Monday, August 6, 2012

Four Types of Light

Kristen and Shawn were married at Mirror Lake Lyceum in St. Petersburg and during the course of the day I managed to use four different kinds of lighting. Naturally, I think that I rock all four types but my point is not so much to make myself look good but to help you see light in a different way.  There are many photographers in Tampa Bay who can do what I do and the first step towards finding the right one for you is understanding a little about how they use light.

1. Natural Light
Every photographer learns early how to place someone in front of a window to get good light.  What I like to see is someone who uses natural light in a more artistic way than just lighting the face.  A big, natural light source can provide something that our flashes and umbrellas can't.  The trick is to be able to recognize it when you see it and use it to your advantage. 

I'll be honest, there was a time when I didn't see light the way I do now.  I used to think only in terms of how I could use light to illuminate my subjects.  I started getting more creative when I started seeing that light could also be a way to isolate my subjects.

2. Off-Camera Light
I've written about this many times.  Any photographer who uses OCL will tell you that it is a game-changer.  Having the right equipment and knowing how to see a scene and light it quickly is huge when you only have a few minutes with your bride and groom.

For this image, you need to first be able to see the composition in advance and know how to frame it.  Do you zoom in close or shoot wide?  Stand straight or crouch?  Then... where does the light go, how do I pose the couple for maximum impact and finally, how do I set up the camera and the light so that I see everything the way I want it to be seen?  I conceived, posed, set-up and shot this image in under 2 minutes.  That's all the time I had...

Still, there are things I might do differently if I had more time to think about it but that's always the case.  We photographers are constantly second-guessing ourselves.

3. Bounce-Flash
Bounce-flash is the bread-and-butter of flash photography.  95% of what I shoot indoors is shot with bounce flash.  The thing to remember about bounce-flash is that it's not just the posed shots that benefit from it's use, it's every shot.  Let me show you what I mean..

Here's a shot of the Maid-of-Honor giving her toast.  I took this with the flash on my camera, pointed straight ahead.  I never, ever shoot with my flash pointed straight ahead but I've found that it's easier to explain this sort of stuff if you can show the bad with the good so folks can see the difference.  So, I shot one image with the flash pointed straight at the subjects.

Then, I went back to bouncing my flash into the vestibule that is off-camera left:

See the difference?  Now it looks like the subjects are lit naturally by a large window to their right.  That's what bounce-flash can do.  While off-camera-light is used primarily for flashy, portrait type images where the photographer is running the show, bounce-flash is used when the photographer is shooting fast and loose, trying to capture everything but still working to make things look good.  The tricky part is figuring out where to stand and where to point your flash to get the best result, all in a split-second.  Then you have to adjust your flash settings and your camera based on the room and the available light.

4. Video Light
When I list video light as one of the types of light a photographer needs to know how to use, I don't mean he needs to know how to set one up as a light source for his images.  I mean he needs to know how to use one that he has no control over: The one on the videographer's camera. 

Video lights create a unique challenge at a wedding because they are a light source that is constantly moving.  We have to factor the videographer into everything we do, on-the-fly.  While there are certainly times that you wish they weren't there (and they feel the same way about us, I'm sure..) they can also be an asset and used to our advantage.  But again, we have to be fast.

When Kristen and Shawn were about to exit the reception, I had to figure out a way to light them fast (sparklers burn out quickly).  There was no time to set up OCL and no place to bounce my flash so that left me with no choice but to use straight, direct flash... which I hate to do.  That's when I started looking for the videographer.  I knew if I could position myself so that the video light was acting like an off-camera-light, I could get a better, more flattering light.  So I moved into position and dialed my camera settings to the limit, squeezing every ounce of light I could into the lens. (video lights are bright but not nearly as bright as flashes)

Notice the way the light falls off across the grooms face from left to right?  That's because it's the videographer's light (to my left) that is illuminating them, not my on-camera flash. Had I used my on-camera flash, they would be "flat-lit" as we call it and the sparkler would be blown out.

Hopefully, this post will help you to see that a good photographer can work with many types of light to create great images quickly.  That's who you want at your wedding...

Booray Perry is an award-winning wedding photographer in Tampa Florida.
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