Experimenting with light

Using the same model as for my previous exercise, I used available light in the near vicinity to photograph a selection of portraits with different lighting. I needed a series where the lighting was varied enough to get a feel for how it affects the way in which I photograph depending on the lighting conditions. All the images below are shot in natural light with varying locations, as I shall describe.

Lighting one

Lighting one

This image was shot under the cover of an awning with the light coming in from the model’s front and left-hand side. The cover softens and diffuses the bright light and gives a highlight on the left-hand side of the model. The brightness of the light means that the background is quite dark (as I was exposing for the skin) which gives the model good prominence and definition in the frame. There is good light to give the eyes detail and focus.

Lighting 2

Lighting 2

This shot was taken in the dappled light of a tree. It causes a few problems in exposure, as the lighting is very uneven. The light is quite obviously coming from the top of the shot, which gives pronounced shadows under the eyes, chin and nose and a highlight on the forehead. Combined with this, shadows are being cast by the leaves and branches of the tree leaving an uneven and contrasting light over the face. The camera struggles with the highlights and shadow. Again, the background is dark as I am exposing is for the light parts of the face.

Lighting 3

Lighting 3

Taken with the light hitting the model’s face directly from the right-hand side, this lighting example leaves the left-hand side of the face in shadow while the right-hand side has a pronounced hotspot on the forehead. This is a high contrast image, which plays on the natural contours of the face. I think the camera handles the dynamic range well in this shot as I might expect the shadowed areas to be darker than they are.

Lighting 4

Lighting 4

In exactly the same position as the previous image (‘Lighting 3’), I took another shot as the model turned slightly to his left and a cloud covered the sun. There is a marked difference in the look of the images. Immediately, the contrast is softened due the diffusing nature of the cloud. The lighting ceases to be as harsh and the shadows, while still obvious are much less pronounced and even.

Lighting 5

Lighting 5

I can see the discomfort as the model squints in to the sunlight, which is now directly in front and above him. Even with some cloud coverage, which diffuses the shadowing somewhat, there is still clear shadow under the eyes, nose and chin. I find the lack of light in the eyes displeasing as it leads to a disconnect with the subject. The background here is well lit and not very agreeable with a very unnatural looking set of green lines running behind the model.

Lighting 6

Lighting 6

This image was taken with the aid of a simple reflector held by the model at arms length. He is facing away from the sun and reflecting the available light in to his face. This has the effect of taking away the harsh shadowing under his eyes, nose and chin. It also puts a highlight in his eyes (although there is still some squinting due to the brightness) giving a friendlier look to the shot. The sunlight behind the subject gives a slight highlight to the hair and back of the head giving definition away from the background. The background is now in shadow and blurred as the camera exposes successfully for quite an evenly lit subject. There is still some shadowing on the T-shirt, which is thrown in to contrast with the sunlight coming in over the subject’s right shoulder.

Lighting 7

Lighting 7

Somewhat surprisingly this image has better lighting for the model’s face than I thought it might. I was expecting considerable shadow on the subject’s face given that the sun is directly behind him. However, the act of focusing and exposing for the face means that the background is completely over-exposed. The background is also uneven with the wall being hidden from the sun being grey while the right-hand side is the sky, which is nearly white. I can see from the small amount of green tree in the background that this would have been a good backdrop had it filled the frame.

Lighting 8

Lighting 8

This image was taken in a doorway, which was completely in shadow, with ambient light being reflected indirectly in to the frame. This was being bounced off and diffused by buildings opposite (which were white). It leaves a very soft light to photograph with and is quite easy on the eye. I assumed at first that it would be difficult to shoot in these lighting conditions but actually gives a very satisfactory result. I really like the dark, even background given by the empty room behind the model. There is enough light in the eyes to draw me in to the frame.

I think the final image is my favourite although with a bit more effort, image 6 would be very pleasing. Noticeably, it is the images which contain the ‘light in the eyes’ which draw me in the most. It gives the subject personality and makes him personable. So, while I am not trying to make any statement with my portrait shots, then I think the lighting and focus of the eyes in particular are key to making a pleasing image for the viewer. Indeed, whilst looking at Steve McCurry’s ‘Looking East’ book of portraits that I was easily more drawn to the portraits with well lit eyes. McCurry uses a much faster lens than I do (or am capable of doing), with accentuates the eyes by leaving a using small depth of focus. He also tends to look to compliment the eye colour with the background where possible (which of course is invariably out of focus giving the evenness to focus attention on the model’s face). The image below shows both of these at work (even ignoring the intensity of expression which is a whole other conversation).

Young Girl, Ghazni, Afghanistan, 1990

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