EXPERIMENT WITH CREATIVE LIGHTING
Learn to use natural and flash light to best effect for superior detail and colour
Lighting is the element of the environment that gives a subject shape and depth. In most conditions, the photographer has ambient light to work with and must decide if the addition of extra artificial lighting is necessary, to control shadow density and enhance contrast. In studio environments, the balance of lighting is tipped towards artificial sources, meaning extra precision is required when setting up studio strobes or off-camera speedlights, with a view to yielding a pleasing distribution of highlights and shadows. For creative purposes, we can experiment with the way we use natural and artificial light in tandem, by altering how much each one contributes to the total lighting in the frame, for a variable relative balance.
The first step in any creative lighting workflow is to assess the ambient illumination and choose how we would like this to appear within the final image. Natural light is itself varied, consisting of direct, hard-edged sunlight and diffused window light, so how we choose to use this is the first creative opportunity. Consider diffusion methods, to alter the density and structure of shadow areas. A simple handheld diffuser, or even a shower curtain placed at a window, will spread the light for a more studio-style look that is flattering for portraits, while using undiffused sunlight provides high-contrast landscapes.
Next we can look at adding artificial sources, for more customisable lighting. Introducing off-camera flashes allows more control over light direction, so try multiple speedlight positions to see how this modifies the appearance of your subject. Finally adjust the ratio of each light source – either choose to utilise flash as a fill light, thereby allowing ambient light to dominate, or overpower the latter for greater contrast and drama. By increasing or decreasing the shutter speed, the brightness of the background can be controlled relative to the flash-lit subject, by adjusting how much ambient light reaches the sensor. This allows the photographer to finely control how the two types of light blend.
There are numerous ways in which lighting can be varied: adjusting the overall amount of light influences the image-wide tone and atmosphere; light direction affects how much of the subject is visible; and the apparent intended focal point and colour of light infers temperature, for narrative functions. These parameters can be used to either enhance naturally occurring conditions, or to simulate a lighting characteristic in another setting, for greater control and added interest. With any lighting style it is vital to remember that where light
doesn’t fall is as important as where it does, so consider taking light away as much as you do adding new sources.