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Lighting the Shot


book by Gina Milicia

Written by: Gina Milicia www.ginamilicia.com Publisher: Darren Rowse www.digital-photography-school.com Producer: Jasmin Tragas www.wonderwebby.com Copywriter: Belinda Weaver www.copywritematters.com.au Graphic Design: Naomi Creek naomi@naomicreek.com Portraits – Lighting the Shot Version 1.0 ©Copyright 2013 Gina Milicia All photos and illustrations by the author, including those taken for credited media and publishing companies, unless otherwise noted. No photograph can be reproduced under any circumstance in any format including, but not exhaustive to, web, print, or electronic formats. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without prior written consent from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. You may store the pdf on your computer and backups. You may print one copy of this book for your own personal use. Disclaimer: The information contained in this book is based on the author’s experience, knowledge and opinions. The author and publisher will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information in this book.

Contents Credits and copyright_________________ 2

THE GEAR___________________18

Thank you___________________________ 4

My gear____________________________ 19

Note from Darren____________________ 5

Lighting – the main stars of the show__ 22

About the Author____________________ 5

IT ALL STARTED WITH MY WORST NIGHTMARE__________6 THE RULES____________________9 1. The good the bad and the ugly____ 10 2. Be prepared_____________________ 11 3. Keep your cards close_____________ 12 4. Keep it simple____________________ 12 5. Great lighting looks natural_______ 12

Dancing in the dark: Working in very low light.______________________ 86 A flair for flare______________________ 91 Shooting at high noon_______________ 94

THE WAY___________________ 25

The twilight zone___________________ 98

Seeing the light_____________________ 26

Lighting couples and groups________ 104

Use the force: How light behaves_____ 27 Types of natural light________________ 30 Replicating natural light_____________ 37 The how-to’s of fill flash_____________ 41 Shooting different skin tones________ 51 Shutter speed and off camera flash___ 54 Shaping light: How to train a light beam_________________________ 58

6. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it_________ 13

BUILDING THE SHOT_________110 Build your shot, one light at a time__ 111 Shot 1a: Adding some bling________ 112 Shot 1b: Adding some bling________ 115 Shot 2: Mr Devoandare_____________ 118 Shot 3: The gentleman_____________ 121 Shot 4: Creating mood and drama__ 126

THE STYLE__________________ 70

THE END___________________131

8. Use a light meter. Chimping is for chumps___________ 15

Blending different styles of light_____ 71

Staying in touch____________________ 132

9. L earn to light under extreme pressure_________________________ 16

Catch me if you can: Catchlights______ 83

7. Goldilocks_______________________ 14

10. Experiment and develop your own signature lighting style__________ 17

Beauty lighting_____________________ 79

Troubleshooting tricky lighting_______ 85

“The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.” – John E. Southard This book would not be possible without the amazing support and expertise of the following people: Darren Rowse

Joi Murugavell

Jasmin Tragas

Alice Wilson

Naomi Creek

Carm Ruggeri

Belinda Weaver

Tommi Pitsas

Valerie Khoo

Elise Jansen

Toula Karayannis

Fotini Hatzis

Kaily Koutsogiannis

Louise Petch

Tina Koutsogiannis Dedicated to Bryana and Raph. You are my sunshine.

A word from dPS

About the Author

When we released Gina Milicia’s previous dPS eBook – Portraits: Making the Shot – we had a lot of wonderful feedback from the dPS community about what Gina had written.

Gina Milicia is one of Australia’s leading photographers, specializing in fashion, lifestyle, celebrity portraits, corporate portraits and editorial.

The overwhelming response was she’d created a resource that was helping thousands of photographers improve their photography - but they wanted more!

Known for her professionalism, creativity and unique ability to get the most out of the people she is photographing, Gina’s 25-year career as a photographer has resulted in a portfolio that boasts the ‘Who’s who’ in the fashion, entertainment and corporate world.

One of the big requests from readers of Gina’s first eBook was that they needed to learn more about how to light their portraits well. As a result of this feedback we immediately started to work with Gina on a guide to lighting portraits. The result is the eBook you’re currently reading – Portraits: Lighting the Shot. I can’t wait to see the impact that this eBook has upon our community’s portraiture!

It all started with my worst nightmare

Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like. – David Alan Harvey My first three years as a professional photographer were spent with a severe case of Photophobia and Photoaugliaphobia. Photophobia – Fear of light Photoaugliaphobia – Fear of glaring lights I tried to cover up by saying things like, “I’m a natural light photographer” or “I don’t like the aesthetics of flash photography”. The reality was, I was scared to death of using flash. I couldn’t wrap my head around the concepts and science behind it. I reluctantly invested in a Metz flash for my Nikon camera. This was the 1990s predigital, pre-auto-focus and pre-through the lens (TTL) metering. I had to manually calculate how much flash to use by following a chart on the top of the flash. It was complicated but if you knew how to apply the formula to split an atom, you were set. Metz still makes amazing flash gear. This was an old school manual-only version that you can still buy second-hand if you look hard enough.

Each shoot involving flash was accompanied by a sleepless night or the cliché anxiety dreams about turning up naked. The thought of using flash also had a mild laxative effect on me. I managed to work out a system where if I shot using an aperture of F8, with the flash dialed into a particular spot, I would end up with a half decent shot. As long as I didn’t mess with the system, I was OK.

My first wedding shoot After a few successful shoots using my Metz flash (and by success I mean there was a detectable image on the film, often blown out by 2 stops) I was asked to shoot a wedding. I accepted the job feeling reasonably confident about my hightech, stand-here-and-shoot-at-F8-anddon’t-change-anything approach to flash photography. It ended up raining all day so I shot the entire wedding inside, except for one frame outside with the couple posing under an umbrella. I stuck my aperture on F8 at 1/125th of a second and used 100 ISO color negative film. I thought the shoot was a stunning success and so did everyone else. The bride, the groom their family; everyone thanked me on what we all thought was an amazing shoot. They even paid me, in full, on the spot! I walked out of that wedding with a distinctive “geez you’re good, you should do this for a living” strut.

It all started with my worst nightmare


Then everything changed

So what happened?

The next day, I went into the lab, eager to see my award-winning shots. To my horror, I saw that all 15 rolls of film were black except for a single frame – the frame I’d shot in daylight.

It turns out that the old school Metz flashes can blow flash tubes but still omit a flash, so it looks like everything is fine. Unfortunately, the flash output is minimal and on the day it wasn’t nearly enough to light my bride and groom indoors. All of my images were underexposed by at least 3 stops.

I started going through the various stages of grief. Denial: This isn’t my film, right? You gave me the wrong one, right? Anger: What do you mean this is my film? Are you %$#&ing kidding me? Bargaining: Dear God/Universe/Oprah, please make this go away. I will never eat Nutella again. Depression: I suck at photography. What was I thinking? Who do I think I am? Acceptance: I suck at photography. What was I thinking? Who do I think I am? The toughest thing I’ve ever had to do, as a professional photographer, was telling the bride and groom that I broke their wedding. I cried when I told them. They consoled me. They consoled me! How amazing is that? Naturally, I gave them back their payment.

At the time I just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there but this nightmare scenario defined the style of fill flash lighting I still use.

Safe is safe, but average Today’s digital cameras take all the guesswork out of fill flash photography. The camera will calculate the correct exposure for some of the most challenging lighting conditions. The really good cameras will make you coffee and do your tax returns.* It’s also impossible for them to fail in the way that my equipment failed, so you have a great safety net right there. But you can still make mistakes.

So why not just shoot on auto, and play it safe all the time? Your camera’s auto settings will give you a technically correct shot but you won’t capture the spirit of your sitter. Shooting on auto will give you a good shot but it will also look generic. For me, a great image doesn’t follow all the rules. A great image has soul, personality and style stamped all over it. Skies can be blown out, your blacks don’t have to have detail, lens flare can look amazing and, sometimes, an out-of-focus image will convey more emotion than one that is pin sharp. In this book I’m going to teach you my style of lighting as well as many of the techniques I use for shaping and blending light. I’ve made mistakes. We all do. And you will too. It’s my hope that you will take all these techniques and try them out. Then I hope you ignore the ones you don’t like and modify the ones you do like to create your own unique style of lighting. * They won’t really.

It all started with my worst nightmare


The rules

1. The good, the bad and the ugly There are three elements to a great portrait: light, subject and location. Which is more important? Let me put it this way: if light, subject and location played paper, scissors, rock; light would always win. Why? A beautiful subject in an awesome location can be ruined by poor light. So when you’re organizing a shoot, looking for good light should be the first thing you do. The results you can achieve shooting in natural light can be incredible, but natural light is fickle. It will never look the same twice. To find yourself with a spectacular background and great light is incredibly rare so if you can recreate the beauty of natural light, you can create a beautiful photo anywhere.

The Footy Show. Image courtesy Nine Network Australia.

2. Be prepared By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. – Benjamin Franklin Before you aim your camera at anyone, you should be confident that your lighting and your settings are correct. You see, the longer your setup and testing process takes the more everyone loses confidence in you, including your sitter. So it’s important to get it all done before your sitter is in position.

Ideally Wayne would be a middle-grey color, to mimic a tone the light meter will read as an average skin tone. Not too light or too dark.

But it’s very difficult to check your settings unless you have someone to test them on.

You really just need to see the light bouncing off something to check your settings. If you want to get a bit more MacGyver, you can use an old basketball or a polystyrene spear on a broomstick. I’ve even used my tripod.

When I started out as a professional photographer, I didn’t have a budget for assistants so I invested in “Wayne”. Wayne is still an important member of my team.

Now I have the luxury of an assistant to stand in and do some blue steel shots. (You know the blue steel look, don’t you? From the Zoolander movie!)

I simply attach Wayne to a light stand and voila, I have an excellent body double to test my lighting and settings on. He never complains or argues and he works for free.

The rules | 10 lightiing rules


3. Keep your 4. Keep cards close it simple The principle behind the last rule is to have usable shots within three frames. Even with preparation, there is a 9/10 chance your first few frames won’t be any good. Never show your images to your sitter until you are 100% happy with your lighting. Showing frames to your sitter – as you take them – will have one of two effects. You will either boost their confidence and they will begin to relax. Or you will completely put them off as they begin to microanalyze what they are doing. This is a call you need to make on the day but whatever you decide, never show your sitter an image that is less than perfect.

While this is a book about lighting, using 10 lights won’t make your shot 10 times better. Early in my photography career, I thought that if I didn’t use lights and props the world would think I didn’t know what I was doing, but that’s just not true. Shooting well in natural lighting is a skill all on its own. You just can’t beat Mother Nature and when it all comes together – your sitter, location and beautiful light – it’s incredible.

5. Great lighting looks natural I believe good lighting should mimic what you see, every day, as much as possible. Unless you are going for stylized shots with hard shadows or a super-saturated color, which could be part of your signature style, I recommend a more natural look to your lighting. The most important question to ask is: do people look like they belong in this scene?

It’s important to learn how to see the potential in the light around you and use it to bring out the best in your model. And to learn how to recreate it, well. Lucky for you, that’s exactly what we’ll be covering in the sections on Seeing the light and on Building the shot.

The rules | 10 lightiing rules


6. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it You’ve got to know when to hold ’em Know when to fold ’em Know when to walk away Know when to run. – Kenny Rogers The location of this shoot was a mechanic’s workshop. The natural light is usually quite dark and moody so I was planning to use my medium Photoflex lightbox and Elinchrom Ranger battery kit to add light to the shot. While my sitter, Jared, was getting into his suit I did a lighting test with my assistant. I realized there was more than enough beautiful daylight, being reflected off the concrete and surrounding cars, to create the look I wanted to achieve. No lights were required!

Australian actor Jared Deparis.

Always look at the light you have before adding to it. If you light everything, ignoring the natural light available, your shots can end up looking clinical, fake and cold.

Try taking a few frames before you add more light, and see if you’ve already got the light you need.

The rules | 10 lightiing rules


7. Goldilocks Your lighting will help you tell the story you want to. Unfortunately there isn’t one lighting scenario that will work for everyone and it’s important to match your lighting to the mood and the person you are photographing.

