Tagged: protecting the highlights

November 15th 2018 – Shooting with Models

A practical in three parts using local models Ashley Claire, Steph Kiddle and Paul Walker, who were brilliant (as usual) and four lighting stations (the fourth being occupied by a mannequin’s head) run by club members, Richard Clayton, Steve Dyer, Gerry Painter and Myk Garton.

Again, I am glad to report, there was much discussion and sharing of knowledge and practice between members and it just underlines the wide range of experience there is in the club and a shared willingness to develop as photographers together.

Using lights/flash/combination thereof we can, as was amply illustrated, create a wide range of lighting effects. All are about the light, of course and when we say light we also mean shadow. In fact without at least a hint of shadow we aren’t going to have an image. There has to be a minimum of contrast.

There are two sorts of contrast, colour and tonal. Colour contrast (a.k.a. luminance or luminance contrast) is the difference in the colour and brightness of the object and other objects within the same field of view (or frame). Tonal contrast is created when light tones and dark tones lie alongside each other.

This weeks blog is going to concentrate on tonal contrast, easiest when referring to monochrome, more specifically black and white (there are other colour combinations, for example cyanotypes). Luckily there was a station using Film Noir as its inspiration, run by Richard.

Although the noir refers to the darkness at the heart of the story line, hard contrast lighting was, in turn, at the heart of its cinema photography especially in its mood setting scenes.

Although this can be accessed using natural light, by far the best technique is to choose the background first and then place the subject in it. That applies to nearly all photographs, one way or another, but, given the inflexibility of natural daylight at any given time, it is a pretty sound rule of thumb.

And keep it simple.

But we were talking about studio (at least indoor) photography, being by far the easiest for the amateur photographer to control. It is quite straight forward but takes application to master. Like any other skill it needs to be practised.

The nature of our cameras’ sensors is that, at least at the current time, they can “see” a lesser range of dark to light than can our eyes. This means that certain decisions have to be made and introduces us to a rule of thumb known as “Exposing to the right” or ETTR. It applies to monochrome and full colour. It’s also a strategy known as “Protecting the highlights”.

The right referred to is the right hand of an exposure histogram. Most CSC/DSLR cameras produce one of these for each shot. The right hand side plots the brightest part of the picture. If not accounted for – if the end of the graph shows a big spike – then areas of our image will be burnt out – just white with no detail.

Generally we try and avoid this by exposing for these highlights. Shadows also hold a lot of detail and it is easier to get this back into the final image than detail in the highlights. We want to try and avoid a spike (the spike is evidence of something called “Clipping”) to the left too, where everything is too dark to see detail, but, normally, shadows are more forgiving.

The reason that black and white is a good way to do this is that it takes the distractions of colour out of our equation. The results are a little more obvious and black and white has an aesthetic all of its own, particularly boosting the effect of shape and line.

Metering in general tends to be something that first timers, in particular, can find a little difficult. Yes we can buy flash meters, but they are not cheap. They do make things go a little quicker. However, good old fashioned practice will soon determine what is right using test shots.

The guide number for our flash gun is the how far that unit will project light at theoretical f1.0. This will be a GN xx and is usually printed on the unit or it can be found in the handbook. It is calculated thus: Distance x Aperture = Guide Number. So my Amazon Basics flash unit has a GN of 33 (Meters) on full power. So if I want to use an aperture of f8 my optimum distance to set the flash is 4.125 meters (13 feet 6 inches) calculated GN/Aperture=Distance or 33/8=4.125.

In reality I would probably set the unit to ¼ power and put the flash between 3 and 4 foot way. It would be a start because ambient light will play a part and whether the flash gun is the soul light source (rare for me) or balancing out ambient light. Again practice is the key and this is one instance where chimping is a desirable technique. Trial and error is a good teacher.

Thus far thus technical. But, and when shooting models it is a big one, by far the most important thing it is talking to not at or down to our model. If they are experienced they probably know a lot more about this process than we do.

101 Corner

Lighting the Portrait – by Richard Clayton.

How many lights does it take to successfully light a portrait, two, three, five? In reality, it only takes one light to make a successful portrait – and the best way to start, is to learn with one light. Look at the shadows it creates, lighting a portrait is as much about shadows as it is about highlights.

Add a modifier and see how that affects the quality of the light.

So what light should we use? The answer is any light will do, from a desk lamp all the way to an expensive pro level strobe, but don’t forget that abundance of free light that comes through a window.

Whatever light source we use, we can modify it in much the same way.  A soft box for a strobe or some heavy net curtain for a window. Why not a soft box for a window? Well, one of the jobs of a soft box is to make a small light source bigger, with a window, we already have a large light, we just might want to diffuse it a little.

If outside, and wanting to use the free light in the sky, AKA the Sun, our best bet is to find some open shade, this will act like a large soft box in the fact that the light will be softer and less contrasty, we won’t get uneven highlights and shadows on the skin.

There are many options for a single light source that will make a great portrait. Mastering one light, gives us more confidence to add another. Recreate this video, it doesn’t matter what light source, and black and white is as good as colour.