Joel Sartore’s Great Course “Fundamentals of Photography”: Lecture 8 – Introduced Light

Lecture 8 - Light III: Introduced Light

Lecture 8 – Light III: Introduced Light

While there are entire books devoted to the subject of flash photography, this lecture also covers others types of introduced light.

Why do we need to introduce light?

Most importantly, light is all we have – without light there is no photograph.  And sometimes the subject we want to image is not lighted, from natural sources, the way it needs to be to make the photo.  Therefore, we need to introduce other light sources.  Here’s an example of sunflowers and bees:

Sunflowers Against Dark Sky

Sunflowers Against Dark Sky

There are colourful sunflowers and bees, but the dark sky sucks the light away so that the bees are almost invisible and the sunflowers don’t dominate the way one would want.  By introducing artificial light, in the way of Fill Flash (about which more lateer), and slowing the shutter speed, the desired photo can be captured:

Sunflowers - Fill Flash and Slower Shutter Speed

Sunflowers – Fill Flash and Slower Shutter Speed

Not all artificial light has to come from a flash, however.  For example, a bedside lamp with a lampshade to diffuse and soften the light, can be a wonderful source of warm light (use a tripod and a slow shutter speed):

Sleeping Daughter - Reading Light

Sleeping Daughter – Reading Light

There were more photos shown, taken using the light from a bedside lamp.

One can also alter the White Balance if the tungsten light appears too yellow and the ISO if the subject demands a faster shutter speed (“work the scene to get it right” is a constant refrain throughout this lecture).

Other sources of introduced light are firelight or low sunlight deflected in various ways.  Joel also showed examples of photos taken using light from automobile rear tail-lights or backup lights – in other words, take advantage of unusual light sources:

Tip 1 - Unusual Light Sources

Tip 1 – Unusual Light Sources

Continuous light sources are those for which the light stays on for as long as one wants, like flashlights, spotlights, lamps and so forth.  They can be bought very cheaply and yet have spectacular effects (e.g. light painting).  Joel gave an example of a photo captured using a cheap spotlight powered by an automobile’s cigarette lighter:

Introduced Light - Lion and Spotlight

Introduced Light – Lion and Spotlight

Another easily achieved type of introduced light is that which comes from a reflecting surface.  It can be an inexpensive flexible reflector, a t-shirt, a coloured board, a cloth – anything which can be used to reflect direct harsh light, thereby softening it and potentially colouring it as well.

Using A Reflector - Ellen Outside

Using A Reflector – Ellen Outside

This led to Tip 2:

Tip 2 - Reflecting Surfaces

Tip 2 – Reflecting Surfaces

Flash

Flash for cameras was invented by Harold “Doc” Edgerton, a fellow Nebraskan:

Harold "Doc" Edgerton - Inventor of the Flash

Harold “Doc” Edgerton – Inventor of the Flash

Flash is a discontinuous source of light, typically a strobe light.  A caution: flash can really ruin a photo, so it has to be used with care and understanding, which means “Chimp, Chimp, Chimp.” But flash can also overcome a bright background and pull a foreground subject out of the shadows.

Flash Outdoors - Ellen

Flash Outdoors – Ellen

Light from flash is cooler in colour, tending towards the blue end of the spectrum.  When used correctly, however, fill flash can really solve lighting problems.  To demonstrate, Joel went out into the field, to the Raptor Recovery Center, to photograph an owl.  In the following series of images, Joel uses different techniques to move towards the “look” he wants:

Flash 1 - Direct Flash

Flash 1 – Direct Flash: Very Harsh

Flash 2 - Indirect Unfiltered

Flash 2 – Indirect Unfiltered

In the above photo, Joel has removed the flash unit from the shoe position and attached it by a sync cord (there are also wireless flash units).  Now he can light the owl from a direction other than straight on; however, the light is still harsh.  Time to introduce a simple diffuser – a tissue wrapped over the face of the flash unit.