For example, if you’re shooting a more mature lady you won’t want to use a hard grid light that enhances every line. She won’t thank you! If you want to create a dramatic, moody shot you can’t use soft, flat lighting.

In this portrait of Australian comedian and actress Rebel Wilson I wanted to capture the glamour mood while allowing her personality to be the hero of this shot, so I used a soft even style of lighting.

I shot Australian actor Lachy Hume for the dramatic movie “Beaconsfield”. I deliberately made this shot grungy and gritty as it supported the story of miners being rescued from a mine. The style of shot really works.

The rules | 10 lightiing rules


8. Use a light meter. Chimping is for chumps Some forums will tell you that you don’t need to use a light meter these days. I personally don’t think it’s a great way to work, especially for portrait photography. If you don’t have a light meter you have to guess your exposure by chimping. Chimping is when you take a shot, look at the LCD screen, take another shot, rinse and repeat until you’ve got it right. That’s OK if you’re a street, landscape or even product photographer and you have a lot of time to get your shot. But when you have a (somewhat anxious) sitter in front of you, chimping to get your lighting right can make you look slapdash, lazy and unprofessional. This goes back to rule #2, on being prepared, but trust me when I tell you that nothing evaporates good rapport quite like the suspicion that you don’t know what you’re doing. I believe the light meter is an essential tool in good portrait photography and would never leave home without one. When you use a light meter you know you have the most accurate readings, and lighting becomes really easy.

If you’re new to using a light meter, I’m going to show you how to use one in the section The how-to’s of fill flash.

Chimping is used to describe the habit of checking every photo on a digital camera’s display (LCD) immediately after capture. The routine was dubbed chimping after photographers were caught making monkeylike noises when they reviewed a good shot in their cameras.

I learned to shoot using film, which meant I had to wait until the images were actually processed before I could see if I’d captured any great shots. Your instincts will eventually tell you when you’ve got a good shot so you won’t need to check every shot. Until then, use a light meter and put the time in to prepare your shot. A good light meter should be a one-off investment. I’ve had mine for 25 years!

The rules | 10 lightiing rules


9. L earn to light under extreme pressure No pressure, no diamonds. – Thomas Carlyle Over the years I’ve worked in confined spaces, green rooms, dressing rooms, alleyways, back stage and hotel rooms (amongst a variety of other difficult locations). I’ve been given minutes to light and shoot images that will end up on the cover of a magazine or on a billboard.

There will always be scenarios when you’re pressed for time. Perhaps your sitter is late, the sun is setting or the bride and groom are about to leave. These are not occasions to experiment. You need a solid and tested lighting style that you know will work and work well.

Have a few “go to” lighting setups that will work in every situation. • Lighting for a long corridor… • Lighting for a narrow street or alleyway… • Lighting for an ugly, fluoro lit room... • Lighting for a small hotel room… • What can you do with just one light? • How do you face your subject? • Where do you put your camera? It’s important to practice these types of scenarios as much as possible so you’re comfortable and relaxed when the time comes.

Firass Dirani. Image courtesy Nine Network

The rules | 10 lightiing rules


10. Experiment and develop your own signature lighting style Fashion is what you’re offered four times a year by designers. And style is what you choose. – Lauren Hutton Your personal photographic style will probably be a combination of many things: • The lenses and cameras you work with • How you direct and pose your sitters • How you light them • How you process your images

You may find that, at first, your style is a combination of all the photographers and artists who have influenced you. With time, this composite of styles will evolve into a style that is all your own.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts on this one! My advice is to shoot as much as you can. You will begin to discover the style and aspects you love and that will become your style.

And your individuality will draw people to you.

I love hearing people tell me that they recognized my shots, without seeing my name.

Project Runway S4 contestants. Image courtesy Foxtel The rules | 10 lightiing rules


The gear

My gear Cameras Canon 1DS Mk III The Mark III is a pro-level camera so it’s more expensive and a lot heavier but it’s designed to survive heavy usage. I would say I use this camera for 80% of my shooting. Canon 5D Mk II I’ll favor the Mk II if I know I have to shoot with a high ISO (in very low light or on a night shoot). At 400 ISO this camera is amazing.

Lenses Canon L series F2.8 IS 70-200mm lens

Canon L series F1.2 85mm lens

Canon L series F2.8 16-35mm lens

This is my workhorse and I use it for 70% of my shoots as it creates a bokeh, or blurred, dreamy, background effect beautifully.

This is my all time favorite lens. It’s heavy and slow to focus but when you get it right, the effect is so dreamy.

Canon F4 IS 24-105mm lens

This lens is great for interiors and landscapes but it’s so large and cumbersome (especially once you put filters on it) that I don’t really use it all that often.

I call this lens “the forgotten lens” because I never use it. It’s not that it’s not a good lens; we’ve just never gotten on.

This is the lens I use for events, lifestyle and travel shoots. It’s another zoom lens and it shoots from 24mm, which is really wide and great for group shots, through to 105mm, which is a really good focal length for portraits.

Canon L series F2.8 24-70mm lens

If you’re on a budget only buy one lens but the best lens you can afford. If you want to try out different lenses look for a camera store that also does lens hire.

The gear | My gear


Tripods A tripod should be an extension of your camera and if you invest wisely it can last you a lifetime. I used my Manfrotto tripod for 25 years and I was devastated when I lost it. I’ve got another Manfrotto now. It’s actually better but I’ll never forget my first! While you don’t usually need more than one tripod, you might like to use different tripods in different circumstances. Before you buy, think about how and where you might use it then consider how the weight, height and tilt will suit your shooting style and locations.

Remote triggers Pocket wizards Pocket wizards are top of the line when it comes to remote triggers. They aren’t cheap but they are worth every penny. Until you have the cash to splash: 1. Buy a cheaper infrared trigger.

Cheaper infrared triggers will still do the job of setting your flash off remotely but they are sensitive to bright sunlight and external factors such as alert lights on emergency vehicles and forklifts, etc., which means they can go off without warning.

Gels Warming gel is a piece of plastic that you can use to change the temperature of the light, adding light without overpowering the shot. It can add some gentle, late afternoon light at any time of the day! You can buy warming gel from photography shops but you can also use colored cellophane or even toffee wrappers! So start eating those sweets! You can get gels in almost any color and they can make quite a boring background come to life.

2. Use a sync cord.

Sync cords are the cheapest way to use a remote flash trigger but they also introduce a potential safety hazard into your shoot. A sync cord is always handy to have in your kit, just in case your remote fails. 3. Hire them.

Hiring equipment is one of the most cost-effective ways to access equipment you don’t use very often, or can’t afford just yet. The gear | My gear


Portable lighting accessories

Light meters

Light stand

Gorilla pod

Minolta 1V

This is like a tripod for your lights, helping you to position them at the right height and angle. Your light stand is a one-off purchase although you might end up owning a few, for different situations. If you buy quality they should last you a lifetime but I recommend you look for second-hand bargains.

A gorilla pod is a mini-tripod, about a handspan in height.

I’ve had this light meter for over 23 years now and I’ve grown rather fond of it. As a basic meter it’s excellent, reading ambient light or flash light, and perfect for most lighting conditions.

Sometimes, I’ll attach one of my speedlights to it or hang it from a doorway. These babies let you introduce light from almost anywhere and, as they are tiny, are easy to carry.

Types of light meters What would MacGyver do? Buy a second-hand light meter Downtown Sekonic L-478DR Litemaster pro light meter Uptown Sekonic Digitalmaster L-758DR light meter with transmitter

This image shows a flash attached to a light stand so you can position your flash.

The gear | My gear


Lighting – the main stars of the show Types of continuous lights What would MacGyver use Torch. Downtown Photogenic Max III Speedlight, battery operated mono light (portable lighting), mains powered mono/ strobe light.

Uptown Westcott Spiderlite TD

Continuous lighting Tungsten and LED lights, torches, light bulbs and fluorescent lighting are all continuous lights because, just as their name implies, they light continuously. I think continuous lighting is one of the best ways an inexperienced photographer can learn to see light. I’ll show you how to build a shot with tungsten lighting and how to mix tungsten with fill flash in the section on Building the shot.



• T  hey are very cheap to buy making them great for beginners.

• They aren’t very powerful so you won’t get the level of light (F-stop) you would with a flash. If you’re shooting large groups of people, these probably aren’t the lights you want.

• Y  ou can see exactly what your light is doing thanks to the light remaining consistent. • T  he quality of light can be quite beautiful as there is generally a softness and warmth to the light created. I really like it.

• Y  ou need mains power to use them so they aren’t suitable for every location shoot.

The gear | My gear





I use a speedlight flash on 20-30% of my photo shoots. Like any piece of kit, they have their pros and cons but speedlights can light you out of some tight spots (quite literally).

• S peedlight flashes are compact, light and really easy to use.

• They lack the power of mono blocks so when you are shooting large groups of people in low light (like at a party) or you need to overpower the sun, speedlight flashes will struggle.

• I love using these lights when I travel, need to work quickly or want to shoot very shallow depth of field because they can be dialed right down to very low output. • They are battery operated making them fantastic for locations where you don’t have access to mains power, or where you might be shooting around water. • T  hey are much cheaper than mono blocks (which I talk about a bit further down). • Being battery-operated means they are portable and you can put them anywhere! They can be MacGyver-ed to provide small bursts of light wherever you need them.

• At full- and half-power these lights have a very slow recycle time, which means I can miss shots. And I hate missing shots. • T  hey don’t have a modeling light so you can’t see what your light is doing.

Types of speedlight flashes What would MacGyver use Yongnuo YN468 Downtown Sigma EF610 DG Super Flash (for Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras) Uptown SB-900s off-camera flashes Canon 580 EX II off-camera flashes

The gear | My gear


Battery operated strobes

Mono blocks (studio strobes)

Types of studio strobes

These lights are a step up from speedlights.

Mono blocks are my preferred style of lighting in studio and when working with large groups, shooting editorial or advertising.

What would MacGyver use AlienBees brand

Pros • They are lightweight and portable, making them perfect for location shoots, especially if you’re traveling. Your back and wallet will thank you! • They have a rapid recycle time, so you’ll never miss a shot waiting for your flash. • They have a superior light quality to speedlights. Speedlights have their place but almost everything is better! Cons • The batteries inevitably run out of charge so if you are in a remote location you are only able to shoot for the life of your battery. • The higher the output power, the slower the recycle time becomes.

Types of battery operated strobes What would MacGyver use 2-4 speedlights gaffa taped together Downtown Elinchrom RX 600 x4 Elinchrom RX 1200 x2

Pros • I find the quality of light superior to almost everything else (battery operated lights and pocket speedlights). These are great for high-end shots. • They are more powerful and recycle rapidly so I rarely drop shots. Cons • They need mains power, which minimizes the locations where you can use them. • They are heavy, bulky, and far more difficult to tuck into little nooks and crannies. • Studio strobes are almost double the cost of speedlights.

Downtown Elinchrom RX 600 x4 Elinchrom RX 1200 x2 Bowens brand Uptown Broncolor brand Profoto brand Note: when buying big ticket items like flash and cameras always make sure there is someone in your area who can service them, otherwise you will end up with some very expensive paperweights.

Which light should you use? The lights you use will depend on the style of shooting you do most. About 60% of my shoots use studio lighting, so I need heavy duty mono blocks with fast recycle times and a high quality of light. When I’m working on location, I still need a great quality of light and I give my Elinchrom Rangers a workout. Finally, when traveling or shooting events I use speedlights because of the convenience.

Uptown Broncolor mobil A2R The gear | My gear


The way

Seeing the light Becoming a light whisperer My initial fear of flash meant that I spent several years only working with daylight. I learned a lot about how light behaves. Recognizing great light is something you won’t be able to do immediately. It’s like a muscle that you need to train. Understand it before you change it Before you shape or add light, it’s important to understand the different qualities of light and how to work with them.

