Get Creative With a Little 'Light S and M'

One of the best things about running a blog on flash technique is that I pretty much live in a vortex of lighting ideas. If something cool is happening, you guys tell me about it. That is how I originally found out about the book, "Light - Science & Magic" last year, when I asked you to send me your favorite photo book titles.

L-S&M was by far the most popular suggestion, and it has been a favorite of Strobist readers ever since. A few of them have even formed a Flickr group dedicated to the principles they learned in the book.

Today marks the official release of their third edition, the bigger budget for which has allowed them to update the book with new photo examples and diagrams. The addition of full color from cover to cover makes the book much more visually accessible for photographers. Kind of an important thing when one is talking about lighting, no?

If there was a knock on the earlier editions, it was that they were somewhat dated. Not anymore.

And the book remains jam-packed with the same teach-you-how-to-think information that has made the previous versions such a go-to resource for lighting photographers.

For Photographers, By Photographers

Authors Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua all are the real deal, working in photography, illustration and design in Northern Virginia. Hunter taught lighting at the college level, and now works in several different forms of media. Steven Biver does killer photo/illustration work for a variety of clients. (His site is really worth a few minutes of your time, BTW.) Paul Fuqua works with Discovery, those guys who do the cool science and nature stuff on TV.

The book is not a gushing career retrospective. It won't tell you how the authors schmoozed ten extra minutes out of Bill Gates on a shoot.

It is not a series of portfolio photos and how they were made. Oddly, as many techniques as it delivers, you cannot even call it a "bag of tricks" type of book. The examples are (for the most part) sparse, visually simple photographs that drive home the techniques and solutions being covered.

Ego and bravado took the week off in favor of raw, honest information dissemination. Amen to that.

What the book does is teach you how to think about light. After 20+ years of doing this, I feel like know my way around a studio. L-S&M is already changing the way I am approaching my lighting.

I have always considered myself somewhat of a fish out of water when it comes to writing (I am a picture guy) so what I want to do is to walk you through the book, chapter-by-chapter, to show you how comprehensive their approach to lighting really is.

A Walk Through the Book

The first two chapters cover the authors' approach to learning and a discussion of the basic qualities of light. While this may seem a tad superfluous to some, it ensures that all of the readers are up to speed before jumping into the pool.

The third chapter, "The Management of Reflection and the Family of Angles," is the foundation for the rest of the book. It all comes back to this. Reflection, both specular and diffuse, is to lighting as arithmetic is to algebra. You really cannot hope to learn the latter without a thorough understanding of the former. But even here I found new ideas that challenged the way I thought about light.

Chapter four deals with subject surface quality as a component of lighting. Often overlooked in the one-size-fits-all approach to teaching lighting techniques, this is a critical determinant of your final look. The light is positioned and sized and sent to the subject. But before it gets to your camera to record an image it can be drastically altered by the subject itself. You will learn not only to anticipate this variable, but to use it as yet another means of control.

Basic physics covered, (and don't let that "P" word put you off) they now move to three-dimensionality and form in chapter five. As with everything else in the book, they lay foundations and then allow you to incorporate what you have just learned into more complex concepts. A casual flip through the book might lead you to judge the illustrations as too simplistic. Don't be fooled. What they are is a distillation of the concepts being presented in a way that allows you to learn them more easily.

From here they move into how to light various surface qualities - metal in chapter six and glass in chapter seven. This may seem needlessly specific to some. But my take is that most of the subjects we shoot are more complex. And knowing how to attack each surface variable leads to a better problem-solving technique on the more complicated shoots.

Chapter eight moves into people, with a head shot as the vehicle to talk about how the various lighting positions affect a portrait. Again, the subject is very basic - a head shot. But this is a subject you just cannot do a lighting book without addressing. And many will find it a good reference.

If anything can be taken for granted in the business of location photography and lighting, it is that nothing can be taken for granted. Chapter nine deals with the "extremes" of lighting challenges. White on white. Black on black. Opaque and translucent background in both of the above combinations. At this point, I would not have been surprised to see a section on black holes.

The final chapter, Traveling Light, will (hopefully) be familiar ground to long-term readers of this site. They cover some basic tips and techniques in a way that will be useful to many of you. But this book is primarily a solid foundation - for many, an all-new foundation - that will teach you how to think about light and enhance your problem-solving skills.

For Thinking Photographers

I have heard earlier versions of this book called a "Lighting Bible." Those are strong words to throw around, and I find the following description more appropriate.

If you are a thinking photographer, "Light - Science & Magic" is a book of revelations about light. And if you are not a thinking photographer, it may very well turn you into one.

(If you have read Light - Science & Magic, and would like to share an opinion, please sound off in the comments section below.)

:: Amazon USA direct link ::
:: Amazon UK direct link ::
:: Amazon Canada direct link ::


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
Have a passport? Join me in Hanoi: X-Peditions Location Workshops