Lighting 102 - Position | Review

This week we are wrapping up control number one, lighting position. Other than getting the exposure correct, this is the most basic control. But it is also the foundation for just about any light that you will design.

As you spend more time observing and creating various lighting angles, you'll find that this process will begin to get intuitive. You'll know exactly where to put your light(s) based on the look you have preconceived.

And you'll be able to look at an existing photo and understand where the various light sources are coming from. Even if you can't see them.

A good understanding of light-to-subject distance as a control will allow you to more effectively light on multiple planes. This will be especially important when you are creating a photo with two or more sources, whether it is multiple strobes or a combination of strobe foreground and ambient background.

In our next control, apparent light size, we'll learn how the light-to-subject distance will affect not only the quantity but the quality of the light. So being comfy with the distance/intensity thing will make the apparent light size control more intuitive.

As an analogy, being comfy with algebra really helps when you get to calculus. Put differently, if you are not really comfy with algebra, you are a train wreck waiting to happen when you get to calculus.

At Least Remember This

The important takeaways for Control #1:

• The difference between light position and camera position reveal the three-dimensional shape of the subject.

• You can visualize what portion of your subject will be lit by viewing it from the flash's position.

• Lights are extremely powerful when placed close to the subject.

• Lights can illuminate broad subjects more evenly when placed far from the subject, at the expense of power.

• Light-to-subject distance vs. light-to-background distance can be used as a lighting control.

• Varying these ratios can alter a light's useful range. This can be thought of as lighting depth of field.

• This, in turn, can allow a photographer complete control over a background's relative brightness. This is especially important when you are trying to light on two separate planes.

Nice, quiet, easy week. There is no shooting exercise this time. But going forward, your exercise is a continuous one: Try to be more aware of lighting position in your daily life.

Note the way that natural light sculpts the objects around you. Pay special attention to the light that you really like. You'll probably find that it is very different than the light that we tend to create when you get a flash and stick it onto a light stand.

At first, we tend to think of lighting in terms of softened, and placed at a 45-degree angle to the subject. Nice and safe. But a little boring, if you ask me.

Environmentally speaking, I am more likely to react to hard light. Or back light. Or rim light. Or partially obscured light. Or light transmitted through a translucent background. Light that is more unexpected and edgy.

So while the standard, go-to stuff can always be done, I am always looking for an opportunity to create the kind of light that wows me when I see it in real life. And to be honest, it probably makes sense to learn the standard stuff first anyway. It's a good foundation. And depending on what you are shooting, it can really pay the bills.

But do not limit yourself to that. Heck, you're driving, right? Don't always go for the path of least (creative) resistance. Take the curvy, secondary roads. Or go off-road altogether.

This section has been about light quantity and the foundation for light quality. Next week, we'll be hitting apparent light size. And there's a whole lot more going on there than meets the eye.

Controls one and two comprise so many different possibilities that you could spend a career exploring these two alone. (Don't worry, We won't.)

We'll do a couple of exercises on apparent light size and how your subject's tonal range and surface quality affect how it reacts to various size light sources. Then we'll be doing our first full assignments.

Related links:

Exercise 1.1, Lighting | Angle: Lesson | Discussion | Photos
Exercise 1.2, Lighting | Distance: Lesson | Discussion | Photos

NEXT: Lighting 102: Apparent Light Size


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Anonymous Mauronic said...

Darn - I was looking forward to a shooting assignment as well. I guess I will come up with something to do on my own.

July 02, 2007 3:37 PM  
Blogger David said...


We'll have those after number two. Just angle and distance doesn't really give you a lot to work with. We'll have much more to work with after Apparent Light Size.

July 02, 2007 3:53 PM  
Blogger David said...

p.s. On the assignments, we are going to be putting into practice specific techniques that we have learned to date. As we get further, the effect will be cumulative, too.


July 02, 2007 3:54 PM  
Blogger abedrous said...

I have been a little behind as it's just been a busy summer for me. So I never got around to doing either of the first assignments, but I did study other people's examples.

July 02, 2007 5:51 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Hi David,

I've come to rely on a fairly intuitive distance-independent method for determining my lighting "depth of field".

Let's say that the subject is correctly exposed. We know that light intensity decreases with the square of the distance from the flash, so at 1.414 (i.e. sqrt(2)) times the distance, the light intensity should halve, and at 0.707 (i.e. 1/sqrt(2)) times the distance the light intensity should double.

This means that a quick glance at the line between my light-source and subject should tell me that reducing the distance by 30% should increase the light intensity by 1-stop, while increasing the distance by 40% should decrease it by 1-stop, and that's what I use to gauge my current intensity depth-of-field.

July 02, 2007 7:47 PM  
Blogger Marshall said...

abedrous - you're not alone, but there's still time. Just start 'em and I'm sure it'll be worth it to go through the whole routine.

July 02, 2007 10:08 PM  
Anonymous Mauronic said...

Cool - looking forward to it!

July 02, 2007 10:54 PM  
Anonymous TiMpWeB said...

I've used the 30/40 rule myself. it works well in keeping your exposure on target as you move things around.

@David, Thanks for all this ... this is a very cool thing you've got going here.

...and a fellow balimoron and climber, to boot! There is hope for us afterall.

July 03, 2007 11:40 AM  
Blogger David Allen said...

I too was looking forward to another nugget of do and learn from the master of the strobology.
As a teaching and learning thing I also appreciate that doing a review is good practice to help get the information in to the skulls of student that need the extra push to cram in the gems. (like most of us)

What is simple and easy to one person is rocket science to another, I used to be a teacher and I remember the frustration of concepts not being learned and the nice moments of seeing the light bulb suddenly coming alight.

Have to say you are doing a great job with this keep up the excellent work.

July 03, 2007 2:15 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

It took me till this morning on the July 4th holiday to finally bang out an Inkscape diagram and a blog post about the concepts of this assignment, but it's finally done.

I've got a couple of handy calculations there which I've found useful.

July 04, 2007 6:58 PM  
Blogger Photography Luna said...

Thanks for all this man, your lessons are of invaluable.. euhm.. value...
Really, I've already learned a lot from your blog, and continue to do so!
Some of my work?

July 05, 2007 9:18 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

Great information on your site. I recently got back into shooting and all the info is helpful

July 05, 2007 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...


Coming to this a bit late, I am wondering whether the exercises are still available? The links at the bottom of this article point do a nonexisting blog...

April 07, 2008 7:25 AM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks for the heads-up. I dunno why those links went bad, but I fixed them.


April 07, 2008 10:02 AM  

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