Lighting explained (for those without a degree in nuclear physics) light (the scientific definition): Electromagnetic radiation that can be perceived by the human eye. It is made up of electromagnetic waves with wavelengths between 4 × 10-7. science.yourdictionary.com/Science Huh?

light (my definition): The opposite of dark. If you’ve read my first book, Making The Shot, you’ll know that science and the technical side of photography have never been my strong points. When wellmeaning photography teachers used science to teach me about lighting, my eyes would simply glaze over.

This chapter is all about breaking down how light works and making it easy to understand. These are explanations I wished I’d heard 20 years ago.

The way | Seeing the light


Use the force: how light behaves Just the facts, ma’am. – Sgt Joe Friday, Dragnet. Simply put: All light is the same. It just comes in different colors and strengths, like milk. Let me explain. These days, if you want to buy a carton of milk, you have several choices. You can choose full cream, low fat, skim or flavored milk but it’s all still milk. The difference is the degrees of strength and coloring. The basics of light are the same. Light comes in different strengths depending on the source, whether it’s from the sun, your flash or a continuous light source. The really cool thing about light is that, as photographers, we can shape it and control it to add contrast, shape and beauty to our portraits.

When you understand how light behaves and how you can change it, you have a lot more flexibility to create a variety of lighting effects. That makes your job, as a photographer, a lot easier as your great shot doesn’t reply on just one method of lighting.

The next few diagrams outline some of the basics of how light behaves, without all the confusing scientific explanations. This is how I understand light and these simple explanations give me more time to think about Nutella.

The way | Use the force: how light behaves


Light travels in a straight line. Regardless of the light source (sunlight, moonlight, flash, continuous, candlelight, or light saber) all light travels in a straight line.

Light reflects off solid surfaces at the same angle it hits it. Light is a bit like a ping pong ball, bouncing being hit against a wall. How much the light bounces will depend on the strength of the light source.

The amount of light reflected or bounced off a surface is affected by the color and glossiness of the surface. Light colored and highly reflective surfaces reflect more light. Dark colored surfaces absorb light.

The way | Use the force: how light behaves


How light spreads from the light source will depend on what’s in front of the light source. When light passes through a translucent surface it is softened and spread.

How light spreads from the light source will depend on what’s in front of the light source. When light has to pass around a solid surface, full shade is obtained.

For me, the penny dropped at university. We were asked to do an exercise placing an everyday object in one spot and photographing it hourly, across the entire day.

I encourage you to do this exercise. You can even do it with your smartphone. The point is to see how the light changes and what it does to the objects around it.

I was really surprised at the color and quality of light at different times of the day. I learned that morning light, just before the sun rises, is really blue. I realized that the color from the rising and late afternoon sun is very yellow and warm.

It also helps to understand the different types of natural light out there.

The smaller the light source, the harder the light. The sun is a hard, focused light that is very far away – approx. 93 million miles or 150 million km away. Because of the strength of the sun, on a clear day, light from the sun causes hard shadows. If there is cloud cover, the sun’s rays are diffused and the quality of light becomes softer.

My own style of portrait photography relies heavily on the beautiful effects created in natural light. That’s probably because I spent so many years only shooting in natural light. When I add light to a shot, I’m careful to keep a natural lighting scenario in mind so my model doesn’t look over-processed or stylized.

The way | Use the force: how light behaves


Types of natural light 1. Hard sunlight You are shooting in hard sunlight if there are no clouds to obscure the sun. It is very bright and the shadows you can see are very well defined. When you think about it, the sun is the original hard light source. Because it’s so far away from our little blue planet, it’s a small but powerful source of light. Hard sunlight isn’t something you will generally search out but if you can work it, it can be incredible. Herb Ritz would use his rooftop studio and the directional sun as his main light source, casting beautiful shadows and amazing body shots. You need to be careful about where you position your sitter, in relation to the light, because you will always get hard shadows. Those shadows can work in your favor and hard sunlight is great for body photography. The hard light enhances body contours and muscles, although you may want to use a reflector of some description to combat any hard shadows on their face.

Squinting is a common challenge when shooting in bright sunlight. You can help your sitter by letting them keep their eyes closed until you shoot and only shooting a frame or two at a time, or getting them to look at something dark just before you take the shot. Fair eyes are the most sensitive to hard light so it’s important to be kind to your fair-skinned sitter! Below: High noon, Viareggio, Italy. I was photographing this beach landscape when all of a sudden the little girl appeared in my shot. Every now and then these beautiful moments practically just drop into our frame. Right: Midday, Brighton Baths, Victoria, Australia, at midday. I have a real obsession about photographing piers. I particularly love the light quality and geometric lines underneath piers.

2. Overcast light Overcast days have varying amounts of cloud cover obscuring the sun. Basically, the more cloud that covers the sun the more the light is diffused and softened. This difference will change the mood of your shot. Overcast light can create shots that range from amazing to ordinary and it really depends on how much cloud you have, how much sun you have and the time of the day. Experimentation is really important and worth your time. Overcast sun has quite thin cloud cover, allowing quite a lot of the sun’s brightness to come through. You still get some great contrast but it’s just not as harsh as pure hard sunlight.

Because there isn’t a lot of contrast in overcast light you won’t be able to capture highlights, which means your blacks will look a little grey and your whites won’t be as crisp. There will also be no catchlight in the eyes, making them look dull and lifeless. On the plus side, the flat, even light means your backgrounds won’t be blown out and you can capture a lot of background detail. Flat, even lighting is the preferred lighting of beauty photographers. If you want your sitter to have beautiful young looking skin, try this style of lighting. I will be giving more examples of beauty lighting in a following section. One of my favorite photographers, Herb Ritts, used both overcast light and hard sunlight beautifully to create his iconic images.

Mallory Janson, Brooklyn Bridge, New York, September 10, 2011 in overcast sun. malloryjansen.blogspot.com.au

Moody overcast at dusk, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Bali, Indonesia taken midmorning on an overcast day.

Moody overcast has some heavy clouds, softening the light from the sun without completely obscuring the brightness of the sunlight. It’s brilliant for really atmospheric shots as the heavy clouds can be a strong feature of the shot. Heavy cloud cover obscures the sun entirely but this light still has some wonderful potential. It’s quite a dull light, almost muddy or dirty, but it’s also flat, even light.

The way | Types of natural light


3. Early morning light The light you see just before the sun rises is traditionally quite flat but there is a nice, soft quality that can be beautiful. It’s famously used by fashion photographers because there is an even light that has just a bit of kick and contrast. All the detail in the clothes can be captured without compromising the skin tone. Once the sun has risen, glorious warmth is added to the light. You will start to have the same challenges of shooting in sunlight, like the light shining into your sitter’s face, but generally speaking the light will be a lot softer.

The biggest challenge shooting in early morning light is getting up early! If you’re shooting in early morning light you have be on-set and setup at least 30 minutes before the sun rises, otherwise you’ll miss it. This is one of the scenarios in which you won’t have very long to shoot. In just 10 minutes, it can be all over. If you miss it you’ll have another early wake up call!

Minori, Italy, just before the sun has risen.

One of my favorite location shoots ever! Daybreak, Paris, France.

The way | Types of natural light


Fishermen bringing in the nets, late afternoon, Kochi, India.

Sunset, Bali, Indonesia.

Late afternoon sunshine, Kochi, India.

4. Late afternoon and sunset This literally is the golden hour of shooting. The light is beautiful and, unlike shooting at sunrise, it can go for a couple of hours. It can be difficult to get a good portrait without adding artificial light, but if you’re

ready at just the right moment you’ll discover a soft, warm, magical light that makes everyone look amazing. You can also take some quite dramatic shots using the background and light to create a mood and silhouettes.

Shooting in late afternoon light really comes down to the kind of shot you want to create, whether the shot is about the sitter or about the background. When you start adding light you can have both and we’ll see how to do that in the section on The how-to’s of fill flash.

The way | Types of natural light


5. Indoor light Once you move inside you have a much nicer quality of light to work with. Indoor light is often cleaner light; easily diffused to create really beautiful portrait lighting. You also stop battling the elements, which makes your life a bit easier! As a general rule, the larger the light source the softer the light. Window light is a great all rounder for portraits and one of my favorites because it works for every kind of skin tone. If you have a largish window, bring your sitter quite close to it. Lighting them from the side will create a lovely soft light that highlights one side of their face before wrapping softly around it. No hard shadows. You can also position your sitter so the light source is behind you, shining more directly onto their face.

Window light (side lit).

Both methods create really nice catchlights in your sitter’s eyes. The light and effect will vary at different times of the day so if you have a great window, test your light across the day.

I had two large windows behind me, pumping light into Jared’s face.

If the light is too bright it can create harsh shadows on the face. You can soften the light by sticking tracing paper to the window or hanging sheer, white fabric across the window. That’s what MacGyver would do. The way | Types of natural light


Open shade is possibly the most perfect of all natural lighting situations and the closest to a studio look, without using lights. Open shade is created when your sitter is undercover, under an eave or in a doorway, with the sun hitting the ground and bouncing up into their face. You need to pay attention to the color of the ground that’s reflecting light, as the color will reflect into your sitter’s skin tone.

GV Automotive location. Right: Cherry Martini (front) and Sonia Teapot Koinegg (rear). Photographed at GV Automotive for Suckerpunch Sally.

6. Low light/rain Rainy days used to cancel my shoots but low light or rain can create some very beautiful light, introducing highlights and reflections into an otherwise boring background. Shooting in low light conditions generally leads to using a lower shutter speed, so you can capture more light. This is something I cover in detail in my first book, Making The Shot, so I won’t cover it again. Once you use a lower shutter speed you have to consider camera shake. Unless you have incredibly steady hands, use a tripod.

I love the beautiful reflections in the pavement of this shot I took of these lovely ladies in Madrid, Spain.

Left: Australian actor Jared Deparis. Middle: Foxtel cover advertising a children’s detective show. Right: Australian actor David Wenham.

Replicating natural light Same same, but different Once you have a good understanding of how light works and more specifically, how natural light behaves, you can start playing around with different light sources.

The three images above are all lit in a very similar style. The old school term for this is Rembrandt lighting. It was named after the Dutch painter Rembrandt who used daylight from a skylight to light his model at a 45-degree angle.

The cool thing about these examples is that while they use the same style of lighting, the effect has been created using three different light sources.

The way | Replicating natural light


The same effect using different light sources – the same thing can be achieved in different ways.


Light travels from its original source in a straight line.


The colour and strength of light will vary depending on the original source.

Flash The hardness and spread of light will depend on the light shaping tool between the light and the subject.

The way | Replicating natural light


Jared Deparis shot in daylight sun, diffused through a frosted window, with the setup.

Foxtel cover advertising a children’s detective show shot using continuous tungsten lights, diffused by scrim board, with the setup.

The way | Replicating natural light


David Wenham shot using flash lights diffused using a soft box, with the setup.

Each scenario has the model lit from the side, adding contrast to their face without leaving hard shadows. The light simply falls around the face quite gently.



Place an everyday object in one location and photograph it hourly, across an entire day.

When you’re talking to people across the day, notice how the light bounces off their face and eyes while they talk. See how it changes their expression and the emotion they’re conveying.

Note how the light changes in each shot and what it does to the objects around it.

Be aware of where you are, the weather conditions and the time of day. MacGyver tip: If you don’t have a notepad, record your homework with your phone. Make it part of your digital diary on locations, styles of light and times of day.

The way | Replicating natural light


The how-to’s of fill flash I’d like to introduce my friend, Phil

If the hot shoe fits: Getting started with fill flash Let’s start with the essentials.

You will rarely get beautiful lighting in your background and on your sitter’s face so there is always a compromise to be made. In order to take your shot to the next level, from meh to taadaa, you can introduce some fill flash. I always try to make it look like the lighting isn’t even there, to enhance the shot rather than “light” it.

This diagram shows you three options for using flash as fill flash: 1. A strobe that runs on power 2. A battery operated flash unit 3. A speedlight You can also use this exact same technique using continuous light (tungsten or LED). The only difference is you won’t need a remote or sync cord. The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Step 1: Powering your lights up and down I would use a power setting of 1/1 (full) if you are shooting in full sun and need F16 or higher. If you are shooting wide open at F2.8 or F4 start at around 1/16th power.

