First, we wonder what kind of lighting patterns there are.
We go to our local camera store and discover a book that discusses Rembrandt light. Then another guru says that narrow light is the way to go. But for each narrow light application, there’s another time when broad light will do the trick. They talk about split light, backlight, hair light, fill, ambient.
They use terms like main light, key light, fill, diffused, hot, continuous, strobe and so on…
It’s no wonder so many people throw up their hands in frustration. Then they light every subject the same tired old way.
So then, we start to question – why bother?
What difference does it make?
We soon learn that wide faces can be visually narrowed, narrow faces can be visually widened, noses can be shortened, cheekbones can be raised. Not to mention – blemishes can be minimized, wrinkles softened and weight reduced.
Then it finally hits. Lighting is important. We start to realize that being a photographer entails more than buying the latest digital gadget and spending countless hours in Photoshop.
By now we are in information overload. Which way to turn? How many hundreds of dollars do we need to spend – buying all the latest magazines and photo books?
There is an easier way.
It’s true that photo equipment is being improved all the time. Trying to keep up with all the most recent improvements in technology is impossibly difficult – but – peoples faces are pretty much the same now as they were 10 years ago, 50 years, 100.
The best lighting patterns haven’t changed. Rembrandt light is called that because Rembrandt used that lighting pattern! In the early 1600’s!
The point is, to learn the basic lighting patterns, old photo books work just as well as the new ones. You don’t have to spend a fortune at the local camera store, book store or on line. Go to the library. It’s free.
Find a book that shows a lighting pattern you want to learn, check it out and go home.
Now comes the expensive part.
You need some flashlights. I mean the kind you hold in your hand. The kind you keep in the kitchen junk drawer. (Yes, the one that always has dead batteries when you need it.) You will also need a notebook.
Now, for the fun part. Grab one of your kids, boyfriend, girlfriend, next door neighbor, next door neighbor’s kids…somebody! Bribe them. Tell them if they’ll help you learn about lighting, you’ll do a nice portrait of them!
Have them sit on a chair in a darkened room. (Leave your camera in the bag. We don’t need it.) Take out your flashlights and starting with one (add more as needed)- light up their face. Move it in and out, raise it, lower it, go to the sides and so on.
Watch what is happening! Learn how to exaggerate and minimize noses, bumps, acne, wrinkles. Learn where the light needs to be positioned to get the patterns in the book.
What happens when you put some tracing paper over the light? Bounce it off a nearby wall?
Then for each new discovery you make, write it down in your notebook. Use plenty of diagrams.
In a couple hours, you’ll know more about photographic lighting than 75% of all the photographers out there. Plus, you can have a great time!