Flash 3 - Indirect - Tissue Diffuser

Flash 3 – Indirect – Tissue Diffuser

Notice how the light has been softened by this simple technique.  At this point Joel introduced the softbox (seen in earlier lectures):

Fill Flash 3 - Softbox

Fill Flash 3 – Softbox

The softbox gives a better diffusion, softening the light from the flash even more.  Getting the softbox as close to the subject as possible also softens the light.  Move the softbox around so as to light the subject from different directions and angles; examine the results (Chimp, Chimp, Chimp – aka CCC).

Fill Flash 4a - Indirect - Softbox

Fill Flash 4a – Indirect – Softbox

Flash 4b - Indirect - Softbox Moved Around

Flash 4b – Indirect – Softbox Moved Around

Finally, take lots of shots (digital costs nothing!): Shoot-Chimp-Adjust-Repeat – as many as necessary.

Flash 5 - Take Lots of Shots

Flash 5 – Take Lots of Shots

Out of this field session came a number of tips:

Tip 3 - Dial Down Your Flash

Tip 3 – Dial Down Your Flash

Joel typically dials down his flash by 2/3 to a full stop (this assumes that your flash unit allows this kind of adjustment).

Tip 4 - Get External Flash Off Camera

Tip 4 – Get External Flash Off Camera

Tip 5 - Diffuse - Diffuse - Diffuse

Tip 5 – Diffuse – Diffuse – Diffuse

Tip 6 - If Can't Diffuse Then Bounce

Tip 6 – If Can’t Diffuse Then Bounce

Tip 7 - Flash - Be Close To Subject

Tip 7 – Flash – Be Close To Subject

Flash does not have to be limited to indoor use, as we’ve seen.  Use flash outdoors to light areas that would otherwise be in shadow.  This led to another field trip, one in which two models were to be photographed while in shadow but against an ambient lit bright background.

Fill Flash 1 - Subjects Shadowed - Background Bright

Fill Flash 1 – Subjects Shadowed – Background Bright

The challenge is to work the scene to reverse the lighting situation (subjects lit, background subdued).  The approach is to use flash within the softbox and to reduce the exposure length so as to darken the background.  By adjusting flash strength, softbox distance to subjects, angle of softbox light, and shutter speed, one can move towards the desired image:

Fill Flash 2-1 Exposure 125th of a second

Fill Flash 2-1 Exposure 125th of a second

Fill Flash 2-2 Exposure 250th of a second

Fill Flash 2-2 Exposure 250th of a second

Move the softbox around to get different light angles – overhead, underneath, Rembrandt, 3/4:

Fill Flash 2-3

Fill Flash 2-3

The camera flattens 3 dimensions into 2 dimensions.  A good photographer always tries to add elements which will give visual clues of depth, such as trees receding into the background.

Another thing to remember is that flash falls off very quickly so it is important that your subjects be roughly in the same distance plane – subjects deep in the image will not be light (although that may be an effect that you want to exploit).  Of course, you can always play with changing the shutter speed and ISO.

Fill Flash 2-4

Fill Flash 2-4

Keep working the scene:

Fill Flash 2-5

Fill Flash 2-5

Fill Flash 2-6

Fill Flash 2-6

A point to note: during the above photo session, Joel, a published National Geographic photographer, took at least 20 photographs as he worked the scene.

One can also use flash to freeze action:

Flash - Freeze Action - Hula Hoop

Flash – Freeze Action – Hula Hoop

Flash Freeze Action - Horse

Flash Freeze Action – Horse

One can also “drag the shutter” by using longer shutter speeds or introducing other flashes or sources of light (think flashlights and light painting).

Tip 8 - Leave Shutter Open

Tip 8 – Leave Shutter Open

How slow should the shutter be set?  You can’t answer that without “working the scene and situation”.  Try lots of different adjustments and CCC!

This lecture’s assignment:

Lecture 8 Assignment

Lecture 8 Assignment

We now have been told about light in its various forms, we’ve learned about camera settings (exposure length or shutter speed, aperture, ISO, depth of field etc – all the basic technical stuff).  Do the previous assignments (look back at earlier posts to be reminded) again and again, until you have a firm grasp on the use of the camera and the exploitation of light.

Next up the creative side:  Composition.

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