The battery-powered light has power settings in battery. You can increase and decrease in increments of 0.1. The added bonus of battery powered lights over speedlights is the battery unit also has a modeling light that allows you to see exactly how your light is looking on your sitter.

To manually adjust the flash output of your speedlight, you need to first switch to setting from default of TTL to M (manual mode) or “Master of Lighting Mode”.

Both these flashes above are Elinchrom 600s. The only difference is the one on the left has digital power settings and the right side one has an old school slider.

This diagram is based on Canon’s 580 EXII. Check your manufacturer’s manual to find instructions on how to increase and decrease power. It should be really similar.

The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Step 2: Controlling angle of light output Some strobes, continuous lights and most speedlights have the ability to focus the amount of light that is emitted from them. On my Canon 580EXII, the available zoom steps are 24 – 28 – 35 – 50 – 70 – 80 – 105mm so I can adjust the light from a wide angle of light (24mm) to a narrow angle (105mm).

This image shows flash reach at 105mm. It’s much narrower than at 24mm (below) and a good thing to remember if you only want to light a small area or single person.

This image shows flash reach at 24mm. I would manually set my flash zoom to its widest if I was shooting more than two people. If you are just starting out I recommend you leave this setting at 24mm till you get used to your lights. The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Step 3: Choosing the light modifier best suited to your ambient light

As a general rule of thumb if you are in hard light conditions like full sun, then opt for a light modifier that creates hard light like a gridspot, beauty dish or naked flash.

If the light is soft like early morning, twilight, open shade or overcast then choose a light modifier that produces soft light like a scrim, umbrella or softbox.

The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Step 4: Taking an ambient reading with your light meter 1. Center weighted metering

Center weighted metering measures the light from the whole scene but places more emphasis on the center. This is a good mode for portraits as it reads the area around the center of the frame, right where your portrait subject will be. 2. Spot metering

Spot metering takes a single reading from a small area in the center of the frame. This is a good mode if you need to get an accurate light reading from a small area on a brightly lit plane. 3. Matrix metering

Matrix metering divides your image into segments and takes a reading based on the average of brightest to darkest. This is a good all-rounder to choose.

This example shows how to use a Minolta handheld meter. There are plenty of different brands on the market and they all generally follow a very similar formula.

Here is the ambient shot of Alice. I’ve photographed her in even, soft open shade but the shot is lacking. Her eyes lack catchlights and skin tone looks a little dull.

1. Face light meter towards camera 2. Set the ISO you want to shoot at 3. Set your desired shutter speed 4. Set the light meter to ambient  old light meter in front of the face, point the sensor 5. H dome to your camera and take a reading 6. R  eadings will display a. Shutter speed b. F-stop reading

I am using my Canon 1DS Mk III ISO is set to 200 Aperture is set to F5.6 @ 1/60th of a second Lens is 24-105mm with the focus length @ 105mm

The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Step 5: Add some fill light

The flash has really brightened up Alice’s skin tone and added some nice catchlight to her eyes but the background has a lot of shadow.

The next question I ask myself is “Can I improve with some fill light?” The answer in this case is yes.

I could probably avoid the shadow if I moved Alice away from the wall or used a softer modifier but I’d rather eat glass than teach you all how to take really average shots using flash on camera.

The quickest, easiest and laziest way to do this is to switch my camera to P (Program) or “still on probation” mode and put a speed light on my camera that is switched to TTL mode (through the lens).

So now we are moving into…. Getting your flash OFF your camera

Alice, shot with the camera on P and a speedlight on TTL mode.

The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Here is my lighting setup for this shot.

Pocket wizard attached to my camera.

For this portrait of Alice I’m using my medium sized Lumiquest Pro softbox. This is a really good softbox to start with as they are really well built, create quite a beautiful light and are very affordable.

Setup of my shot of Alice. The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Here is a series of light tests I did to show you how much light the various power settings will give you.

Speedlight set to Manual Mode setting with 1/1 (full power). This image is overexposed by 4 stops so the highlights and shadows are completely blown out.

Speedlight set to Manual Mode setting with 1/4 power. This image is overexposed by 2 stops so the highlights are still blown out with very little detail in skin tones. The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


1. If you’re using a pocket wizard, set your light meter to non-sync and press the button on the side of the light meter. The non-sync button will flash on and off indicating it’s ready. If you don’t have an assistant I suggest you take radio slave off camera and use it to test fire your flash so you can take a reading. This is something I strongly urge you to practice on as many patient friends, family, pets, Styrofoam heads as possible so you can get your confidence up and really understand your equipment. 2. Hold your light meter in front of your sitter’s face and point sensor dome towards camera and keep increasing or decreasing light till you have it ½ stop to 1 stop over ambient setting. If you want a clean beauty style shot with lots of shadow detail add +1 stop of fill flash and shoot at your ambient meter settings.

Here is my light meter showing the correct reading of F8 @ 1/60th of a second.

The final shot of Alice.

The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Left: Ambient readings. Middle: TTL flash on camera. Right: Off camera flash.

The way | The how-to’s of fill flash


Shooting different skin tones

Football Superstars contestants/image courtesy Foxtel.

These images are some examples out of 20 individual images that I shot of an entire soccer squad for a TV reality show. Each of the individuals I photographed had a completely different skin tone yet all the images are the same exposure.

How did I do it? I used a light meter! * Cue theme song from Rocky * If I used my camera meter and “chimped� my way through this shoot there is no way I could get any consistency between the shots.

The best and most failproof way to accurately read skin tones is to use a handheld light meter.

The type of light you are reading is “incident” light, which accurately measures the amount of light falling on a subject. In-camera meters read the reflected light off a subject and they are designed to record every correct skin tone as “midgrey”, which is the average. Over the past 25 years I think I’ve photographed every single skin tone (except green although I’m still hoping to tick the Incredible Hulk off my bucket list) and I’m yet to meet someone with a midgrey skin tone.

How a reflected light meter reads the incident light, the actual light hitting your sitter’s face.

Remember, the camera’s meter takes a reading of the reflected light. On the surface, this seems good as dark skin tones absorb light and light skin tones reflect light. In reality, a camera’s meter will also record a red tomato and a green apple as the same tone — even though they reflect different amounts of light.

When you do have a light meter, you can simply take a reading of the whole group. Your light meter will give you the correct readings for all the light hitting the group. You could line up 400 different skin tones and the reading will be “correct” for everyone. It doesn’t allow for your creative version of the view. From your initial reading you need to make some decisions about over- or underexposing the shot, depending on your style. Things to note:  atch the highlights on light skin tones • W as they have a tendency to blow out.

This is the major flaw of in-camera meters and one of the main reasons why you shouldn’t rely on them 100%.

• When you’re working with very dark skin tones, be careful not to lose detail in the shadows. I find that introducing some extra fill (with a silver reflector or extra soft box) will help “open” up detail in the shadows around your sitter.

So what happens if you are trying to photograph a whole lot of different skin tones?

Remember: Light shapes are defined by the shadows. Dark shapes are defined by the highlights.

But the readings won’t be accurate because they are averaged to mid-grey.

The camera’s meter reads reflected light.

If you don’t have a light meter and want to get a more accurate skin tone reading, I suggest you try using a grey card, held in front of one sitter’s face, to meter off. If you get mid-grey correct, all the other tones will be correct.

The way | Shooting different skin tones


The best tip I can give you is to always use a light meter and you won’t make mistakes. The way | Shooting different skin tones


Shutter speed and off-camera flash I feel the need, the need for speed. – Maverick and Goose, Top Gun “This is the only time in the 150-year history of this organization that all 25 members will be together under one roof. They are being flown in from all over Australia for a special dinner. It’s a historic occasion that will never ever happen again and we would like you to photograph it for us.” This is an excerpt from an invitation I received over 20 years ago. I’d been shooting flash on camera for a while by this time. The memory of the wedding that I broke had been successfully blocked workshopped in a manner that allowed me to learn from it and grow as an artist. I was now fairly confident with my skills using flash on-camera and had been shooting quite a lot of event and PR photography. In fact, it was around this time that my career really started taking off. I was shooting every day, and some days had 2-3 shoots back to back. I felt good.

On the day of this “historic” shoot, I had just shot a model’s portfolio at a beach nearby. It had been a bright sunny day so my camera had been set at ISO 100. My 70200 lens was at F5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.

I was working through a checklist that looked like this:

I bet you already have a bad feeling about this story, don’t you?

• Correct F-stop for my lighting – check!

When I arrived at my “once in a lifetime” shoot I was a bit rushed for time. I’d only been allocated a five-minute break during dinner to organize the 25 members and get the shot. It was pre-digital and preauto so I had to rely on my “if I’m 10 feet from my subject I can shoot at F5.6 and get a decent looking shot” system. I was shooting under extreme pressure and my focus was on lighting and composition. The first thing I did, before the group arrived, was to check and recheck my flash was working using my light meter. I learnt that lesson well.

• Flash working – check! • G  roup posed and looking amazing – check! • Fire off 15 frames to ensure I nailed the shot – check! I did the shoot. Everyone was happy. We all high-fived each other and they paid me on the spot. I promised to deliver some amazing images the next day. When I arrived at the house of pain photo lab the next day, I discovered that the entire 15 frames were half frames. That means one half was black and the other half was correctly exposed. What went wrong?

I spent four of my five allocated minutes directing and arranging my group to look amazing. The way | Shutter speed and off-camera flash


The one MOST IMPORTANT thing I forgot to check was my shutter speed. I had left my shutter speed at 1/500th of a second, from the beach shoot, which wasn’t even close to the correct sync speed of my camera. So I had to make another awkward phone call. There were tears and I refunded their money. It was a really tough way to learn about shutter speed and syncing. Now I have “check sync” burned into the checklist in my brain and I never ever forget to check the shutter speed.

Shutter speed vs sync speed The camera shutter controls how much light hits the camera sensor. It works by using two thin curtains. One opens to start the exposure, and the other closes to stop it. At slower shutter speeds, both curtains on your camera’s shutter are open for some of the exposure. This allows both flash and ambient lighting to hit your sensor and I’ll explain what happens then in the next few scenarios.

All cameras have a built-in “sync” speed. This is the fastest shutter speed you can use with flash. Most modern SLRs have a sync speed of approx. 1/200th of a second to 1/500th of a second. If you try to use an off-camera flash with a sync speed higher than your camera’s sync speed, the camera’s shutter will close before the image is properly exposed, which causes black banding in the image. The higher you shoot above your camera’s sync speed the greater the banding.

At 1/640th sec 2/3rds of my frame is lost At 1/500th sec half my frame is lost

At 1/200th sec – the correct sync speed for my Canon 5DMII we get full frame At 1/250th sec we begin to see a small black band

At 1/400th sec almost 1/3 of my frame is lost

Increase black banding as the shutter speed is increased over the camera’s sync speed.

Once you have established the correct sync speed for your camera, you are safe to shoot at that sync speed or lower. The power of your flash is NOT affected by shutter speed. The amount of ambient light your camera captures is affected by your shutter speed.

The way | Shutter speed and off-camera flash


In this example you can see that as the shutter speed is increased, the amount of ambient light captured decreases, making the background darker and darker.

The faster shutter speed => the less ambient light => less fill light.

But the exposure of the flash on his face remained constant.

The less fill light => more contrast there is. The more contrast you have => the less detail captured in the shadow areas.

When I decrease my shutter speed, keeping the shutter open for longer, I increase the amount of ambient light captured and my background becomes lighter. The increased amount of fill light also adds warmth from the surrounding shop lights, and more detail in the shadow areas, like his beard. Naturally, the color of your ambient light will also affect your final image.

The way | Shutter speed and off-camera flash


If your shutter speed is less than 1/60th of a second, your image is going to be affected by the amount of ambient light in your image. The longer your shutter remains open, the more your image is affected. This is something you need to be aware of, particularly if you’re around lights that make someone “aesthetically challenged”. Which lights make someone aesthetically challenged? Fluorescent lighting is green or magenta and nobody other than the Incredible Hulk looks good with a green cast. Red lighting is almost impossible to correct so try to avoid it!

