Organizing and laying out my classes is something that I put more effort in to than you probably knew. Not only do I want these courses to be fun and easy to dive into, but I want to make sure that they are set out in a way that is clear, concise, and easy to absorb. Most of the time that means organized articles, sections, etc. Those help me get across the larger ideas and topics but the truth is that with things like lighting, I have a bag of tips and tricks that don't fall into a larger category but are still hugely important to the way I shoot. That's what this section is for! Below you will find plenty of simple but helpful bits of insight into how I light things. Enjoy!
With directional light (whether indoors or out), it's always important to know where your light is actually coming from. Seems obvious, I know, but sometimes the obvious things need to be said and heard. Knowing where the light is coming from is the first step in using in it to your advantage. One of my favorite little directions for models is to find the light (meaning to aim their face towards it). With directional light that creates a bit of mood while still leaving a luminous, flattering light on your model's face.
5D III + 50L
Ready for some secrets? This frame wasn't shot in a studio. It was actually shot in an alley with with a white wall in front of her, reflecting light in from above. Since the light was pretty directional from the top right (her right), I had her look up towards it so she had light in both of her eyes. That left soft light on her face, and defined her bone structure a bit more.
5D III + 50L
This was frame was all about playing for me. We are artists and get to create whatever the heck we want to I set up a day in the studio to experiment for the sake of having fun. In this image, I was shooting through plastic sheeting which was hung in between us. The light was coming in from a window on her right so I had her look in between the window and my lens. That gave a more dramatic side light while still lighting up the blue in her irises. Win-win!
I know some of you really dig that gritty film look. If you shoot digital too, try shooting a few stops under exposed and then bringing it back up in post. If you shoot underexposed, when you bring it back up in post, it will add a gorgeous texture into your image. Try experimenting with how much you underexpose because it will change how the grit looks when you bring it back up. Also, if you use a higher ISO (2,000+), the grit will start looking more and more rough and possibly more digital if you bring it up to far.
It's so rad that we have a career that let's us play and experiment for a living! In my gear bag I have a few pieces of broken glass and plastic that I use to shoot through any time I need to hide something distracting in the frame or create a soft, dreamy mood. Holding the piece right up to the lens hood and peaking into the image creates a soft translucent blur that comes across the frame. The shallower depth of field you shoot, the longer the lens, and the closer you hold the piece to your glass, the softer the effect becomes. It's a look I really dig and it's one of the easiest little tricks up my sleeve.
Here they are. My little pieces of magic. They each give me different effects and I'm always finding ways to use them differently. Broken cups, ziploc bags, a piece of a florescent light cover, etc. Each has it's use and instead of explaining each one, I'd rather you find some pieces to experiment so you can learn it hands on!
Does anyone else ever get the urge to just do something weird in the moment? You're on set thinking, "I wonder if that would work." I get that all the time and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The awesome thing is that I always learn from it so I always run with those intrusive little ideas. During a fall wedding in California, I was shooting portraits around 2pm (found the shade and had them facing out of the shade) and had one of those little ideas pop into my head! What if I threw dirt at my lens? What if I made sure the light was hitting the dirt? Would it create something funky?
This is where things get funky. Weird light things are among my favorite things to capture because they are always completely unique. Technically, a lot of the little tricks that I use create imperfections (lens flare, blurs, etc) but those imperfections create the human element that I love. For those of you who don’t know what a “dragged shutter” is, it’s when your flash goes off, and then you leave the shutter open for a bit to create a bit of weird light blurs. Essentially, it is a long exposure with the flash going off at the beginning or end. When the flash goes off, it freezes the motion of the subject, after that, the shutter states open for a second or so which captures plenty of stray light and leaves you with painted color washes over your images. It works great for dance floor shots and anything that you want to get weird with!
5D II + 35L
My typical settings for a dragged shutter look are: f/9, 1 sec shutter, 320 ISO. Once I fire the shot and the flash freezes the subject, I move around the lens so the extra blurred lights move around the frame and/or cover part of the lens with open fingers so the light is only painted on certain areas. With these frames, I left the shutter open for about 3 seconds and used a flashlight (softened with a piece of paper over the top) to paint on my hand which was close to the camera. When I painted the light onto my hand, it left a soft orange glow and tons of weirdness.
