Making Your Light Bigger

Making Your Light Bigger

If you want to make your photography light source larger, but don’t want to diffuse it with a softbox or scrim, you could bounce it off a wall, a reflector or fire it into an umbrella. Give this a try and see how the light source has gotten larger. I appreciate that most of you probably don’t have studio lights, and may never get them, but it is still important to know how to modify and shape light.

With digital photography, it is pretty easy to control the color casts on your final photo, so those work lights you can buy at any home repair type store work very well.

These will all work as beginner replacements for studio lights. They will need some post-processing to remove color casts, but it’s a low-cost way to get started. Caution is needed though, these are hot lights! Be careful about any sort of modification devices catching fire. There usually isn’t a problem, but never leave them unattended while they are turned on.

If you are after some inexpensive photography hacks subscribe to Dark Photography. I’ll show you how to make a soft lighting setup that you can use in your home to create some pretty stunning photos.

Flags, Dots, and Fingers

You will soon be able to manipulate your photography light source and create photos with your homemade $10 lights that will rival the best studio portraits. And you will be able to use them as hard or soft lights. Another way to shape light is by using flags, dots or fingers.

Flags are like taking one of the flaps in a barn door and just using that to block the light. They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Generally, larger ones are called flags, if the flag is smaller and narrower in shape – it’s generally called a finger. If it is round, we call it a dot. In reality, they are all different sizes and shapes of the same thing; a way to block light from hitting some part of, or your entire subject.

Above are samples of a finger and a dot, a flag is the same thing, just larger. We don’t usually think of permanent, stationary objects as flags, but a tree trunk or an overhanging leaf-covered branch that blocks light from hitting your model would be the same concept.

What if we don’t want to completely block the light, but instead want to cast a specific shadow on our scene?

Imagine taking one of the above flags and cutting out a pattern. For example, cut away all but a big ‘T’ and when the light shines through it, it will cast a shadow that resembles the shadow cast by the panes in a window frame. Or you could cut out a pattern of leaves and have that pattern striking your backdrop to add to the complexity of your photography light source.

Hard Light

Hard Light

What is hard light?

We define a hard light as one that is small in relation to the subject, generally un-diffused and it creates hard-edged, dark shadows. What we are looking at here with hard light is the light quality and finding a suitable balance that provides the light quality we are after.

Our key light is the light that we are using as our main light source. It is the brightest light hitting your subject. Now let’s spend a minute or two discussing the light quality being emitted by our key light.

Is it “hard” light? Or is it “soft” light?

The sun is a hard light. It is unfiltered and un-diffused (unless it’s a cloudy day). Plus, it’s relatively intense and small in relation to our subject.

When a hard light hits a subject, intense highlights and sharp black shadows are created.  The gradation, or fall-off, of light from highlight to shadow, is sharp and very abrupt.

When you see an actor on stage being lit by a spotlight, it is emulating the sun in that it is a very hard, directional light. When you think of hard light, think of it like a spotlight hitting your subject.

This creates strong modeling of shapes and dramatically emphasizes outlines and forms. It is also useful to create mood. Imagine an athlete after a big game where he or she lost. Now imagine him, or her, sitting in the locker room. They are dejected – beaten. In your imaginary image was the locker room brightly lit? Or was it dark and brooding? You can convey a great deal of emotion with your lighting choices.

Classic Hard Light Use Cases

hard lightHow about those old film noir movies where they show a “has been – but never really was” boxer – it’s after the fight and they are in the locker room tending to their injuries. The scene almost always shows them alone or with their one and only supporter.

Imagine that scene. You can see every drop of sweat, the ragged edges of the cut above the grossly swollen eye. It’s all in stark relief. The room is dark or very dimly lit. It’s all done by using a hard light source and few if any fill lights. They are attempting to show you the fighter’s “bottom of the barrel” type existence. In fact, the whole film noir industry was built on hard light and shadows.

hard light

By the way, there are BIG BUCKS available to photographers who can duplicate the film noir (hard light) look in portraits!

This involves hairstyle and make-up too. Not just the light and shadows. The portrait of Gene Tierney, the 1940’s Hollywood Starlet, shows a butterfly lighting pattern.

Can you see why it is called that? Butterfly lighting is called butterfly lighting as a result of the shadow cast under the nose. Can you see the butterfly-shaped shadow now? You get this by putting the primary light source directly behind, and above the camera.

To make this a little easier to understand, you, as the photographer will be positioned below the light source in order to achieve this pattern. You will have seen this used extensively in glamour shots as it is a great way to create a shadow under the chin and cheeks. A  little sneaky tip, this is a more flattering type of light to use for subjects who have a few more years on the clock as it places less emphasis on wrinkles when compared to side lighting.