Lighting 102: 4.3 -- Assignment: Cross, Balance and Sculpt

Now that we have played around with restricted light in a blunt-instrument sort of way, it's time to learn to finesse it to go for something a little more subtle.

Just because that beam of light is tight, does not mean it has to be garish. By combining a couple of different lighting controls, you can tweak restricted light to do just about whatever you want.

More after the jump.

As an excellent example of what I am talking about, I offer this moody, full-length portrait by Katherine Gaines, AKA ambienteye, whom you may remember as having taken the cool film noir shot from last week's discussion. Click here to open the shot pictured at left in a new window, bigger for reference.

I'll be a little less formal from here on out and refer to her as Katy. I can do that because I have seen her wake up one morning. Although, to be fair, it was at about 11:45 a.m., and it was over two hours into one of my lighting seminars.

Katy is quite the night owl, and doesn't normally do mornings. So I was quite honored that she even showed up for a Sunday morning session.

Her well-executed photo calls into play at least three different light control techniques: Crosslighting, Balance and Restricted Light. Let's look at them, in order.


Katy's main light in this photo is the late afternoon sun. (This could also be done in the early morning, except for I am pretty sure that someone else would be shooting it.) It is defining the scene, and as such is considered the main light even though it is not coming from camera front.

It's coming from back camera right, about 30 degrees above horizontal. I am pretty sure it is the sun (as opposed to a flash) because of the even quality of the light. That tells me it is pretty far back. You could do this with a strobe, but you'd have to be pretty far away with it (and high to get the angle).

NOTE: If you were going for a sodium vapor street light look, you could gel the flash with a green fluorescent gel and a 1/2 CTO and simulate a puke green sodium vapor streetlight quite nicely, thank you.)

Her flash is pointed fairly close to back at the sun. (Not possible to get an exact crosslight because of he wall.) This creates a zone of 3-D wrap-light which makes for a well-defined subject.

Exposure Balance

No secrets here: Katy has the two light sources balanced pretty close to even, exposure-wise. It is safe, and still can be quite interesting if you are restricting the light.

Remember, each of these controls works individually, but they can be combined with other techniques for great effects.

Restricted Light

This is the control that makes the picture, IMO. (Lighting-wise, anyway -- the color scheme, wardrobe, body attitude, etc., all rock in this photo.)

As for light position, she placed her snooted Nikon SB-600 down lower, at camera left, to just get up under the hat. But the use of a snoot creates a beautiful fall-off to the strobe's light, calling attention to his face but fading out as the light travels down the subject's body.

By the time it gets to his hand, it is there but it is not there. By the time it gets to his feet, it is gone. This shows you how dark the subject would have been on the shadow side without the added light.

This is just a cool technique when you consider the lighting equipment involved: A speedlight and a cardboard tube.

But there is some seeing involved here, too. You have to be able to previsualize what you want and make it happen. Which brings us to this sections's assignment.

Assignment: Cross, Balance and Sculpt

This time around, we'll be aiming a little higher on the subtlety meter than film noir. Your goal will be to take advantage of some directional light, and then to sculpt some restricted light into the scene in such a way as to add interest to your photo.

You do not have to crosslight it, either. For instance, Katy could have shot this guy from against the wall (current camera left) in profile, and filled under his hat with a snooted strobe in front of him as he faced away from the wall.

The point is to be able to learn to go with the interesting ambient that is presented to you, and to selectively improve it through some off-axis fill -- exactly where you want it. Add to this the ability to control the fall-off via grid shape and light position, and you can start to see the possibilities.

Here are the specifics. Tag your assignment as:

crossbalancesculpt (note -- one word)

The assignment is due Thursday, Jan. 31st. You can view the completed exercises of others, here. There is a discussion thread set up for this post here.

NEXT: Discussion: Cross-Balance and Sculpt


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