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Learning to Light

Lesson 2 from: Concept-Driven Commercial Photography

Joel Grimes

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Lesson Info

2. Learning to Light

Lesson Info

Learning to Light

When I have a beauty fashion or have an athlete I know in my head how to create the lighting that fits my vision as an artist I want soft are one harsh that's what we're gonna mainly be talking about if we can talk in those terms lighting is very simple do I want a harsher softer more contrast stuff more are safe flatter so when you have a subject that's beautiful but yet kind of ah beauty fashion but yet an athlete you got to know how to pull back and mixed the light to fit the need and it's really easy it's not difficult at all and so that's my goal is to make it so where'd you guys go wow this all makes sense so the first thing that I always say is you need to know where you want to end up determine what your vision is as an artist so if you say you know I don't know what my vision is not as an artist I haven't developed it yet will you have here's why now when it comes to music do you have any problems picking what music you like no because you've been listening to music for what y...

ou're eight you're eight e yeah okay um a long time right you've been listening we've been looking for a long time we've been watching movies looking at magazines looking at pictures going to galleries so we have formulated in arm little brain things we like and what we don't like now what is a good exercise is to go either on the internet or go down the years ago, I just go to them to the used bookstore, go buy these magazines that were twenty five cents of out of date magazines, and we'd sit on the floor and just rip out all the good images, put him in a folder, then go back and say, portrait's, black and white, portrait's whatever and then let's go back to him and look out and I would say, I like that I don't like that I like that I don't like that, so I begin to formulate what fits me now if you could determine where you want to end up getting there's really easy if you don't know where you want to end up, you're gonna be like a dog chasing its tail. So that's the most important thing you say, what is it? And where do I want to end up from that point on? It's like a straight line boom, so but don't be frustrated if you say, I don't really know where I want to end up, yet that will come, and like I said, the best thing to do is look at images and say do I like it or do I not like it and go in the direction of the images you like and you may find a photographer that you say I want to be like that person right and there's nothing wrong with saying I'm influenced by a photographer what you don't want to be and you can't be is that person you can be influenced and inspired by the person but you can't be that person, so determine where you won't end up now I'm gonna give you two basic let's call him principles I don't like rules let's call him principles about lighting to basic principles if you can get this it's like the scales will come off and when it comes to understand lighting, I have shared this with photographers have been like me working in the industry for twenty five years, and a lot of what we learned was so it's sort of like throw light here through like here that's what people do and we copies you know, this is kind of the way to do it and we get a good picture or a good representation of what we want, but we haven't really mastered the lighting right? And that was me, so even if you've done lighting for twenty years, you may go oh don't really make sense now and so I hope that happens if you're just starting out I hope and I and I be great you get a little head start because I twenty five years didn't understand what I was really doing so hopefully you don't go through the path idea but here's the simple I'm gonna break it down to a third grader level you have a source of light could be window could be the sky the sun to be a little light bulb hanging in a room somewhere but we have a source you may have multiple sources but let's just stick with one source first the bigger that sources in relationship to the subject of the distance of the subject the harsher or the softer that lights going to be so the size of your modifier let's talk about modifiers the size and how far or how close it is determines this softness or the harshness got that and then the second thing is how much ambient or bounced like comes back into the scene so you have a white floor in one light boot white wall that's gonna bounce back the more bounce back you have or reflective light coming in or ambient light coming in the softer the overall look so I can influence my images by how big modifier is how close it is and how much bounce so let's kind of continue from that it's pretty simple so the larger the source the softer light that's number one so you want a big big soft light get a soft light get a big big modifier in close you want a harsh light back up that light or get a smaller modifier very simple so let's do this I'm gonna get my two modifiers here and I'm gonna show you sort of how this works okay so this is that this is a guess westcott calls this their large modifier it's about fifty d six by thirty six somewhere around there I don't know exactly doesn't matter um and then here's a small one all right so let's do this let's take first of all let's have this robin let's have you come up for a second? You feel comfortable coming up here? All right, so let's do this I'm going to come over here across right in front here. Okay? So let's say robin's my subject right and let's say I'm the camera looking this direction and let's say I wanted to portrait and I passed I know that if I put a modifier say two feet from her like like right here that I get a certain quality of light so let's say I taken exposure and looking back on the monitor I go to soft what do I do? Well I can back this up so if I go free feet is gonna be harsher than it was two feet and so if it's not soft enough I say here I am at two, feet and I go I want a softer what we do well, if I go in getting closer it's going to come in her face right cycle my d'oh well, very simply I take a larger modifier and put it over say two, three feet and I have a softer light so now I know that I can soften it harsh, innit? By just taking and change my modifier or backing it up so if I haven't made you look at my edge lights on a lot of my portrait so I have these