Flash: Light and Shadow, pt 1

Finally! Getting down to the nitty gritty!
(Oh sheesh, I sound like my grandpa now. I’m not that old, really.)

It’s important for a photographer to pay attention to how light falls on your model. Get halfway to mastering this, and you’re well on your way to semiprofessional level. In today’s post, I cover a few standard light positions. If you ever took art classes in school, some of this will seem familiar.

For a traditional portrait, all but one would be unacceptable. However, as an “intrepid” photographer (that is why you’re reading this, right?) looking to push your skills, it’s good to be familiar with the pros and cons of different lighting, and with practice, you can utilize the light in an unexpected way.

Note: I have done this series in black and white because it forces people to pay attention to the light instead of distracting details that color version can introduce. These images were also deliberately shot with a bare flash because I wanted the shadows to be crisper and clearly defined.

For most people, this (below image) quarter light is the most flattering. The shadow created by the nose is nearly minimal without flattening the face as an on-camera flash would do. The cheeks are contoured and defined.

Tip: If your model *coughcough*me*cough* has a weak chin or a double chin, position your light slightly above the person’s eye level. The shadow will help hide it. I use this trick ALL the time in my self portraits.

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Below, the light is positioned a bit further on camera left. The shadow created by the nose is deeper, there’s just a small patch of light on the far cheek. And the far eye is hidden in shadow as well.

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Next…The flash has been moved further to the left again and is now set low. Now the far side of the face is nearly entirely in shadow, and the hair is casting unflattering shadows on the neck.

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Bored yet? Hope not! I’ve got a few more to show you.

Now, the flash has been raised to about eye level.  Female Harvey Dent.

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For something different…

I jury-rigged the flash to my ceiling fan, my flash stand was too short for this. This lighting creates an illusion of very contoured cheeks and is dramatic and moody. Fun can be had with this kind of light. If there was a reflector to, well, reflect the light back into the chin and eyes or a second, low-powered flash set below the model, this would be a great picture.

I often see this used with athletes in promotional shoots – it makes them look tough and intimidating.

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In the same vein…another nontraditional lighting. This is almost a silhouette, and is pretty cool/artsy. This type of lighting, when toned down, is often used in high-fashion photography. It’s called “hair light” and does what it sounds like – it gives people’s hairdo a nice shine. It is usually paired with at least one additional primary light source, if not more.

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A single flash by itself is pretty harsh. But very dramatic and moody. Remember how I wrote it’s useful to mentally plan a story in your photography? If you want a dark, gritty image…a single-light source may be the way to go.

If harsh shadows aren’t your thing, there are tricks and techniques to soften the light. Stay tuned for more!


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