Final image of Raphael Karanikos. I am using my Canon 1DS Mk III with my 400 70-200 IS lens. The ISO is set to 400, the focal length is 200mm and the F5.0 @ 1/15th of a second.

The way | Shutter speed and off-camera flash


Shaping light: How to train a light beam Regardless of the light source you use (daylight, continuous or flash) it’s really easy to use light shapers or light modifiers to train the light in any direction you want. You have that power! These light modifiers can also help you replicate all forms of natural light I mentioned in the section on Seeing the light. A quick note about costs Every kind of light shaper will have a top of the line version and a really cheap version. The main difference between the options is that the cheaper ones won’t be as durable. This becomes important when you’re using them every single day. When you’re learning how to use them, I recommend choosing cheap versions. You’ll figure out how they work and save yourself a lot of money.

The beautiful hands of Ilona Topolcsanyi from Cone 11 Ceramic studio earlier this year.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


Shaping your flash All flash, no shape. I rarely work without some sort of diffusion because using naked flash spreads the light around too much. The result is hard shadows that I personally think look really unflattering. Nobody is ever going to tell you that “wow I love the way your hard lighting has captured and enhanced every single pore, line and blemish on my skin. I actually look ten years older. Thanks!” There are, of course, many really cool uses for hard lighting and some photographers can make it look brilliant. I’m just not one of them. In fact, I dislike the look of hard lighting so much that I could only find two shoots in my archive of thousands. This image just uses the flash without any light shapers. Using flash without any modifiers (naked) is the closest you will get to replicate sunlight.

This shot, of the singers from the band Trinity, uses fill flash from my Broncolor mobil lights, set at full power with bare heads (no diffusion). This type of lighting is perfect for this shot because it mimics natural sunlight. This goes back to my personal preference to always replicate natural light.

If you are going to use a hard light source and you want to avoid hard shadows appearing, it’s best to light your sitter front on and slightly from above. If you look closely, you can see some shadows cast by the blonde girl’s hair but I think the result looks just like sunshine, which was my goal for this shot.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


In this example, I use naked flash from my Broncolor mobil heads. These lights will give you a really beautiful light without diffusion, but using them isn’t without some challenges. As you can see, when my sitter turns her head, even at the slightest angle, we get shadows that aren’t all that flattering.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


Using umbrellas An umbrella creates a quality of light that is soft and abundant, and very forgiving. It is great to use if you want to light a large area with flat, even lighting.

AFL Football Show. Image courtesy Foxtel.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


For many years, I was one of the official photographers at the Australian TV industry’s annual award night: The Logies. Every year it was always a high-pressure gig, with dozens of people on and around my set. To make life easier and safer, I would mount my lights from the ceiling (Look ma, no cords) and used umbrellas and mono blocks as my main light shapers. I never loved this style of lighting but when you compare it to straight flash on camera, it’s still the best option in these kind of circumstances.

Project Runway Season 3. Image courtesy of Foxtel.

Because umbrellas are quite easy to use, and relatively cheap, they are great as your first light shaper. On the downside, umbrellas will over-light your shot, spreading lots of light around. Lots of light. Everywhere. Like a hose with its spray nozzle set to “everywhere”. Just like I consider eating Nutella straight out of the jar a “sometimes” food, you should consider using umbrellas as an “only use in case of emergency” style of lighting. If I overuse either, things tend to get a bit ugly.

Left: Michael Weatherly. Middle: Steve Irwin and Bec Hewitt. Right: Chris Noth.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


Types of umbrella shapers

Training wheels

Silver/gold reflective umbrella

When my children were young, I taught them how to ride bikes using training wheels. The wheels boosted their confidence more than anything else. After a while, I took the wheels off and they rode on two wheels as if they’d been doing it all their lives.

These babies throw light everywhere. They are great for lighting large groups of people. The silver umbrella will give you a slightly cooler light while the gold umbrella creates warmer light. Both produce a slightly harder light than the white reflective umbrella. White reflective umbrella

This umbrella creates a soft light with slightly less spread and contrast than the silver or gold reflective umbrellas. Because the style of light created allows people to move around a lot and in a constantly even source of lighting, they are great to use when you are shooting groups and couples under pressure, like for an event. White shoot through

Perfect as your first light modifier as it will diffuse and spread light quite evenly.

I think using flash with umbrellas is the same. Use them as a learning tool till you get your balance and then move on to a better bike. A final note on umbrellas They are perfect for indoor lighting but become tricky, actually downright dangerous, to use outside. I’ve had countless (expensive) lights blown over using umbrellas! If you must use them then please make sure you have somebody holding them or sandbags to keep them in place.

The types of umbrellas you can buy. Top left: Gold reflective umbrella. Top right: Silver reflective umbrella. Bottom left: White reflective umbrella. Bottom right: White shoot through umbrella.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


Scrim, baby After you’ve ditched your umbrella training wheels, the next step is to work with scrim. A scrim panel is a square or rectangular frame with a fabric diffusing material covering it. Of all the light shapers, a scrim is probably the most versatile and a must have in your kit. This is a really cool way to create large areas of soft diffused light, as if you were shooting next to a large window, or have light clouds over the sun. Remember: The larger the light source, the softer the light. And this is a piece of equipment that you can easily make yourself. I used a DIY one for my first 10 years as a photographer and they are great for diffusing flash, continuous and sunshine. This example was shot using tungsten lights and scrim.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


Using a softbox If I could only pick one light shaper to take to a deserted island, it would have to be the softbox. Small, medium or large this little puppy is my go-to light source for 80% of my shoots. Why? The quality of light is soft, flattering and malleable. Changing the angle and proximity of the softbox to the sitter easily changes the hardness of light and direction of shadow. It’s one of the light shapers that, I feel, recreates the effect of soft daylight through a window. I think what I like most about this light shaper is that it’s subtle. Highlights gently merge to shadows. I think I love this light shaper more than Nutella… there I said it.

Top left: Ditch Davey Top middle: Samuel Johnson Top right: Daniel Radcliffe Left: Todd McKenney

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


An example of round catchlights thanks to my altered softbox interior panel.

I use a few different kinds of softboxes depending on where and what I’m shooting. If it’s a studio shoot I love using my Chimira Medium softbox with white reflective interior. The white interior creates a softer light and this particular softbox has an extra layer of diffusion on the inside, adding even more softness to the light. Some photographers remove this interior panel as they like having more contrast of the harder light (because it’s not as diffused as much), but I prefer less contrast. You can also increase the spread and contrast of your light by using silver or gold interior panels. I also add a black interior panel with circle cut out to give me round rather than rectangular catchlights. The shape of catchlights might not matter to you but if it does, read the section on catchlights to see how you can alter them.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


Shooting using beauty lights The beauty dish I have is quite a cheap brand, which goes to show you don’t need to shell out a lot of money for every piece of equipment. I like mine because it works with my speedlight, my Elinchrom mono and battery flashes. I like that kind of versatility in my equipment because it means I have more options on the day, and less to carry around! The beauty dish differs to other light shapers because it gives you a distinct circular soft contrast light, which is perfect for lighting faces and defining bone structure such as cheek bones and chin lines. It also creates a circular catchlight in your sitter’s eyes, which makes the reflection seem quite natural. You can see why these shapers are popular with fashion/beauty and celebrity photographers. The downside of using beauty dishes is that the fall off, from light to dark, is very rapid so you’ll often get shadows under your sitter’s chin and nose. You can compensate for the shadows by adding a fill board, like a white reflector, to reflect light up, onto your sitter’s face.

Lisa McCune. Courtesy of Woman’s Day/ACP Magazines.

Why would you use this over other shapers? A beauty dish gives you a certain look. It will just light a small area and flatten out your sitter’s features. It makes people look great but you need to light your sitter in quite a specific way, lighting them from above, to really pull it off.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


Using a gridspot The gridspot is a bit of kit you can use in conjunction with a speedlight, monoblock or battery operated flash. The width of the grid and the size of the holes will affect the width of the light beam hitting your sitter. This is a hard focused light. I love to use grid spots in the same way I use beauty lights. Why would you use this over other shapers? I like using gridspots because they create a similar light to beauty dishes. The light is a bit harder but they’re perfect for single portraits because you can pop a bit of light onto someone’s face and shoulders without impacting the background mood.

A portrait shoot I did with Australian actor Ditch Davey shows lighting without gridspot (left) and with gridspot (right).

They are also perfect to use outside as they won’t get blown about.

Gridspots showing different widths.

Beauty dish with a gridspot.

The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam



Ring flash

An octabox is what you get if a softbox and umbrella got married and had babies. An octabox has soft light just like its mama the softbox but spreads its light around more, just like his daddy the umbrella.

The ring flash was first used for macro dental photography because it gives a really even light and few shadows. It fits around the lens and because of the unique shape of the flash tube gives funky discs as catchlights.

They are fantastic for lighting large groups evenly. The other advantage some people like is they give round catchlights.

Octabox with the front panel in.

I don’t own an octabox because I’m not a huge fan but do have a Rotalux deep octabox, which is what you’d get if a softbox married a beauty dish and made babies. This, as far as I’m concerned is a match made in heaven for lighting single portraits.

You can get ring flashes that connect to your hotshoe just like a speedlight, making them quite convenient to use. The larger, more powerful units run off battery packs as continuous light or mains powered. This style of lighting has a definite look about it. Worth checking out as you never know – this may end up being your “thing”.

Octabox with interior bevel exposed.

Octabox as a beauty dish. The way | Shaping light: How to train a light beam


The style

Blending different styles of light Some days you walk into situations and God/Universe/Oprah deliver the perfect lighting setup. It’s simply a matter of pointing your camera at the subject, getting your exposure right and walking away with a “how good am I” kinda strut.

Daylight and flash I like to start by replicating natural light but sometimes I want to make my sitter’s skin tones just a little brighter. It’s easy to do.

Then there are the days when you get faced with more challenging lighting situations that involve a bit more thought, care and lighting intervention.

All you have to do is match your fill flash to your ambient reading. You can also add anywhere between ¼ + ½ F-stop to your aperture setting, depending on the look you’re after.

Whilst you won’t always be handed golden light on a silver platter, you can create your own by using a few really simple techniques.

You need to shoot at the exposure that’s right for the skin tone reading. Refer to the section on skin tone for more tips on how to do that. An alternative, simple and cheap way to add light to your shot is to use a bounce board to bounce the sunlight into your sitter’s face. Don’t get too close though, otherwise you can introduce too much light and take an eye out!

This Paris café is lit with tungsten globes and you can see, when it’s photographed with the camera’s white balance set to Daylight, it has a lovely warm glow.

Tungsten and fill flash About 80% of my photography work involves photographing people in the film, stage and TV industry. There are many occasions that, due to time constraints, I need to photograph the talent on-set, rather than bringing them to another location like my studio. I can still remember the first time I walked onto a TV set 20 years ago. It was incredibly intimidating. I was shooting an editorial for a UK magazine about one of our TV dramas called Neighbours. I shot on a film stock called scotch, which was rated at 800 ISO. I had my doorstop first zoom lens that went wide open at a whopping F5.6 and had to shoot at 1/15th sec.

When I convert my camera’s white balance to tungsten or convert the shot to tungsten during post-production, the scene now looks like this. Daylight now becomes very blue and the tungsten light looks less orange.

I was given two minutes to shoot while the actors re-enacted a scene for me and the entire crew watched. It was so intimidating. My heart was racing. I was star struck. My lips stuck to my teeth and I had trouble speaking plus I was sweating buckets. Most of the images ended up being soft, which is photo speak for out of focus.

when I need to shoot a cover, I need to introduce more light so I can shoot at a lower ISO that will give me cover quality images.

When I’m working with TV and stage lighting, I find the lights are never bright enough to allow me to shoot at an ISO of less than 1000. I just worked on an Australian drama where most of my shots were at around 1600 ISO.

Film, TV, and theatre sets are lit using continuous tungsten lights. They create a warmer style of lighting and if you just added flash into the scene, your color balance would be wrong. The flash would overpower the TV lights and give you a washed out looking shot.

