Project 3 – Experimenting with light

The brief for this assignment requires four to six head and shoulders portraits of the same individual, with each image showing a different lighting effect.

P3-A: Single Speedlite fired through white umbrella

P3-A: Single Speedlite fired through white umbrella, 105mm, ISO 100, 1/200@ f8

Using flash is not something I do very often – maybe once a year if that, and so I thought it would be useful to begin this project by experimenting with this less familiar light source.  I made use of http://strobist.blogspot.com/ to refresh and build my knowledge of flash techniques.  This first image was made using the lighting layout in the diagram below, with the light slightly raised above the subject’s head.  The flash was controlled using E-TTL and aperture priority mode at f8 to give sufficient depth of field.

Key light through umbrella

This lighting set up has produced nice highlights in the eyes and the shadow on the right hand side provides some modelling of the shape of the face.  However, the contrast between the two sides is perhaps too great, particularly for a female model, and the are very dark shadow areas within the hair on the right.  With the benefit of hindsight, I would also open up the aperture somewhat in order to prevent the creases on the background showing so clearly.  One aspect of this image that surprised me was that the original raw file was very warmly toned and needed adjusting in Lightroom.  I suspect this may have been due to reflected light ricocheting off coloured walls within the room.

P3-B: Key light fired through umbrella and fill light through diffuser

P3-B: Key light fired through umbrella and fill light through diffuser, 105mm, 1/200 @ f8

For the second shot, I added a fill light, fired through a rather primitive, (and small), soft box.  The fill was manually set to deliver one stop below the key light by using an incident reading on a flash meter.  The fill light was fired using a slave sensor fitted to its hotshoe.  Again both lights were slightly above the subject’s head.

Key + Fill lighting

The difference in lighting quality can clearly be seen in this shot.  There is detail in the hair on the right hand side and, despite their being no background light, the subject stands out more from the background.  The use of two lights is of course visible in the highlight within the eyes.  I note that this image is somewhat cooler in colour temperature than the single light image.  I suspect that the model stood slightly further away from the background and this has made a difference in throwing the background pattern slightly further out of focus.

P3-C: Afternoon daylight from left side

P3-C: Afternoon daylight from left side, 84mm, ISO 640, 1/250 @ f4

This image was made in open shade with quite bright, slightly diffused, sunlight coming from the left.  Despite the brightness of the light to the eye, the high ISO used indicates that it was surprisingly dark in the open shade.  Like P3-A there is a notable difference in brightness between the two sides of the face but thanks to the more diffuse lighting, there is considerable more detail on the right hand side.  The lens was used at its widest aperture to throw the background out of focus.  I should perhaps have been more aware of the lighter green toned grass forming a horizon at the bottom of the image.

P3-D: Daylight from left and large reflector low and to right of subject

P3-D: Daylight from left and large reflector low and to right of subject, 82mm, ISO 640, 1/400 @ f4

This image was made using a 1m circular white reflector held below and to the right of the subject.  This simple device made a huge difference to the quality of the lighting, lifting the shadows and reducing the difference in contrast between the two sides of the face.  The effect is considerably more natural than the fill-in flash used in image P3-E.

P3-E: Fill-in flash

P3-E: Fill-in flash, 85mm, ISO 100, 1/200 @ f4

This image demonstrates some of the clear difference between using a reflector and fill-in flash.  These include:

  • pronounced catchlights in the eyes
  • darkening of the background
  • a more artificial, less natural look.

The second and third of these points were more pronounced in this image than they should have been.  I thought I had dialled in two stops of flash exposure compensation to reduce the power of the flash and prevent the background exposure appearing so dark – based upon checking the EXIF data in Canon DPP, I obviously forgot to do this – a note to self for the future!

Thoughts on the assignment as a whole

I found this an interesting and worthwhile assignment.  Although apparently straightforward on paper, it took more organising and experimentation than I anticipated.  There is much more for me still to learn about lighting people.  I also went through a useful technical learning curve in getting flashes to reliable fire off camera and produce predictable lighting patterns.  I can see myself experimenting much more with the use of artificial light to add drama and interest to my portraits. One final point is that I can see I need to learn more about colour balance.  There are significant differences, i.e. too pronounced differences, between the skin tones in the different images.  Whilst this is partly due to the colours introduced at the scene, reflected greens in the open shade images, I could learn to do more to balance them better when presenting the final results of a project.

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