take off ten pounds by just changing your lighting?

Broad Lighting and Narrow Lighting, also known as Wide Lighting and Short Lighting is a technique you can use to control how wide the subject looks to the viewer. In the example above, both photographs are of the same subject, but one appears considerably narrower than the other even though both are the same size. It's an optical illusion and it's easy to take advantage of.

Here's how it works:

It's all about which side of the subject the light is coming from, specifically which side of the nose is lit. If the side of the nose that is closer to the camera is lit, the subject appears wider. If the side of the nose closest to the camera is in shadow, the subject appears narrower. Another way of describing it would be if the light side of the nose faces that camera, the subject appears wider. If the light side of the nose faces away from the camera, the subject appears narrower.

It's easy.

One Light Portrait

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Ninell Taveras

This image was photographed in my 1 Light, 1 Reflector 15 Looks workshop last month in Oldsmar Florida and proves you can create a classic portrait with just one light and a reflector. This uses the "loop" style of lighting where the shadow cast under the nose creates a small loop shape (there's an article all about this style on this blog). The main light was a medium sized soft-box camera left and a large soft gold reflector on the right to provide fill. To lighten and soften the shadows, the reflector was placed very close to the model, just outside the frame. Since the subject was only about three feet from the background, enough light spilled off from the soft box to light the background a little bit. You can control how light or dark the background is by moving the subject closer or farther away, just watch out for shadows.

Shadow control

The reflector is what controls the contrast of the shadows in this example. To make the shadows lighter, move the reflector closer to the subject. To make the shadows darker, move the reflect farther away form the subject. Just that easy!

Here's the setup:

Medium soft-box on the left, large soft gold reflector on the right. 

The specs:

20mm lens, f-6.3 at 1/125 second. The light was a Norman studio strobe set at 200 watt-seconds. The soft box is a medium sized Photoflex and the reflector is a 42" Photoflex soft gold reflector.

PS: I'm doing a 1 Light 1 Reflector 15 Looks workshop in St. Petersburg Florida April 21st , 2012. Click here for information and to sign up.

The Posing App I wish I had made

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, March 30, 2012

I'm always a little bit skeptical about photo apps for my iPhone, but this is one I can recommend. The app is simple with poses broken down into seven categories; children, couples, portraits, women, men, groups and weddings. The think I like the best about this app is that it has drawings instead of photographs which show the poses more clearly in my opinion. 

So, check it out, at $1.99 you can't go wrong. It's called Posing App and you can get it through the App Store.

Update: On their site, they say they are working on versions for other phones and have a sign-up to be notified when it's ready. http://posingapp.com/

Fixing discolored skin with Photoshop

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, March 16, 2012

Here's an easy way to correct any kind of skin discoloration using Photoshop.

Stopping motion and showing motion at the same time

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Subject: Abby from Hula Monsters.

Here's an example of using a slow shutter speed to show motion and control the level of ambient light along with using a flash to stop motion. First, here's the setup: This image was photographed at an event with very little ambient light. The hula-hoop has lights in it. I held the flash in my left hand and the camera in my right hand to get the flash off the camera for a better angle of light.

The specs:

1/10 second
1600 ISO

The process:

First I chose an aperture of f-5.6. I started with f-5.6 because it's a fairly large aperture setting, but still gives me a couple f-stops larger if I need it. Next, I experimented with shutter speeds until I got the background the way I wanted it to look. Not looking at the subject yet, just the background. I also knew from experience that such a slow shutter speed would cause a nice motion blur on the hula-hoop with lights in it. The next steps are to light the subject: I set the flash to one-quarter power and took a shot just to see what it would look like. In this case it was too light. To put less light to the subject I had two choices; decrease the power of the flash or use a smaller f-stop. Since changing the f-stop was easier, I settled on f-9 for the perfect exposure. Remember, the shutter speed controls the ambient light and the f-stop or power setting on the flash control the exposure of the subject.

Why this worked

Here's a breakdown of what caused this image to look like this:
The high ISO setting was necessary because it was really dark in the place
The slow shutter speed allowed the background to show just a little bit
The slow shutter speed also allowed a blur on the hula-hoop
The flash was entirely responsible for lighting the subject
Since the flash duration is so short, and it's the only thing exposing the subject, it stops the motion of the subject. The ambient light wasn't enough to show the subject at all.
So, why the blur on the hula hoop? The hula-hoop was lit a lot more than the background, but a lot less than the subject so it registered as a blur to the sensor in the camera. This was mostly good luck.
Good luck + skill = good results
The key to it all
Practice and experimentation is the only easy way to really understand how your equipment works. Go and have fun. Experiment! No one needs to see your experimental shots, but doing them is the only way to get good results when you want to.

