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Defining Qualities of Light

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Posted 02-04-09 at 10:43 AM by kennykodak
Updated 07-04-09 at 09:32 AM by Stephen

when we capture an image we render the three dimensional to two. again in my mind and instilled in my the training is IMPACT. there are many qualities of show as temperature, qauntiy and sharpness but for this conversation let's discuss direction. Rembrant set the standard of 45 degrees as ideal. many photographers use this as both height and angel.
the basics:
there are three properties in direction that add or subtact to the image's presentation.
1. shape
2. form
3. texture

SHAPE: the overall scene. it can be properly exposed but it's flat. flash on camera is a shape light. a fill light in a studio also defines shape. shape is not much more than instantic snapshop. a likeness.

FORM: the light strikes the subject from a different direction than camera angle. form adds a sense of depth and roundness to the subject. in the studio this would be acheived by using a main light. form gives the sense of depth to the image that makes it optically pop from the two dimensional to three.

TEXTURE: light travels across the subject and brings out a tactal quality or feeling the you can touch or feel the object. in a studio this would be a kicker and or hair light.

exercises in seeing light. at the university i take my class outside and have them make a circle around a large tree. i teach evening college so we are out there around 7:00 PM in the summer. standing around the tree each person sees a different quality of light. as i discuss light direction, we move around the tree. the back side and the front side are simply fill. as you move where your see hight and shadow then you see form. finally when you reach the point where the light across the the you feel the texture of the bark. never under estimate the power of texture. if i was trying to sell you a fine suit the first thing that i would do would be place it in your hands. the sense of touch is important even if it is just visual.

okay rainy day or you just feel stupid circling a tree in public. take a flashlight (torch, i believe) turn off the lights at night and shine straight down at the carpet. carpet is such and such color. now move it to shine at angle. it begins to take on depth and it's gone from a simple colr to a type of weave. finally, lay the light source down and let the let source rake across the carpet. color is secondary to the texture of carpet. you become aware of the nap and almost feel rug burn,

adavance light 101:

using more than one light...RATIO
imagine that you have one light source at camera position, be it flash or sun. that a meter reading of the subject. let's say for the argument (which is where we'll eventually end up) that this exposure is f5.6. we'll set the shutter to 1/125 second as a constant. okay this is the base exposure. take the picture and it turns out properly exposed but lifeless. SHAPE. this light covers the entire subject and let's it is our base and we'll consider it one unit of light. now we bring in a second light source and place it on one side of the subect or the other at an angle. (i prefer using it from the left side. since we read from left to right i light for my shadows t exit on the right whenever posible.) let's make the second light twice as bright as the base or fill light. in this case f8. now we have f5.6 as a base filling the entire subject. one unit of light. next we have a second light creating form from one angle. it doesn't cover the entire subject only parts of it. this would be considered a sudio main light that defines form. it's set at at f8. everything in photography is double or half. f8 is twice as much light as f5.6. therefore if f5.6 is our base exposure across the subject and it is considered one unit of light, f8 which is twice as bright as f5.6 should be considered two units of light. therefore if you add the two units of additional light to the base unit of one then you would end up with three units on part of the subject and one on the rest. this gives you shape in the overall image and form in the parts with the additional lighting. we refer to this as 3:1 lighting ratio which is a studio standard. nice form and roundness to subject with detail in the shadows. correct exposure now for the camera, f 8.5. let's do the math:
one unit f5.6, entire scene
two units f8, (one stop more or twice as much) main subject
one plus two equals three on the highlight side
as opposed to just one on the shadow side.
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Total Comments 2


  1. Old Comment
    Thank you for this. It will take some time to study but I thank you for your time in writing this.
    Posted 02-04-09 at 12:28 PM by
  2. Old Comment
    jojo's Avatar
    Thanks Kenny for this succinct and relatively simple explanation. Now, once again, all I have to do is try and retain it. Oh well, never mind, keep chucking more info this way, some of it WILL stick!
    Posted 03-04-09 at 12:06 AM by jojo jojo is offline

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