Talk Photography Convention 2012

I, or rather Lencarta, was invited to the Talk Photography convention at Blackpool, an excellent event that unfortunately didn’t get the numbers it deserved.

I was asked to give talks on lighting, my first talk, on the Saturday, was on basic portrait lighting and my second talk, the following day, was on portable lighting.

Good lighting is a strange subject, it’s a bit like porn in the sense that just about everyone can recognise it when they see it but nobody can really describe what it is, because it’s very largely subjective. Because of this, there are very few right ways of doing things and even less wrong ways of doing things. My approach, as a commercial photographer who shoots fashion, is probably different to the approach of someone who shoots families, but neither approach is necessarily either right or wrong.

My overiding principle when lighting any subject is to start with only one light, and to use that light to create the lighting effect I want. If I then find, for example, that the shadows are too harsh then I add a reflector or fill light to mitigate (reduce) the shadows, and if I find that I need a hairlight, or rimlight or whatever, I then add those lights, one at a time, and get them right before I move onto the next stage. Any additional lights are subtle, in the sense that they do their job without being obvious, and the light appears to come from just one place, as it does when we’re shooting outdoors, with just the one sun providing the lighting. Just click on any photo to see a larger version.

So, I used just the one light for these shots. My model, Chloe, has a good face with high cheekbones. Obviously I wanted to show those cheekbones. And she has full lips, so I wanted to create shadows under both the bottom lip and under each cheekbone. Good lighting isn’t about light, it’s about creating shadows in the right places, and it’s really about creating the right shadows in the right places, rather than about putting the light where it’s needed.

I used a 85cm Octa softbox for these shots, placed high up and about 2′ away from her face. In this first shot, left, it sort of worked but because her face was tilted upwards the lighting is a little more bland than I personally like. the shot on the right is more dramatic, and I’ve included them both to illustrate just how dependent the lighting position is on the angle of the subject, in this case on the angle of the face.

This session was about lighting rather than posing, there just wasn’t time to cover everything, but another principle is that if you want sexy shots you don’t get the model to smile. In real life, people look sexier when they smile, in photos they just look older!

The background here was a white breezeblock wall, not perhaps ideal but that was all we had. If I had wanted it to be white then of course I would have needed to light it separately, but there wasn’t a lot of time or space so I left it unlit. It shows up as grey because my model was closer to the light than to the wall. In some shots, especially the short lighting arrangement below, the wall is showing as pretty dark, that’s because the light was facing away from the wall and very little light reached it as a result.

I did shots both with and without a fill light. These shots had a mild fill added, and the fill light needs to be in just one of two possible places. Either exactly in front of where the model is looking, or exactly where the camera lens is. Of course with the model looking towards the camera, that’s the same place. With the head tilted downwards, the effect is intensified. With no fill, the face not only looks more attractive to my eyes, but the extra shadow also slims the face.

But there are other ways of slimming the face too, and one very useful method is short lighting. Short lighting involves lighting just the part of the face that is less visible to the camera, leaving the bulk of the face in shadow. I demonstrated that technique simply to show how it’s done, but it wasn’t necessary with this model.

The effect of short lighting is obvious in this shot. I added very subtle fill on the broad side, but normally I would add a little more fill, perhaps a half stop more. Short lighting can often be used using just window light, or daylight – it’s all about the position of the subject relative to the position of the light source, rather than about the type of light.

And I did a profile shot too. Here, I again used the softbox but here it was immediately in front of my model and slightly behind. This created the emphasis on her face, leaving the hair and part of her face in shadow. Again, a fill light can be added to mitigate the effect if required. This type of lighting is often used for cosmetic adverts, jewellery adverts and so on.

I felt a bit sorry for the delegates because, as soon as I had finished my talk, Mark Cleghorn presented his own talk, and his methods and approach are about as different to my own as can be, using standard lighting setups and white backgrounds extensively – it must have been confusing for the delegates but there you go, people need to learn something different from all of the various people who provide an insight into their methods and use the bits that they find useful and reject the other bits.

On the second day, my talk was on portable lighting and of course I used the Lencarta Safari Li-on, fitted with a 70cm beauty dish. Mark Cleghorn was also demonstrating outdoors at the same time so this session was shorter.

Portable lighting can be used in many different ways, but when you have more than enough power it makes sense to use it, and although the sun was shining brightly this wall was in shadow, so I created some sun of my own – someone else was using another make that only produces less than half the power, and because of this he was only able to produce fill light So me being me I thought I’d prove that my flash could do better…

One of the problems that we encounter with portable lighting is that sometimes there’s just too much ambient light, so we need to find a way of cutting it down. One method is to fit a neutral density filter to the lens, this method works really well, but there are other methods too. Of course, if we use say a 0.9 (3 stop) neutral density filter then we cut down the power of the flash by 3 stops as well as the power of the sun by 3 stops, but with 600Ws of power that isn’t a problem. It is however a problem with lower powered flash units.

For this shot though, I simply used a faster shutter speed. In theory, the fastest shutter speed that works with flash on my Nikon D700 is 1/250th, although 1/320th will also work with a good radio trigger, but in practice it’s possible to use a faster shutter speed… Here, my model was standing in brilliant sunshine and I wanted to demonstrate that I could cut down the effect of the sunshine, and produce the light myself. Now, normally if we use a faster shutter speed than the camera is able to synchronise with flash we end up with a horrible black line created by the second shutter curtain, at the bottom of the frame, but here I shot at 1/500th second and there is no black line – all that I did was to turn the camera upside down, so that the black line is at the top of the frame instead of at the bottom.

No black line is visible though, and the reason for this is that I left enough space above my model’s head which means that the shutter was fully open for the part of the image lit by the flash. The background was lit by the sun and so wasn’t affected by the second shutter curtain.