A friend and fellow photographer and I were sitting and having some overpriced coffee when he asked me a question about one of my shots that we were looking at. “Why did you light it that way?”

It took me a bit by surprise because most of the time I am asked “how” not why. I mentioned a post at Flickr I had made earlier about asking why instead of how, but he insists he doesn’t do forum stuff on the internet (and I believe him) so it was unrelated.

And I was off guard.

The shot was one I posted a while back and I had to make some decisions about how to do it and what tools I would use to do it. It is a shot of Briana taken on the Mexico trip and with the look of a candid.

I had nearly anything I would have wanted at my disposal… great house for a set, studio lights, soft boxes.. you name it.

But I wanted the shot to look natural and without the ‘hand of the photographer’ in the image.

Bri is wearing a teeshirt and boy-shorts and it was very late at night so there was no sun ambient present. I wanted to create a shot where the light helped define the mood, so I had to bring it all or shoot at 1/8 at ISO 1600… Nope. That doesn’t work for me for this shot.

The background is the kitchen area and I wanted it to look bright – as though it had its own illumination and that light was more powerful than the area Bri is looking into. I am using the bright back light as a background, a base so to speak, for Bri to be over. Figure ground sort of thing.

That meant that I had to keep my light in front to a lesser amount so that it would seem as though she were looking into a space from a space… and those spaces were not equal.

They were different. Different illumination values mean different spaces. By bringing her to the edge of the cabinet I was able to use the pillar to help the definition along as well. The strong backlight plays well along the edges of the architecture and Bri as well. See the hairlight and small amount of separation on her left side.

This is the full shot. I love the graininess that the ISO 800 gave me, but I did temper it a bit in Photoshop. Other than some minor skin repair, there is no manipulation of the image.

Briana takes a break at the beach house in Mexico

Briana takes a break at the beach house in Mexico

To keep the light natural, I kept it high as that is where kitchen lighting would be normally. You can see how it falls on her shoulders, hair and back and then falls to almost nothing on her thighs. That helps define the light as coming from above because light from above could not backlight her legs.

The light from the front could not be flat however as that would lose the feeling of ambient. It had to have shape to it.. some light/dark. Notice how her legs go dark toward the back… only to be presented with that bright back light and the definition that dark/light can cause.

Using the wrong tools could have caused the light to overly wrap there and lose the immediacy of the image. It looks very accessible this shot… like a snapshot of a pretty girl drinking her hot tea with a ton of sugar and milk… Heh.

I needed shadows to the front light. Natural looking shadows that would say “light source here” but not say “strobe’ or worse – “flash fill”. That meant a source that would create a soft, but directional light from the front. It allows shadows to be cast, and a definite direction to the light, but not a harsh or overly powerful light source that would remove the intimacy I wanted.

Intimacy is the essence of this shot. Intimate in location, pose, direction, gesture and light.

That’s why I lit it that way.

Did all of that happen with those exact thought patterns as discussed above? Yep… but they flood in, not methodically trickle… but a flood of understanding light and psychology of the shot I wanted and more. A flood of past images and current images, of the space and the model and the light and the feeling I wanted to get.

Intimacy is the reason for this light.

How it was done:

There is a speedlight on a stand behind Bri and to camera right. It is about 7feet in the air and pointed nearly straight up. It is set at 1/16th power. To the front of Briana is a 60″ satin white umbrella in the bounce position (I rarely use shoot thru’s). I have a speedlight in that umbrella set at 1/32 power. It has the zoom pulled way back to 24mm and was giving me a pretty nice soft, but directional light. I shot at ISO 800 and the lighting is approximately 1:2.3 – a stop and a third over the main on the back light.

NOTE: This article is a repost from a Flickr forum posted the same day, but earlier, of this posting.

See you next time at Lighting Essentials.

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