hedge lights that come right no stereo right on the shoulders are on the sides, okay, so when I go and I have an athlete in front of me, I'm typically gonna want a little bit harsher edge light than if I was a beauty fashion. So I first thing I know is that I have a, um, large soft box up let's say they're sitting there and I have an athlete come in, I go immediately back those things up and they become harsher. And if I don't have the room to back him up let's have a small studio I go to a small box at about four feet I'll show you how to determine in a minute but so that's how it goes harshness, softness and so it's really simple once you understand that you go I want to edge it up back there lights up get smaller lights I want to soften up get bigger modifiers bring him in close doesn't make sense okay so let's let's go to the next thing you sit down thank you so third grade level of information here that's what I want so if you think you could call it all sort of things speculator ity and you know there's all these terms in fact I go to aa event and someone's in the audience and I'll do a lighting technique and they go what's the clam shell something like like really I don't even know it right? I don't really care about the name of it but I do know that what I want when I look at my final image so here we have um er a subject and let's just say for example I have a small modifier this three feet don't take notes and write down three feet the distance doesn't really matter in fact I probably shouldn't even have that on there because I don't want to discourage you or dissuade you from what I'm really trying to do here but let's say I have a like we just did a, um a light that I like and it's on one person and I go wow, this looks great but it's in the way of the camera okay, so I go you know what I need I need I need that same look but I want to get it out the way and get a bigger modifier in there so how do I determine where to put my second modifier the large one how do we determine that? Well again I could have a mathematical equation to do that I can study the four squared law of whatever it is I forgot I studied it in high school in college and whatever what? And if I took a test on lighting today that you know uh probably flunk but the thing is is I don't need to know the mathematical equation watch here's what happens if I take and go to a modifier that is um a larger one I'll show you how I can determine exactly where to put it without ever pulling out a calculator or using a math so watch here's what happens the distance is determined by the amount of surface that matches your front light so let's do this john why don't you come over here and we'll get both johns johnny both johnson here okay, so you're gonna be my subject so you can't go to that carpet just write about come here right about here because we don't block that screen and here's what's gonna happen I'm going to have you hold this one up okay? So let's actually about where that chair is okay, so let's say I want to determine the distance between these two lights visually and know exactly where to put this light so watch this so hold this one up john and so let's say you're my subject and I'm gonna walk I'm gonna have you tell me when this surface matches exactly the same diameter and it actually blocks this so if I put this here you can see plenty of them the modifier behind there right? Ok, so what happens is is I start moving it toward you at some point this becomes the same surface where's it at behind a little bit higher a little bit that they right there you see that now if I take a picture of john with this modifier at this distance which is about a foot and a half and I go I want a bigger modifier all I gotta do is match the disc the size of ratio behind it I don't want to use the word ratio but and then I pull this out shoot that it's exactly the same quality on his face now what's the difference this light spreads more of an angle okay, so let that's good let's let's let's get these out of here I think that's enough for right now so you sit down so what happens is is the, um the angle of the light the second light spreads more of a distance right? So it covers more from head to toe good or bad so here's the thing let's say I have uh an athlete in front of me and I put a small modifier and I take a picture I go and what happens is the client arcee the client says we love this except we are selling shoes and I got like the shoes we get enlightened like the shoes or I could just get a modifier and back it up if I get a big huge large extra large modifier and go back about twelve feet had the same ratio or wrong word the same perspective of surface then I can cover the athlete from head to toe or a group from wide destruction and want to get a different fall off ok the light okay so here's here's an interesting thing happens if I have a white sweet behind my model if I use a small modifier and still say that model for here is a swimmer let's say she's four feet from my white background were to do this here today and I use a small modifier that that that white background is gray maybe a darker grey because the distance between the modifier my subject and the subject in the background is say let's say it's called let's say it's fifty fifty or actually it's will be two feet and then four feet now, if I go to my medium box, the distance would maybe the equal in terms of fifty fifty so is going to make it lighter gray because it's it's lighting her and the background that that racial start over I hate that word ratio things started to where there's more even in terms of she's, the distance is not as great in terms of the overall I have to hate to use ratio. But the point is is is that when I go to a large box and my model's forth from the background the large box twelve feet that white or that background turns white so I can change my value of my background by changing my size of my modifier and how far it is and so let's say, I have ah subject like say, I'm not I'm not gonna knock it out, I'm gonna use the grey and I have a client and we shoot it and and the client says, I wish she was a little lighter gray and I say, well, I can move the whole set toward the background that's a lot of movie or are you just buy when you click, put a bigger model farm and have it back a little bit, boom the backgrounds and now a nice light grey so you think about that so the spread is one thing and the amount of light that hits the background aiken feather it in terms of light and darkness all