Rangefinder Magazine picked a few images from my portfolio and asked me to write a lighting tutorial for the feature called “Fully Lit.” The selected images sports related theme – an outdoor scene of a climber at Mammoth Lakes, an indoor location set for Samurai Sportswear, and an editorial studio portrait for Bicycling Magazine. The lighting for each is so simple they don’t really need a tutorial, but it shows diverse situations don’t necessarily have to be complicated.
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5 Lighting Tips For Portrait, Editorial, and Commercial Photographers
1. Experiment with different modifiers to push your lighting boundaries. Each mod has its own set of characteristics. I’m never bored with lighting because the mods in my kit seem to change every six to 12 months.
2. Build your kit wisely. When I started out, I purchased light stands, grip, clamps, reflectors, light panels umbrellas, soft boxes and grid spots before I owned my strobes. Your kit is you. Strobes are just light sources that can easily and affordably be rented. White sheets, shower curtains and foam core are the world’s cheapest reflectors.
3. Think about size, distance and power. Mods are softest when they are large or moved closer to the subject. They become a point light source with more specular contrast when moved farther away or made smaller. Start with the largest practical mod based on the conditions and distance from the subject needed. Too much power can override a mod’s soft qualities.
4. Shape your subject. Don’t just aim the light directly at your subject unless you want an on-camera flash look. Rake the light across your subject to give it shape, direction and fall off.
5. Avoid the center. Boxes, octas and umbrellas have hot spots and more contrast in the center. Place your subject near the back edge of your modifier to allow the majority of the surface area in front (where it’s softest) to do its magic. I file this one under “Things I Wish I Learned Sooner in Life.”
Jay Watson is an editorial and lifestyle photographer based in San Francisco, CA. His client work consists of action sports, automotive, apparel and corporate subjects.