Split Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, February 06, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: EJ

Split lighting is the most dramatic of the basic lighting styles and requires just one light. The hallmark of this style is that the subject is lit one one side, leaving the other side in shadow. The setup is simple, position the light to one side and if you like, use a reflector to add just a small amount of fill to the shadow side. It's a good idea to use some kind of modifier to direct the light like a grid or snoot so the background can stay dark. A regular parabolic reflector on the light can work too, but it will usually spill too much light onto the background making the photograph much less dramatic.

Here's the setup:


Getting a perfect exposure with split lighting can be challenging without a light meter. If you have an incident light meter, just point the dome toward the camera, not the light, and take your reading. If you're using your camera's histogram to evaluate the exposure, just be sure you're not blowing out the highlights, which is easy to do with this style of lighting.

Here's an example of a typical histogram for this style of lighting:

Notice that there is a lot of information on the shadow end of the histogram. That's because there's a lot of dark and very little mid-tones and highlights. 

This simple lighting setup can be easily done with a flash, strobe, bulb or window. Give it a try, it's easy!

Portrait of a Belly Dancer

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Omaris.

For this portrait, it was important to show the texture of the costume and make the drape and subject look very three-dimensional. Flat lighting with large soft-boxes would flatten the appearance of the image. Keep in mind that the angle of incidence, or the the angle that the light strikes the subject controls how much the texture and form of the subject are defined. If the light is straight toward the subject relative to the camera, the texture and form will be flattened and texture will be diminished. If the light is from the side, texture and form will be emphasized. You can control how much the texture and form are shown by the angle of the light anywhere between straight-on and side-lit.

For this image, a simple 12" parabolic reflector (bowl) was used as a key light. The key light was set at 45° camera right, and about 45° above eye level of the subject. That's the standard starting position for Rembrandt-style lighting and a good way to show texture and form without looking overly dramatic. To open up the shadows on the left side of the subject, a large soft-gold reflector was placed close to the subject, just outside the frame. The distance of the reflector to the subject controls the tone of the shadows. The shaft of light on the background was added by a snoot set to the right of the background at a shallow angle.

Here's the set-up:

It's easy.

Why you don’t need more equipment

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 23, 2011

We all love equipment, especially me. I frequently find myself thinking “if I had this I could do that”. When I speak with people about photography, students and colleagues alike, conversation quickly turns to equipment. We all love it and I see it hurting some talented people.

It’s a paradox. The best investment you can make is in your own business, but like everything else, excess is dangerous.

The new math

Vosburgh math. That’s what my accountant calls it. I can justify any purchase. You name it and I can prove that I can’t afford not to get it. I can convince myself very well. Need or want? I hate that question. For me some things that make “want” look a lot like “need” are pride, trying to be like someone else, and thinking that something besides myself is holding me back. Sometimes it’s hard to admit these things, but I have feeling I’m not alone on this.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Dave Ramsey: “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like”.

When I was new to the business, I noticed that the old-timers didn’t use much equipment. I reasoned it was that they were old and didn’t have the energy to set up a lot of stuff. Wrong. They didn’t need it and I’ve found that as I get older and better at my craft, I use a lot less equipment than I used to. Those old guys were working smart. Study the masters whose work you admire and see what kind of equipment they had at their disposal. That will make you stop and think. And just for the record I still have plenty of energy to set things up.

Recently, I had a retired photographer whom I admire greatly visit my class. I had the oldest, lamest light kit I own that night and he was amazed at the equipment. “You mean you can adjust these lights by three stops?! Wow!” He told me about the light kit he used when he was working, and I remembered being just as amazed at a friend’s light recently that adjusts in tenth of a stop increments and has a rang of umpteen stops. It’s all relative. 

The money sucking, endless treadmill of death

Exaggeration? Yes, but not by much. Picture this; if you get that lens, you’ll be able to do work like that famous person you like and you’ll really advance your career. If you also have that body, you’ll have the kind of resolution the big clients probably want, and you’ll really advance your career. Now your lights are too slow… It goes on and on and on.

Equipment purchasing truths:

1: If I can’t pay cash, I can’t afford it.

2: If I can’t afford it and actually need it, I can rent or borrow it.

3: If the equipment to do a job costs more than the job pays, I can’t do that job and should refer it to a colleague.

4: Debt is almost never an acceptable option.

5: Clients don’t care what equipment I use.

6: My colleagues don’t care what equipment I use.

7: I’ve done some of my best work without that new thing that I want.

Do I always abide by these truths? Of course not! But the more I do the better off I am.

Share your thoughts in the comments :)

Help-Portrait a big success!

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, December 15, 2011

One flash, One Small Umbrella

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: JoAnn Jensen

You can get good results with just one flash. In this example, the only light was a single flash and a small shoot-through umbrella. The white walls act as big reflectors to soften the light. The disadvantages to using small flashes are power and recycle time. The advantage is that it's a LOT less money. For this image, the stairway was very dimly lit and the flash was set to half power which allowed an aperture of f-8 at 200 ISO. Not bad. 

Here's the setup:

Equipment: Canon 550EX flash, 24" shoot-hrough umbrella, stand, radio trigger.