by changing out my modifier. So there's a couple things, so when I have a subject in front of me, I'm asking a couple questions, how much spread do I want and how much value of my modified don't hit the background? And so I khun, by just choosing a modifier, pick the right choice or in the middle, I might switch, I say, I want a darker background, or I want you look at some of my images and you'll see how much show him to you in a minute. Is the subject's nice litte glow and it goes down dark, dark, dark and almost down to the belt, it's almost pure black that's, because I have a small modifier in close, but you look at other images, the face quality light looks the same, but it's all it is because I've switched up my modifiers, so this all make sense. Any other questions here? Joel, we got one question from photography by m j d so when you're talking about moving the modifiers, we're talking about all this different quality of life you're talking about the same settings on the flash, though, what about the amount of light coming out of the flash there's more the same? No okay, so we all know that if you take a light source in its on half power you back it up you need more power to make the same lesson if eight on your camera you're gonna need more power to get f ate so I'm constantly fiddling with my power output, right? So I backed up a light. I need more power now I could have a flash meter right and that's where a flash meter might come into play you say I want I know that my flash meter says I'm supposed to be putting out f ate leiria ten light or whatever it is and I back it up I want to get the same light that's true I do it by just going one click but I need a lot more like and you'll watch me do this and what I do is I keep my s stop on my camera fixed and then I just play with my lights power power down now why did I do that? Because I'm got a brain about a third grade level I can't it's harder for me to do two variables than one, so if I keep my one variable fixed then all I could do is worry about my output and so I was up, down, up, down based on what looks good on the back of the monitor so but yes, you have to compensate for your output as you move your modifiers so and again you could with a mathematical equation or with a flash better figure that out, but I think it's, I'll bet you that I could be by the time you pull your flash meter out. I've already got it solved that's how fast I work and you watch me I'm like a little bunny rabbit going back and forth to my lights and you can have little contraptions where you can change your up power up and down off your lights are on the move, but it's for me, I like exercise, you know we'll move around a bit, but yes, you have to adjust your power, so going back to answer your question so think about the angle now also remember this when I use a big modifier back up and I'm on a white sweep that light's gonna hit that white paper and bounce in so in a way that's going to cause what the number two principle which is reflective, light coming in and it's gonna soften a little bit so that you have to take that consideration in white walls and studio bounces light around so here's another thing they learned by going outdoors so let's say, I love this five foot octo right that's my main overhead light and then I go outside and I put my five foot octo up, and I go on do my thing and it's really soft because I got all these ambient light influencing it to make a softer. So as a rule of thumb hate rules, I usually go with a smaller modifier outdoor, so eh, two and a half foot or two foot octo outdoors works beautifully at about the same distance as a five foot does in the studio, because I have so much ambient coming in, so keep that in consideration when you go outdoors, plus having a smaller modifier outdoors with the wind saves a little bit of struggling, so you'll see on some I have some behind the scenes stuff that I've seen in internet and you'll see I'm outdoors, I have smaller modifiers because I don't have to give the big ones as much outdoors, so that's something to think about. So do we get this this principle here it's actually kind of fun and how did I discover this practice trialling there all sudden weight? This makes so much sense to me now and so it's kind of fun when you know one when I hate to use the pun, but the light goes off right with your your sector, you have certain size modifiers you worked with all the time now so when when you set the small modifier and you said you wanted a larger one you don't have to play this game where you're saying backing it up you just kind of know exactly how far that is well, with the time okay with time yes you kind of get an idea of what works really quickly and I don't go on take the modifier necessarily so here's what I do let's get let me give you a really simple rule of thumb, eh? Two foot modifier looks really good about two feet from your subject face a five foot modifier looks really good about five feet from your subject's face a seven foot modifier looks really good about seven feet somewhere around there it's a good starting point so you watch me five a small bit of beauty dish look worth that two feet from the subject now if I backed that up gets harsher, harsher, harsher and sometimes I will go you know what I want to really harsh light I'll back it up, but usually it's about two feet from my subject. So, um all right, so let's, get on to the next thing what shape your modifier is has about this much to do with the quality of light zero now that blows and shatters everything I was taught about lighting and um so let's talk about shapes we have a regular that box like I had it's a rectangular box right we have even there make him square okay then we have we have october boxes all sorts of sizes and people go and you know what? I have this brand and it's octo box and you put the light inside and it's like this parabolic thing that you know does magic how big it is and how close or how far it is from your subject that determines the quality of light what shape it is has nothing to do with it now it does have something to do with it when it's a reflective surface so few photographing a bottle of wine reflective glass you don't use an octa box or an umbrella use a square or a rectangle and you want a box that is lit lights the surface evenly so some manufacture will say hey our boxes designed to light the surface perfectly evenly for product photography that's important for portrait not as important however here's a mistake that a