Learning To See The Light & Control Shadows, The Brooks Institute Egg Test!
- Sep 23rd. 2012
- Posted in Portraiture . Studio Lighting . Tips & Tricks . videos
- 18%grey . @ThomasShue . Brooks Institute . diffused value . light an egg . Lilsamedia . lilsamedia.com . Make Better Portraits . Portraits . portraiture . Thomas Shue . Thomas Shue Photography . tom shue
- By Thomas Shue
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Learning To See The Light & Control Shadows, The Brooks Institute Egg Test!
Hello and welcome to my blog. Today I want to talk about learning to see the light and control shadows. First off, what is light? A very simple definition is - light is electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum. You know, getting good at lighting isn’t really about the light itself, it’s more about getting good at controlling shadows that light creates. Controlling the shadows is how you give shape and depth to a subject. Precise control over shadows is what allows you to define a vision. You can throw as much light as you want on a subject and the subject will just look - flat. It’s not until you learn to see the light (perhaps I should say, learn to see the shadows) that you will be able to take full control of your photography. (Note, if you don’t want to learn the basic concepts about lighting, skip to the bottom and watch the video, them come back only if you really want to understand)
Can you tell me what is a proper exposure? I will explain this for you, but first let me explain the Diffused Value. Diffused Value is the measurement of the illumination (the patch of light) that falls on a subject. So how does this help use define a proper exposure, and what is a proper exposure? Proper exposure is when the Diffused value of a subject renders that subject as an actual representation of what it is (an easy way to achieve it is with an incident light meter reading). Put another way, in portraiture photography, proper exposure is when the illuminated area (the Diffused Value) of the subject yields an image that allows you to view the subject as they are. For example, if you are lighting a white person, the area in which the light falls, clearly shows the skin being skin of a white person with all detail intact. This would mean if you are lighting a black person, the light falling on the subjects skin yields an image that clearly shows the skin to be that of a black person and holds all of the skin detail. That is a mouth full, but it is so important to understand. That exact area that the light falls on is called the diffused value. The diffused value is the reference point on every single image is built.
You see, proper exposure is very subjective, as long as you light a subject and this light reveals the subject as they are, they are considered to be properly exposed. When I say reveals the subject as they are, I don’t mean you can see every single inch of the subject; I mean the area on which the light falls reveals the subject as it actually is. In the case of the image below, the light reveals an image of a caucasian person, the lit area shows the proper skin tone, with all of the skin detail intact. You have to understand, my light might not be in the right position (wrong lighting pattern) and not flattering to my subject, the quantity of light (the coverage) might not be enough, the quality of light (hard shadows) might be terrible, but it properly exposed. Proper exposure is the main consideration and you have to ask yourself, what does the area being lit (the diffused value) look like? Is it too bright, too dark, is all of the detail correct? Is the color right? If you can say yes to all of them, then you have a proper exposure. It does not matter what the rest of the image may look like, because everything else is subjective.
The image below is properly exposed, but try to tell that to the client. Knowing where to put the light is as important as the exposure, but that is a subject for another post.
If you learn to use a light meter, it makes knowing the diffused value simple, it also gives you the keys to the castle. You can predict everything way before you ever dream of pressing the shutter. H ow powerful is this? Think of exactly how you want an image to look (define a vision), place and measure a few lights, then make a picture that exactly represents what you were thinking. That is knowing your craft, that is artistic expression, that is a professional photographer.
By knowing the diffused value, you can determine if you want a 100% white background, a 100% black background, a background that is light grey, or a dark grey. It doesn’t matter if you are shooting on a white or black background, you can turn either one opposite. Example, if you wanted to turn a white piece of paper black (to the camera), take it in a dark closet (take light away), if you want to make a black piece of paper white, blast it with light. Sounds silly, but these are the controls you need to learn. Simply put, adding or taking away light is how you control a tone, a shade or brightness. There is a little more to it, but not much.
Color? You can use gels to make any of color that you want and you can predict, 100% of the time, without any guesswork. It is simply a known and fixed relationship to the diffused value, nothing more. Also all of the other lights used in a scene, such as the fill, background, hair, rim, kickers, ect…all have an exact and measurable relationship to the diffuse value, and they are controlled buy powering those lights, either up or down, nothing more.
So, how do you find the proper diffused value? It is so simple, just hold a incident light meter (the one with a dome) up to the area of your subject that you want to have the proper exposure and press the button. The meter will tell you the settings for the camera. Set the camera to the meter reading and make a picture. Now you have the diffused value to work from, it’s that simple. You need to know more than just how to make a proper exposure. You need to know where to put the light. You need to know how to measure the difference between the reference (the diffuse value) and all of the other lights. Example, photographic white is 2 1/3 stops above 18% grey, photographic black is 4 1/3 stops below 18% grey. It can get technical really quickly, but I just wanted to share a couple of simple examples. You need to know how to change the quality of the light, you need to know how to control coverage of the light. There is so much to know, and all of it hinges on the proper exposure of the diffused value.
In the video below, you will see an exercise used at the Brooks Institute to teach students how to think. They were told to light an egg on a white background. I have to assume they were told to control the shadows with one light. I was not there, and I was never shown the trick to light an egg, I figured it out on my own. I have a great understanding of light so it wasn’t that hard. I challenge all of you to do it, and post images or video of your final result. Then, if there is interest in this topic, I will reveal how I light the egg with almost zero shadows using a hard light source and no modifiers, only raw light. I hope this video helps you learn how to see the light and control shadows.
Thanks for taking time to visit my blog. If you know of anyone that might be interested in my blog, please give them a link. I look forward to hearing from you. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them below. I hope you all have a great day. Thomas Shue