Shooting at 1600 ISO is fine for still images that probably won’t end up on a billboard or cover of a magazine. For the occasions

So what do I do?

A film still (sometimes called a publicity still or a production still) is a photograph taken on the set of a movie, theatre or television program during production.

The style | Blending different styles of light


The high pressure shoot Imagine this. Your brief is to create a high quality, welllit cover shot of (insert name of #1 TV star in your country). The shot must take place on-set, in front of the entire crew and a live studio audience of about 1000 people. You have just three minutes to walk on set, light it and pose your talent. This is a typical TV shoot for me. I used to shoot these scenarios at 800 ISO to capture as much light as possible, with a shutter speed of between 1/30th and 1/15th of a second and pray I’d get a sharp image. This wasn’t ideal for a lot of reasons but mainly because the cameras I was using back then weren’t great at shoot images over 400 ISO. Then I found a better way.

You might not be shooting on a TV set but shooting under pressure is quite common.

Balancing tungsten and fill flash

• The handshake shot of two politicians.

When balancing tungsten lighting with flash, you need to consider how to match the color and intensity of the two different types of light.

• T  he CEO with just a few minutes between meetings. • Cutting the cake at a wedding. • Working with children. It’s all well and good being able to spend 4 hours setting up a shot but these are situations when you just won’t have the luxury of time. Learn to shoot quickly – and well. When you can produce great results under pressure, you will get more and more work. It’s that simple. The benefits practicing a quick shoot cannot be underestimated.

The color can be matched by adding a piece of warming CTO gel over your flash head. The CTO gel is orange and converts daylight flash to tungsten colored flash. I generally reduce the intensity of the flash by using a modifier (a softbox or a gridspot), which also helps to contain the flash to my sitters. The entire process is EXACTLY the same as balancing daylight and fill flash. The only difference is I’ve added the CTO gel to my flash. Here is the process I follow.

Have a go-to lighting scenario that you know works. Where you’ll put your light, how you can angle it and what exposure you will probably use.

The style | Blending different styles of light


Left: Test shot as I take my light readings. Right: Test shot with some fill flash added.

1. As I’m walking onto set I take a light reading and a quick test shot with my camera’s white balance set to daylight. My ambient readings in this example are: a. ISO 100 b. Shutter speed to 1/15th of a second c. I set my aperture to F2.8 70mm for my EF 70-200 f2.8mm IS USM lens 2. I position my talent and take another test shot with some fill flash added. With the fill flash, the meter reading is F2.8½, which is ½ a stop over my ambient setting (as suggested in Balancing daylight and flash).

My CTO gel is helping to balance the color of the fill flash but my flash (set to 1/16th power) is introducing too much light, so I need to adjust the intensity. By now I’ve spent just around two minutes of my allocated time on set and I’ve got my settings almost correct. It doesn’t sound like much time but it’s a long time when you’ve got a crowd of people watching intently. While you need to be as prepared as possible, and have your go-to lighting scenario, it’s also important to learn to let people wait for you. It’s more important to get it right while you are there.

This is a shot of my fill flash held in position by an assistant. You can see the CTO gel taped to the front.

Talk to your sitter, keep them relaxed, but don’t rush it.

The style | Blending different styles of light


3. A  shutter speed of 1/15th sec is too slow for a cover shoot so I bump up my ISO to 400 to give me 2 extra stops (of speed). A faster shutter speed means that if my sitter moves, even just a little, the exposure on his skin tone won’t be affected. At 400 ISO I’m now getting a reading of F2.8 at 1/125th of a second. I have shot portraits on 1/15th of a second, on a tripod and when I have the time to review my shots as I’m shooting. In these high-pressure situations, you don’t have that time. If your sitter moves, you’ve blown the shot so the faster shutter speed is needed. You might think that if you’re not shooting a magazine cover, you can downgrade your settings but you should always give people the best shot possible. Whenever I shoot, I shoot for the best possible results. Always.

Before shot.

4. F inally, based on my test shots, I decide to add in a ¼ stop of light to lift the skin tone enough to give it zing. For the final shot the camera and light settings are:

Eddie McGuire. Image courtesy Nine Network Australia. The final image shot with my camera’s white balance set to daylight.

You might wonder why I didn’t just set my camera’s white balance to tungsten in the first place. I like to shoot everything at the same white balance, shoot RAW and adjust it in post-production.

• ISO is set to 400 • Shutter speed is 1/125th of a second • Aperture is F2.8 and focus length is 70mm (on my EF 70-200mm f2.8mm IS USM lens) The style | Blending different styles of light


50 shades of grey card Getting your white balance right (without the nervous breakdown) Shooting with your camera on auto mode will mean your white balance is adjusted automatically, based on the type of light you are shooting in. In fact, most digital cameras have presets to compensate for colorcasts caused by shooting in different settings. The auto settings are a good start but it’s important to remember that the settings will never be 100% accurate. You can shoot 20 frames and get 20 different white balances depending on what kind of lights are in your shot, or the area in the frame that your camera is metering. If you are shooting an event that goes all day you will end up with hundreds, even thousands, of shots that are all completely different in color.

Because I’ve been doing this for a number of years now, I keep my white balance at 5200 and correct during post-production BUT as a general rule, set your camera’s white balance to the type of light that dominates the shot. If you’re shooting in daylight, set your white balance to daylight mode. If you’re shooting in a studio or stage, where lights are tungsten, set your white balance to tungsten mode. There are other white balance modes available and I encourage you to check them out. Have a play! The first rule I have is that I always shoot in RAW. Always. Then, if I’m shooting fashion or advertising, where color is critical, I grey card my shot. That means that once I get my settings right, I shoot my sitter with the grey card to get a correct color balance in Adobe’s Lightroom.

Once you are happy with your lighting setup your first frame in any shoot should be of a grey card.

The style | Blending different styles of light


Another fantastic alternative to the grey card is a color card app you can download to your smartphone. I love this handy little app as I know I always have it with me and will never forget to bring it to a shoot!

During post-production, I upload all my images to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. There is a lot of information about post-production techniques so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail but here are some quick steps I follow. In the Develop Module, I select the eyedropper tool (the white balance selector)

and click on my grey card. Lightroom will automatically convert your image to have a neutral white balance. The tip to remember? If you have time, take a quick shot with your sitter holding a grey card as it will help you achieve a perfect white balance during post-production.

My grey card shot in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

The style | Blending different styles of light


Daylight and tungsten lights This image of Australian actor Ditch Davey was taken using a similar technique that I used in the example for blending fill flash and tungsten lighting.

This technique looks particularly great on a dull grey sky day, the beach or wherever you might have a dull looking background.

The main difference is that in this scenario, shot using daylight and tungsten lighting, I use a gridspot with CTO gel on it instead of a softbox. I chose a gridspot because of its ability to add quite narrowly focused light onto my sitter’s face, without spilling light onto the background. The gridspot and the CTO gel also help to maintain the correct skin tone. The image was then converted to tungsten in post-production, making the daylight captured in the background go really blue. Let’s quickly summarize the technique:

Actor Ditch Davey shot in daylight and a CTO filter on a gridspot.

Final image of Ditch converted to tungsten using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

1. Take an ambient reading with the white balance set to daylight 2. Add your fill flash, using CTO gel to help balance the color of the introduced light 3. Adjust the flash intensity for skin tone and overall mood of the shoot 4. Convert to tungsten in post-production

The style | Blending different styles of light


Beauty lighting Rain, rain, rain, rain. Beautiful rain. – Ladysmith Black Mambazo Beauty lighting is a style of lighting that focuses only on the face. Many fashion and advertising photographers love using beauty dishes because the light they produce really defines cheekbones and jawlines. The downside of this light is that it can be quite harsh and is not very flattering on people who don’t have great skin or high cheekbones. The other downside to using a beauty dish is that they are not very portable. I feel like I’m carrying a wok around with me. They are awkward and don’t really neatly fit anywhere.

Having said all that, if you ever have a gorgeous sitter with amazing bone structure and beautiful skin then bust out the beauty dish! The key to great beauty lighting is to be able to pump as much light into the face as possible. You should always light the face as flat as possible so that you fill up any fine lines, lumps and creases. If you have a look at a cross-section of skin you can see that even fine lines look like deep valleys and even the smallest pore can look like a moon crater if you light it harshly.

Gary Sweet © 2011 Movie Network Channels. ©2011 BoilermakerBurberry Entertainment Pty Ltd – used with permission.

Cross-section of skin.

Cross-section of skin lit with hard light. You can see that the hard light is unable to fill in creases, wrinkles and fine lines so they are enhanced. This technique is perfect for character lighting.

The style | Beauty lighting


When you use a flatter, more even style of lighting it’s much easier to fill in all the creases, lumps and holes resulting in a more beautiful, younger looking skin tone.

My setup with just ambient daylight.

I find that using a softbox for beauty lighting is the best way to cover all kinds of skin tones. For this shot of Elise, I used my brand new Rotalux Deep Octa softbox. This is a narrow shaped deep octabox that reduces the spread of light. The result is slightly harder shadows very similar to that of a beauty dish, but a bit more forgiving. This rainy day beauty shot was photographed in the part of my studio that is flooded with daylight thanks to large frosted windows.

I decided to have these windows behind my model. This gave me an extremely backlit image.

Final shot of Australian actress Elise Jansen.

The first thing I did was take an ambient reading. This is based on my background only.

My background ambient settings are:

As you can see there is not very much light on Elise’s face at all.

• My aperture is F2.8½ @ 1/125th of a second

• My ISO is set to 100

• My focus length is 200mm (on my EF70-200mm f2.8 L IS USM lens) The style | Beauty lighting


Boom arm allows me to have light above model without having a light stand in camera frame

Chai Latte Octabox on boom stand

Elinchrom quadra battery powered light pack

Even with the backlight from my large studio windows, the ambient lighting was quite low so I got Elise to hold my phone up at eye level to give my camera a focus point. (See tricky lighting for more tips for low lighting.)

Here is a behind the scenes that I lit with flash on camera so you can actually see the setup.

I’ve set my octabox on a boom stand so that I could have my light over my model’s head without the light stand being in the way.

I set my lighting to be +1/2 stop over my ambient because Elise had very pale skin and I didn’t want to overexpose it too much. My meter reading was F4 @1/125th of a second with my ISO set to 100.

The style | Beauty lighting


Test shot to check the lighting and pose.

The setup, including the perspex sheet.

Once I was happy with my lighting and pose, I added a sheet of perspex sprayed with water.

Wrapping it up

Before I started shooting through the perspex, I rechecked my focus using an app on my phone, which has a focus screen. Then, finally, the perspex was placed just under my softbox (approximately six inches from Elise’s face).

There are only so many people who will suit being lit by a beauty dish. Using it on someone who doesn’t have great bone structure and amazing skin is just making more work for yourself.

Diagram showing you the setup for this shot.

When you use a softbox, or you can face your sitter towards your light source, to bring as much light as possible onto your sitter’s face, their skin will be evenly lit and flattered. Your job in post-production will be easier and your sitter will thank you.

The style | Beauty lighting


Catch me if you can: Catchlights

Two large frosted windows from my studio create beautiful catchlights.

A catchlight is the reflection of a light source in the eyes. The size, shape and brightness of your catchlights depend on the light source you use. Some photographers believe that natural looking catchlights should be round because the sun (the original light source) is round but I disagree. I think windows create my favorite catchlight and unless you live on a ship, most windows aren’t round.

Bare flash on camera creates a small hard rectangular catchlight.

The number of lights you use influences the number of catchlights you get. The size, shape and position of your lights are a matter of personal preference and another way of defining your personal lighting style. As a general rule, catchlights “should” be positioned at the equivalent of 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock as this replicates the natural position of the sun in the sky (or windows). Avoid placing catchlights below 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock as they only occur when you

light someone from below (which only looks good in horror movies). When you are using fill flash you should consider the size and shape of your light modifier – not only for the style of lighting you achieve, but also the kind of catchlights you will get.

The style | Catch me if you can: Catchlights


Diffused flash on camera creates a slightly softer, rectangular catchlight.

Small softbox on camera gives a larger, softer more natural looking catchlight.