lot of people make and I made this for years umbrella beautiful modifier what and in the sixties it was the fashion overhead fashion umbrella and a lot of photographers made it famous and then in the well went through the seventies and then the seventies we started making our own boxes in the early eighties they started making boxes like we have today shamir was I think the first come era and then all these other manufactures came along but the problem we have with umbrellas now watch this this is beautiful okay this this is like the the heavens have opened and the lightning bolts came down and struck me with this the problem with umbrellas as we put and I did for years I'll put a standard hood on put the ride through my strobe right and I set it up and I go pop and I always think you know umbrellas our kind of a little bit more harsh than a soft box hence soft box well, here's the problem we had is an umbrella is a big surface, right? But you're blasting light in the center of the umbrella so what does it become? A sixty inch umbrella becomes a thirty years modifier because you're really blasting light in the center so you actually have a thirty inch modifier? Well, thirty it's modifier ten feet's not very soft so you say, oh my umbrellas, they don't they're not very soft well because we're not lighting the whole umbrella, so when you use an umbrella you want it soft get the most out of your umbrella back it up a ce far as you can on the rod use a wide angle reflector or maybe no reflector at all if you can get away with it and every of flash is little different so and some I'm not to say the names of the flashes out their companies but some have a weird thing where you the light flash tubes way inside it's not blasting very wide so you want to get a wide burst of light on your umbrella then it becomes a beautiful soft a lot of fire so umbrellas are great now the difference about umbrellas in a soft box or a lockbox is that usually the october the boxes last a little longer umbrellas are kind of fragile so you outdoors and umbrella falls over and wind blows it I think it's like almost useless right? So as a general rule I've always said boxes or better than umbrellas however lately manufacturers been coming out some really cool products and you'll see I've got the seven foot westcott umbrellas with diffusion it's like money light it's absolutely beautiful and they're pretty heavy duty right it's still probably not gonna last as long as an octo box but the cost is very small compared to what an octa box costs and I can tell you this right now you take a seven foot umbrella that's in fact being a chat him for fifty bucks this weekend or last week um let's say three hundred dollars and you get the fusion so one hundred twenty hundred thirty dollars invested it will produce the exact quality of light is a seven foot octo that cost you five to six seven hundred dollars right? So that's the beauty of modifiers one last thing about modifiers is when I was starting out I had a certain brand that I was like locked into ok because it was the best and you want to buy a good product right and you want to buy a good product because usually the materials are better they last longer but it doesn't matter what box you're using it's the amount of the surface and how evenly that light has spread onto that surface that determines the quality of light and so another thing too is you know most soft boxes have a baffle in the middle that baffle is to spread the light evenly across the surface now so when I started out I went why is the bathroom there? Well it makes the light softer why does that make a softer I don't because it's more diffusion that you're hitting through right that's what you think but you take the decision out what is happening is your stroke is blasting in the center of the box so it makes it harsher because it makes a smaller modifier so the diffusion is just allows the light to be dispersed evenly across the surface of your modifier so with that and also getting emails all the time they'll say this um I have a choice between silver interior or white interior what should I get and I say, well here's the thing once you put the fusion in the white it doesn't matter now what silver might do is give you a little extra f stop because it's bouncing silver out not white but in terms of quality zero has nothing to do with it so don't get swayed by those decisions and I get people call me all the time I have a twenty two inch beauty dish and there go my met my lighting manufacturer produces a twenty four inch beauty dish no would it be just like you and I go you know what? All your news back that up about a couple inches you get the same quality as a twenty two inch petri dish so those kind of things help clear out what all these questions we have about modifier so I hope that helps. Okay? But in the end what is it what's the single most important thing you could do so practice get a subject in front of you and see what happens now we did talk about about a little bit about bounce and so you will watch me I'm using phil cards big flats if I'm on outdoors I'm on a white beach and tahiti, which I haven't been yet but I'm hoping to um and I'm doing a strobe scenario or even just without strobe that sand is bouncing light back up so softer light, softer look

Ratings and Reviews


Fantastic!! He is so down to earth and humble. His work is unique an exceptional and he shares his techniques, experience, tricks, and best of all his life stories that took him to where he is now. One of the best instructors in CL. I love how he checks the ego at the door and just shares his art and techniques with us. I definitely recommend this course and I was lucky enough to get it at a great discounted price but it is worth its regular price imho.


He's my new favorite instructor, there are many CL instructors I really like but the second I watched and heard him I bought the course, love his style, love his knowledge and the way he conveys it. His way of Frequency separation is fantastic and pretty precise and takes care of a lot of flaws. Learned lots! Thanks Joel! Thank heavens I am not color blind ;)


Joel makes it easy to follow when it comes to editing and shooting. He is a wonderful teacher and very easy to learn from. I enjoyed the photoshop techniques he taught as well as his approach to lighting. My favorite part is his advice on business it's very motivating and inspirational. I thoroughly enjoyed this course!

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