Light Qualities

Previously we learned a bit about 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 hard light. 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.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightThis is a sample of soft light. Notice how there are no strong distinctions between light and shadow, even the shadow cast between the right cheek and jaw line under the layers of hair are subtle. Look at how the balance of light and shadow moves down the neck, gently emphasising the shape of the neck rather than being bold and obvious, which would draw the viewers attention away from the eyes.

We’ve defined and discussed the key light (the main or most powerful light), but we also need to consider the source, the intensity, direction and colour.

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.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightNotice how the shadows make this photo of a mannequin look 3D?

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightHere is a sample of a photo with fewer shadows. Notice how it looks more 2D (or flatter) than the mannequin photo? Comparatively this photo also looks faded and washed out, 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 realise. 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?

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 learned that we can manipulate our shadows 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 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 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.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightHere are a couple samples of raccoon eyes.

Can you see why they are called raccoon eyes?

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft Light

We learned how to take a lot of weight off our subjects by controlling the depth of shadows and the color of their clothing.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightWe learned how to make our subjects look younger by filling in the shadows created by the wrinkles on their skin.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightWe’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 soft boxes 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.

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