Medium softbox, off camera, positioned at 2 o’clock gives a soft natural catchlight.

A ring light gives a circular catchlight for an interesting effect.

Eye model: Bryana Karanikos The style | Catch me if you can: Catchlights


Troubleshooting tricky lighting There are some scenarios that might well strike fear into your heart. But most tricky lighting is easily fixed, when you know how. This section steps you through some of the trickiest of the tricky, with my tips on how you can still get great shots.

Callan Mulvey Rush

Dancing in the dark: Working in very low light Working in dim light can be really challenging, for fairly obvious reasons. You can’t see what you’re doing for a start.

It’s also hard to focus your camera. In fact, using auto focus is almost impossible if there is little contrast in your shot or you are in an environment that is heavily backlit.

I was faced with both these scenarios on a recent photo shoot for the D’Avola family at their amazing Sicilian home, Villa Fegotto.

Villa Fegotto is a 19th-century villa in Sicily.

The style | Dancing in the dark: Working in very low light


I wanted to do a portrait of the eldest daughter, Alessandra, in the barrel room. The room seemed to capture the history of the family and the location, and it was perfect… …apart from it being pitch black except for a tiny window on the back wall. I could have found another location but I knew this dusty, dark space would create the atmosphere I was after. This is a shot of me setting up in the room, taken using my Canon Ixus camera with built-in flash.

Positioning your phone, as a light source, at the same level as your sitter’s face, gives your camera something to focus on.

I usually focus on auto-mode as it’s just more accurate than your eyes. Well, my eyes anyway. But when you’re shooting in a dimly lit or backlit space, your camera’s autofocus will struggle to focus.

All you need to do is position the lit screen of a phone at your sitter’s eye level. The light will give your camera something to lock onto and from there, focusing is easy.

So the first challenge to overcome is:

How do you focus in low light or heavily backlit scenarios? I’ve lost so many great images because I haven’t been able to focus onto any contrast in flat lighting scenarios. The answer is actually quite simple. Use your phone. My first image was taken with the ambient light available. There isn’t much!

This is the best tip in the world, ever. Seriously. Another way you can achieve the same results is to shine a torch light onto your sitter’s face. You will be able to get your focus but blinding someone, albeit temporarily, isn’t very friendly! Once your camera has focused, get your sitter to remain as still as possible, keep your camera still (it’s on a tripod, isn’t it?) and switch your camera back to manual mode. The style | Dancing in the dark: Working in very low light


Take an ambient reading first The room was really dark except for a small window above Alessandra’s head. The light coming through this window was lovely and I wanted to replicate it in the shot. Just like the system I mentioned in the chapter on Building the shot, the first step is to take readings using the ambient light.

Build the shot, one light at a time

My settings for this particular shot are: ISO is set to 800 I increased my ISO to 800 to allow me to achieve a correct ambient exposure of F4 (the widest my lens will open up) and shutter speed of 1/15th of a second.

My next step was to introduce a backlight to help replicate the window light behind Alessandra. I used my Canon 580 EX II speedlight for this with a warming filter attached, MacGyver style with a trusty band aid. These speedlights are great to travel with as they are the size of your hand and run on batteries.

800 is the highest ISO I’ll use with this particular camera. If I go much higher, the shot becomes too grainy. Lens focus length is 35mm The focus length is quite wide because I wanted to get some of the barrel room into the shot. Aperture is F4.0 @ 1/15th of a second This is the slowest shutter speed I’ll use for a portrait. Any slower and it becomes too hard for the sitter to remain still for long enough and you get a ghosting effect. Sometimes this ghosting can give a really cool effect but it’s not what I was after this time. I’m using my:  anon 5D Mk II, with my EF 24-105mm • C f/4 IS USM 105mm lens • Canon 580 EX II speedlight

The style | Dancing in the dark: Working in very low light


I wanted to keep it moody and atmospheric so it was important not to blast the room with light. I also wanted to keep her shadow, as if the only light source was that back window. To achieve this, I set my flash to Manual so I could control how much light it produced, and set the power to 1/16th, giving me an extra + 1 stop of light in the background. My camera settings never change from the ambient reading.

Here you can see the back flash has added some warmth and definition to the background, without killing it with too much light.

Alessandra lit from the front and rear. As you can see, the room looks almost naturally lit, which is just the effect I was after.

My final step was to light Alessandra’s face. I used another 580 EX set at 1/8th power which gave me a meter reading of F4.5 @ 1/15th of a second. That’s a ½ stop over my ambient setting.

I added the extra power because the softbox diffused the light, cutting it back so it wasn’t as strong. It just wasn’t enough to light her.

Backlight mounted on gorilla pod on barrel behind Alessandra. The style | Dancing in the dark: Working in very low light


The progression of the shoot from introducing some light to focus on to the final softbox.

My final challenge with this shot was shooting wide without getting my softbox in shot. What I love about this final shot is that it doesn’t look lit. While your logical brain might know that some lights have been introduced, the lighting looks warm and natural. This isn’t an ideal scenario but you can see that it’s possible to create beautiful lighting in low lit spaces. You goal should always be to look for natural light sources you can replicate, to add warmth and feeling to the shot.

The style | Dancing in the dark: Working in very low light


A flair for flare How to deal with lens flare Lens flare is caused by stray rays of light, from the sun or your light source, hitting the lens. It can look really cool and give an edginess, nostalgia, or even realness to an image. Capturing lens flare is quite easy. You simply need to face your lights directly at the lens or point your lens directly into the sun. Section over, right? While lens flare can look cool, it brings its own lighting challenges to the party. This image was taken around 6pm, right at the peak of summer. It took me a few tries before I got the angle of the camera right, which can be a frustrating part of shooting into the sun.

Girls from the band Trinity. I think adding the sunburst really gives this shot some edge. It’s perfect for a band/fashion shoot.

Ambient readings My settings for this shot are:

For this shot I’m using my:

• ISO is set to 100

• C  anon 1DS Mk II, with my 24-70mm f2.8 lens

• Lens focus length is 24mm • Aperture is F/ 11 @ 1/125th of a second

• I used fill flash from my Broncolor mobil lights, set at full power with bare heads.

The style | A flair for flare


The Goldilocks scenario Here is an example of an image that wasn’t lit. You can see how flat and dull the skin tone is.

And here are a few that I feel are a little too flared.

I used my flash to add some hard light that was very similar to the sun. The effect was natural, vibrant and very summery.

These shots, with “too much flare”, break all the rules but they convey a mood of pure summer. You’ll see shots like this used in advertising or lifestyle shoots and whether you create them or not comes back to your personal style, and the mood you’re trying to create.

Reducing lens flare If you find yourself with unwanted lens flare, make sure you use a lens hood or a cutter to eliminate light hitting your lens.

Remember, no camera on auto mode will give you these shots as, technically, they aren’t right. But they feel great.

The style | A flair for flare


If you use a smaller f-stop, you can enhance the starburst effect of the sun. For this shot I’m using my: • Canon 1DS Mk II, with my 24mm lens using 24-105 F4 mm My settings for this shot are: • ISO is set to 400 • Lens focus length is 24mm • Aperture is F/ 22 @ 1/125th of a second Lens flare can look amazing so you shouldn’t always avoid it! It’s a free light source that can add some WOW to your shot. But you need to be careful how you angle your camera when positioning your sitter, and which F-stop you select.

Shooting at high noon If I was going to have to define my least favourite lighting scenario it would have to be shooting between the hours of 11am and 2pm, when the sun is high in the sky.

two large diffusers on heavy duty stands create soft shade

Elincrom Quadra with small photoflex softbox adds approx +1/4 stop of fill light

Why is this such a bad time to shoot? Firstly, the sun is at its most unforgiving. When the sun is directly overhead, it casts dark shadows under everyone’s eyes. This kind of hard light is unflattering, to everyone. Even to two year olds. Sometimes you can’t avoid the time you shoot but there are a couple of things you can do to make life a bit easier, and your shots a lot better. The secret is to look for open shade. Open shade is a space, usually outdoors, that is shaded from the direct light of the sun. The beauty of shooting in open shade is that your sitter is usually illuminated by reflected light. If you can’t find any open shade or it just doesn’t exist, I suggest you invest in a portable light diffuser. If you are serious about portrait photography, one of these babies will get you out of difficult lighting situations time and time again.

Here’s an example of one of my lighting setups to diffuse the harsh midday sun.

The style | Shooting at high noon


In this setup, with actor Jared Deparis, I had no other option than to shoot at high noon. We had exhausted all our indoor options and we couldn’t hang around for another five hours to wait for the “good light” to hit. My solution was to use a portable scrim. The scrim created some shade but it also created the most beautiful light and catchlights for Jared. It was such a simple fix and the results are well worth the extra effort.

Jared Deparis – the final shot.

Australian actor Jared Deparis is sheltered from the harsh midday sun using a scrim panel held above him. As you can see, the setting around this shot is quite mundane but this demonstrates that if you can find some texture and color, you can create a stunning backdrop anywhere.

The style | Shooting at high noon


Neighbours cast members Jenna Rosenow and Ariel Kaplan are shaded from the harsh midday sun using two scrims mounted on heavy-duty c-stands.

This next example is from a shoot I did for the cast of Australian drama Neighbours. Neighbours has been running for almost 30 years and I spent almost 10 of those

years as one of the show’s main publicity photographers. This is where I really learned how to work quickly because in television you only have minutes to light, pose and take your shot.

This particular shoot was no exception. There were approx. 30-40 setups to get through in a day, and all of them were set around the pool in the midday sun. Oh joy!

The style | Shooting at high noon


When I’m creating open shade like this I take my ambient meter readings from the shade. These readings become my base setting. My settings for this shot are:

One of the problems of using diffuser boards is they create hard obvious shadows around your subject. A really cool little trick I picked up from a film crew I worked with was to disguise your scrim edges with branches to soften your shadows.

• ISO is set to 100 • Lens focus length is 95mm on my EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM lens • Aperture is F8 @ 1/60th of a second Because I take my base readings on the shaded area, some of the areas outside of the shade will now be overexposed. You could improve this by selecting a higher shutter speed to bring down the ambient light but I prefer letting the background blow out. I find if everything is correctly exposed it starts to look super real and lacks that “lifestyle feel”. Neighbours cast members Jenna Rosenow (bottom left) Ariel Kaplan (top left) Taylor Glockner (top right) Calen Mackenzie (bottom right) and Harley Bonner (center).

Branches soften the hard shadows created around your diffuser board.

Please remember there are no rules here. I’m just showing you my preferences for shooting in these scenarios. I encourage you to experiment and see which way you prefer.

The style | Shooting at high noon


The twilight zone twi•light Noun: 1. The soft glowing light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon, caused by the reflection of the sun’s rays from the atmosphere. Photographing at twilight can be incredibly stressful. The window of opportunity between incredible light and “it’s all turned to cacca” light is only about 20-30 minutes so you need to work quickly. As challenging as it is, I love photographing at twilight. You get a beautiful mix of daylight and artificial light as streetlights and building lights come on. It’s a really flat, soft light that is perfect to add fill light to. The best way to shoot at twilight is to be organized. Arriving at your location at least 30-45 minutes before the sun sets will give you plenty of time to set up your tripod, lights, models and, most importantly, test out your background. It’s also a good idea to carry a small torch so you can find things easily in your camera bag.

Tommi Pitsas, an Australian songwriter and musician. www.facebook.com/tommi.pitsas

When I’m scouting locations for twilight shoots, I look for locations facing west so I can shoot into the fading sunset. I also look for artificial light sources such as streetlights and building lights that will twinkle in the background. The style | The twilight zone


Locations like railways have amazing atmosphere but you really have to be careful. Always look for locations that don’t pose risks to your safety!

The real trick to shooting in twilight is adding the right kind of light.

fill light that matched the ambient light quality.

Too much light can give an artificial look that makes your sitter look like they’ve been photoshopped in. The wrong light shaper can also give the same “fake” look.

I’ve also had my assistant hold the light from the side, which gives a really deliberate split lighting look; the kind that might have been made by a streetlight.

