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Lighting 101: Dramatic Effects

One of my favorite lighting set ups is for Black & White Photography. You can use the same set up for color but I happen to be a fan of B&W images.


Use one light to create a dramatic effect

Learning to see light will help you to be a better photographer. What do I mean by see light? When your client is in front of you how you light them will determine several things. One of those is the effect you want to have on your subject. Do you want the light to be flat or dramatic? Do you want to light the whole subject or just part? What side of the face do you want to light? How is the light going to fall on them? Seeing the light and how it is going to impact the image will give you a preview of the effect your looking to achieve. Also looking at facial structure and what will compliment your subject the most. Where do you want the shadows to fall? For portrait photography I tend towards more dramatic lighting. The lighting set up for the above image is detailed below.


One light (left) with a side reflector on the (right)

Camera setting at 1/200 ISO 100 F/7.1

Background Color Medium Grey


If you are trying to achieve a dimly lit portrait use only one light. Depending on the lights you have will determine at what setting your power should be on. All lights very. In this particular image I didn't want him to be to dimly lit so I added a white reflector as fill on his right side to bounce some light back onto his face. The light is placed about 12-16 inches above his head and off to the side. In the beginning shoot it without the reflector and see if you like the effect. You can always add the reflector later.

Decide the effect you are looking to achieve. I have covered events for so long that I had to learn to master outdoor light. When covering events it is not feasible to run around with an outdoor studio. However, inside you can control your light. There a several lighting techniques you can achieve indoors. The most typical is short or broad lighting. Short lighting, by definition, refers to when the main light illuminates the side of the face that is turned away from the camera. This lets light fall on the narrow side of the face leaving a shadow on the broad side of the face, which is facing the camera. The actual position of the light or lights will depend on the style and mood of the portrait anticipated. In the image above I wanted the dramatic feel but wanted his eyes to be close to equally lit. I think the most important thing to remember about lighting is while there are technical steps to everything in photography, don't get lost in it. If you find a lighting step up that is appealing to the eye, go for it. But do pay attention to your shadows and highlights. Experiment with one light by moving your subjects head around, adding a reflector for fill and adjusting the amount of power coming out of your light. Try different reflectors such as white or silver. I personally never use gold. Either way have fun with it and have fun shooting!

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