1 Light 4 Moods – Part 3

Bliss Softlight, originally uploaded by Miracle Man.

For this photo, I had the flash shooting through a 33″ white translucent umbrella. I had the Nikon SB800 strobe light on manual 1/8th power and about 3 feet away from the model. When you only have one light, it pretty much is the main or “key” light. Most of the time, when your doing a portrait session, you want to go for a standard “broad” lighting setup.

Broad lighting is when the subject is pretty much looking at the light source. This illuminates a majority of the subjects face. Usually you pose a portrait with the head turned slightly to where you see about 3/4 of the face. When the light lights the 3/4’s part of the face, thats “Broad” lighting.

Another lighting style is called “short” lighting and this is where the subject looks away from the light and in the typical 3/4 pose, the 1/4th side of the face is illuminated with the key light.

Another way of thinking about this is broad lighting lights the eye closest to the camera, short lighting lights the eye furthest from the camera.

Usually you start portraits with the lights at 45 degrees to either side of the camera and 30-45 degrees above the subject. This is great portrait lights, but its not very creative. Its great to start there and get a few safe shots done, but you should consider moving the lights and break the rules. However a few concepts should be kept in mind.

Its all about the eyes. If your subject’s eyes are going to be open, having a strong set of “catch lights” or the reflections of your key light in the subject’s eyes is critical to pulling the viewer in. Also eyes lost in the shadows of the eye sockets are generally unattractive (unless your shooting horror shots!) so getting light into the eyes is something you should always be conscience of .

But for this photo session, we were going for a “Film Noir” look. Film Noir, is a lighting style seen in the 1940’s and besides being black and white, its characterized by strong side lighting. I didn’t want the spotlight effect as used in the two previous articles. I wanted a softer light for this shot, but with enough directionality to give some hard edges.

I set the light’s height almost level with the model and directly right of her. A shoot through umbrella acts like a round softbox giving a soft feathered light that helps wrap around avoiding hard shadows. However, since an umbrella is curved it also has the effect of “spilling” light in nearly a 180 degree radius. So this setup, put enough light on the background to give me a reasonably smooth background gradient as well.

Of course with the light this far to the side of the camera, there is risk of lens flare as the light on the near side of the umbrella is firing at the camera. Depending on power, you might have to “flag off” or block the light coming towards the camera. Between the Nikon D200 only using part of the lens’ coverage circle and having the lens hood on, I avoided any flare in the photo.

I set the exposure on the camera to avoid any blowouts in the white. Final tonal adjustments were made in Photoshop to equalize the range between black and white. But with the hot side lights and enough feathering her body, we get this mysterious yet soft photo.

The one regret. No one smokes (and our house is smoke free where this is shot), so no cigarette in the holder. Had there been one with a small puff of smoke, I think I would have used this photo for the Raleigh Flickr Group’s Summer Project. instead of the one in the first post.

Next up, Rim Lighting.

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