Long exposures and dragged shutters (also in this section) are the same with one small change, in these the camera is static (on a tripod). In these shots I leave the camera on a tripod, the shutter open for a second, and the strobe going off at the beginning of the exposure. When the strobe goes off, that flash will freeze your subject. If you have a bit of dim ambient light in the room, that will leave those unpredictable glows and light trails since the shutter is still open for a second! To enhance those trails, have your model move from side to side as the shutter is open! The power that you set your strobe or flash on (yes, you can do this with just a flash) will depend on how much ambient light is in the room and how strong you want the strobe/ambient balance to be.
One of my favorite things in a killer portrait is a separation between the subject and the background that draws your eyes right where they should be. Creating a difference between your subject and the rest of the image is what makes them really pop and take center stage. This might mean that the subject is bright and the background is dark (or vice versa), or there is a difference in contrast, color, focus, or anything else. Aside from the killer mood that it brings, this is actually one of the major reasons that I love shooting in fog! With your subject close to the camera and the fog in between them and the background, everything in the frame except for them becomes muted and faded, giving your subject all of the pop. Win!
Contax 645 + 80 + Kodak Portra 400
Shooting in fog is my dream (well, one of them at least). Muted tones, soft light, and that gorgeous separation that makes your subject pop out of the frame. Not bad for some wet air.
5D III + 35L
Separation is exactly why your eyes tend to be drawn to little pops of color (or anything they're drawn to for that matter). In this shot, the warm tones in their outfits create a separation from the muted cool tones in the landscape which draws your eyes exactly where they should be.
5D III + 35L
The separation that makes them pop comes from the simple fact that they aren't a blue sky. This is the most stripped down example I have of that separation I'm talking bout. All of the frame is "this," but they are "that."
5D III + 50L
This frame was shot while we were camping on the South coast of Iceland. With moss covered cliffs, I knew I could use it almost as a solid backdrop for them to pop out of. Even though the background seems pretty clean and simple, there was still plenty of darker stone popping through. The help them stand out more, I made sure that their body shapes were place in front of the solid green patch with no dark shapes intersection them in the background.
We’ve all seen that gorgeous streak of light that just wakes up our excitement for all things beautiful. Maybe you’ve seen it on a foggy path in the woods, or maybe a streak of golden window light in an old dusty room. Those little glittering particles of whatever floating in the air create something magic and it’s something I’ve always loved. Now is the fun part. That type of light is everywhere but luckily, there usually aren’t enough dust particles in the air to show it to us. To bring it out a bit more and to show off the gorgeous light in your image, bring some baby powder or fuller’s earth to sprinkle in the light. The particles in the air will define the ray of light and add a killer mood to your image!
I love the weird stuff and I've been experimenting with things a ton lately! This trick is one of my recent experiments that I tried out and I LOVED the results from. There are a few different ways to do multiple exposures and this one is technically only one exposure although it gives you the multiple exposure look. If you haven't already, make sure that you read the "Long Exposure" tip before you go any further into this one. If you don't, I can assure you that this won't help at all.... Okay, you finished? Great! Now just like in that tip, you still have your shutter open for one second, your camera on a tripod, etc but instead of a single flash to freeze your subject in the frame you have two. Personally, I like to do this manually with a flash trigger. I take the shot, and while the shutter is open, I'll push the trigger twice so the flash freezes them twice. With some ambient light in the room, the glow will come out in between too. I know this all seems so technical and weird but I promise that experimenting with it is the quickest way to understand it! Easy peasy.
Whether the type of light or the exposure is more important would be a pretty hard argument to win no matter which side you were on. Plus, why argue? Let's just learn it all and learn it well. How you expose your images can have a massive impact on how they turn out and how much you can alter them in post without losing quality.
When shooting digital, I always spot meter for the brightest skin on their face (usually the cheeks) and underexpose just a tad. The reason I do this is because if you accidentally over expose something with digital (also known as "blowing it out"), the detail in that over exposed area will be gone forever. So sad. Don't let that happen to you. If you over expose skin, that means that normal human skin texture won't be able to be recovered in post. On the other side of the spectrum, you are able to bring back shadows a pretty surprising amount so you don't have to worry about that too much!
Film reacts pretty differently to over exposure. Instead of losing overexposed detail, film actually retains it pretty well (even when over exposing by 2 stops). When I shoot film I'll err on the side of over exposure instead. That also tends to give it a softer, more muted look. Unlike digital, film tends to lose the details in the shadows more easily.