In this example, of Tommi the rockstar, I decided to use my octabox with double diffusion to give a really soft quality to my

This looks like an easy, one-shot wonder but there were a few tricky things to remember for this shot.

My first shot (far left) is my ambient readings which have my ISO set to 400 and my aperture set to F2.8 @ 1/15th of a second. The middle shot introduced fill flash at same reading as my ambient readings. This shot looks really natural but I really wanted some contrast. The third (far right) had an extra +1/2 stop of fill flash (from my octabox held over Tommi’s head) added.

The style | The twilight zone


I wanted to capture Tommi walking down the railway line, towards the camera. The combination of my shutter speed being set to 1/15th of a second and my flash on a moving subject causes a slight ghosting. This is because the shutter is opened for longer than the flash fires. This ghosting can look pretty cool as an effect so it’s worth experimenting with.

You can see the ghosting effect in his hair.

For this shot I wanted a sharper look so I needed a faster shutter speed. I increased my shutter speed to 1/60th of a second. Remember, your shutter speed doesn’t affect your exposure. Your shutter speed affects the amount of ambient light captured. (See Blending light for more information about this.)

This is exactly the same lighting taken just a minute after the previous shot (left) with a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. The faster shutter speed, and the light fading, produces a darker background. The octabox is still above Tommi but I had my assistant position it more to the side, giving the shot a more dramatic look. I also had my camera’s focus set to auto AF servo.

The style | The twilight zone


As the daylight continued to fade, I rapidly started losing ambient light. We were fast approaching the “cacca zone�. I was confident I had my walking shot nailed so I moved on to some static shots. I opened up my shutter speed to 1/30th of a second and kept my exposure the same as before. Here are the results with and without flash.

Left: Static shot with flash. Right: Static shot without flash.

The style | The twilight zone


It was now almost dark and I had one more close-up shot to get. I really wanted maximum detail in the background. The shot looks OK but I think the background is a little heavy.

I have two options here: 1. I can open up to slower shutter speed. This is very risky for a portrait as it means my sitter cannot move. At all. 2. Choose a higher ISO to compensate for the lower light. I was shooting on my 1DS Mk III and I don’t like how it shoots over 400 ISO so I went for the risky option and shot at 1/8th of a second.

My first shot has my shutter speed set to 1/30th of a second.

You can see how much brighter the background is in this next shot. I was very lucky and managed to get one sharp frame out of 10, which goes to prove how risky a lower shutter speed can be for portraits. In hindsight, the safer option would have been to up my ISO and guarantee a good shot.

My shutter speed set to 1/8th of a second.

The style | The twilight zone


Diagram of the shot setup.

My Elinchrom Quadra in this shot has the added bonus of a modeling light. This shot would have worked just as well with speedlights. The style | The twilight zone


Lighting couples and groups One of the best learning experiences I had when it comes to lighting groups and couples was a five-year stint shooting covers and editorial for major Australian and UK TV soap magazines. The cover storylines were always about love triangles, new love, good love, love gone wrong, he did, she did, and Oh no, she didn’t! type of stuff. I spent nearly every day lighting and posing groups of two to five+ actors and, in most cases, I was only given minutes to set up, light, pose and take the shot. My early attempts at lighting groups were often frustrating. I found it really challenging to get really even, shadow-free lighting (I call it clean lighting) on everyone in the shot. Then one day I was flicking through a Vanity Fair magazine and saw a behind-the-scenes still of Leonardo DiCaprio in Antarctica, shot by Annie Leibowitz. The still showed Leo on location on an iceberg lit by two softboxes. This was a light bulb moment for me and forever changed the way I shot my portraits. I now use the double softbox for a majority of my shoots. After shooting hundreds and hundreds of couples and groups I’ve managed to come up with a lighting style that works for couples, groups of up to five and another system that works really well for large groups.

Fashion designer Peter Morrissey and fashion stylist Claudia Navone/Foxtel Australia.

Lighting couples and small groups

It must have been cold there in my shadow. – Bette Midler, Wind Beneath My Wings

When you are lighting couples and you are using a harder light source try to keep your light on a flatter angle to your sitters. The greater the angle your light is on to your sitters, the more shadow you will get.

The biggest issue you’ll face photographing couples is getting even lighting across both faces and bodies. Using modifiers, like a beauty dish or grid spot, can be tricky as you need to be quite precise about the angle your light hits your couple, so that’s the big thing to watch. The other big challenge is that one body may block another body’s light which then casts a shadow. If you want easy even lighting, I suggest you start with an umbrella as a light source, as it throws light everywhere and it’s very hard to get it wrong. The downside to this type of light is it goes everywhere and it’s difficult to get any modeling on their faces. My go-to scenario when lighting couples is to always position my softbox as close to the couple as possible. This creates really soft lighting that wraps around both people. No shadows.

Poster from the Theatre Production of Syncopation.

The style | Lighting couples and groups


Lighting larger groups

AFL Group

Lighting large groups with off-camera fill flash can be tricky because there are so many things you need to be aware of.

This is a group of AFL football champions I was given five minutes to light, pose and shoot. I actually had my softboxes set up inside, for a studio shoot, but they wanted an outside shot so I used my Broncolor mobile portable lights with umbrellas to cast a wider field of light.

I think it’s really important to have as much help (and as many extra eyes) as possible when you are dealing with large numbers. It’s impossible to focus your attention on everyone’s expressions, the lights, exposure, f-stop, shutter speed… I’m getting stressed just writing about it.

The second shot, with introduced fill flash, is OK for a five-minute rush job. It’s also an improvement on using on-camera flash but I still don’t like the shadows created.

Here is the before shot showing my ambient reading. My ISO is set to 100, my aperture is F5.6 @ 1/125th of a second. My focus length is 70mm (on my EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM lens).

A note about assistants/ support networks No matter how inexperienced you are, there is always someone less experienced and willing to help out on a photo shoot. If you can’t afford to pay for an assistant, start networking with other photographers and trade services. This can also be done with gear. I have a network of dozens of photographers I can call on for advice or help if needed. This support network should be the first thing you work on above everything else.

Then I introduced my fill flash. My ISO is still 100 but my fill flash introduces an extra stop so my aperture is now F8 @ 1/125th of a second. My focus length is still 70mm.

What could I change?

Double whammy: The two-softbox lighting system

I could have raised my lights higher, to overcome the shadow effect, but the higher the light goes the more unstable it becomes and the easier it is to knock or blow over.*

The thing I love most about using softboxes when lighting large groups is that the light source is so soft that you can allow people to overlap and still light them all without shadows. You can achieve beautiful modeling on the faces or be flattering by adjusting the output of each softbox.

Without an assistant stabilizing each light, I was too nervous to try it. * Umbrellas are really dangerous outside. One small gust of wind and over they go, smashing your expensive light and your heart at the same time. I’ve had this happen three times (slow learner). It gets expensive and never mind the fact that you are on location without a light trying not to cry in front of your client.

Diagram of two-light setup with umbrellas.

As a general rule I like my main light to come from my right (camera right) and second light from my left (camera left).

So in this instance I chose the safe option, and dealt with a few shadows.

Hard shadows highlighted in red.

Left: Shows my two-softbox lighting setup. Right: If you don’t own two softboxes, this setup can also be done with one softbox and a bounce umbrella. The style | Lighting couples and groups


Project Runway The basic setup is as follows: As you can guess, the first step is to get your ambient reading. My settings for this shot are: • ISO is set to 100 • Len focus length is 90mm on my EF 70-200mm f2.8 IS USM lens

Once my light is even across all faces, I introduce softbox #2 (camera left) at a reading of F8½. This is a stop less than the main light because I want some modeling on the faces and this light acts as extra fill for any shadows and brings in extra detail. I’ve found that only using one light with a group this large will end up looking too moody. Experiment with and without extra light and see which look works better for your style.

• Aperture is F11 @ 1/60th of a second

Project Runway shot with ambient readings.

I’ve picked an F-stop of F11 because I’m photographing a large group who are spread three rows deep from front to back. I know that on my 70-200 lens, F11 is actually the sharpest F-stop so this determines the starting point for my settings. If you’re shooting a large group of people, with mixed depths, on a long lens go for an aperture of F11-F16. Remember: The higher F-stop you go, the more light you will have to introduce into the shot. And the more you zoom in, the shorter your depth of field so the people at the back could be out of focus. I then position my main fill light (camera right) on a slight angle and ensure that my light reading is F11½, across each of my sitters. I do this by taking a quick reading front right, front left, middle, back right and back left.

Final shot of Project Runway Season 3. Courtesy Foxtel. The style | Lighting couples and groups


Diagram of lighting for FOG Restaurant shot.

FOG Restaurant For my FOG image I’ve gone for a flatter style of lighting, which means both sides are evenly lit. I always try to recreate a natural light source and this shot is lit as if there is a window in front of them. I’ve also added a hairlight to separate my group from the background, and just give it a bit more bling. Creating this shot followed the same initial process as the previous example. I started by taking the ambient reading.

I then positioned my main fill light (camera right) on a slight angle and made sure my light readings were F11½ across each of my sitters. As before, I checked this by taking a quick reading front right, front left, middle, back right and back left.

Wrapping up

Once my light was even across all faces, I introduced softbox #2 (camera left) at a reading of F11½. I used the same settings as my main light so my sitters were evenly lit from both sides, filling the shadows and balancing light across the entire shot.

The harder the light source, the harder it is to light everyone evenly. Using softboxes gives a much more even light from front to back, which flatters everyone.

My settings for this shot are:

Finally, I introduced my hairlight +1 stop over the two front lights giving me:

• ISO is set to 100

• ISO is set to 100

• Len focus length is 80mm on my EF 70-200mm f2.8 IS USM lens

• Aperture is F16 @ 1/60th

• Aperture is F11 @ 1/60th

Working with groups is tough. Your focus is making sure everyone looks good, but you’re also looking at positioning, lighting, settings and the results.

If you don’t have two softboxes, you can use one softbox with an umbrella. The key is to be generous with your light. You’ll get extra spread but it’s more flattering to everyone in the group.

The style | Lighting couples and groups


Building the shot

Build your shot, one light at a time

The Voice Australia contestants.

This chapter will step you through how to build your shot, one light at a time, using the light sources mentioned in The gear. When I’m shooting portraits in daylight, I use the following “safe” system of building the shot up, one light at a time. I use this approach because it almost guarantees I will get a great shot, even if my lights fail.

Having had equipment fail on me leading to disastrous results, like breaking a wedding, I’ve learned not to put all my eggs in one basket. The first questions I always ask is can I shoot this just using daylight? Then I consider if I do add light, will it actually enhance the shot?

Understanding light and learning how to see great, natural light will help you get great first shots. From there you can add lighting to give your shots a little more mood and character. This is exactly the kind of system I recommend you practice so you are never completely relying on equipment that could let you down.

Shot 1a: Adding some bling Sometimes you have all the right conditions for a great daylight beauty shot; you just want a touch of “bling” to add some contrast without affecting the quality or amount of light. In the following two examples, I was working in a daylight lit room with large windows behind me. The light from the windows created gorgeous beauty lighting and beautiful catchlights but I felt the shots needed just a little bit more. This shoot was an impromptu shoot I did whilst I was waiting for Victoria’s brother to get ready for a family portrait shoot. I sat Victoria on the kitchen table to take advantage of the large windows that filled the room in beautiful daylight. This is perfect beauty lighting as it’s soft and low in contrast.

Step 1: Get your ambient readings I’m using my: • Canon 5D Mk II, with my EF 70mm-200 L f/2.8 IS lens • 580EX speedlight on a gorilla pod • Lumiquest softbox My settings for this shot are: • ISO is set to 400 • Lens focus length is 110mm • Aperture is F/ 2.8 @ 1/30th of a second

Step 2: Build the shot My initial thought was to pop in a tiny amount of fill from camera right using a small softbox and speedlight. The biggest challenge with this setup was that I’d actually left my light stand in the car. Knowing it probably wasn’t a great idea to leave a small child unattended, I decided to add a backlight and pop it on the table next to her.

Victoria Kanga. The left image is shot in daylight only. The shot at right shows the difference with the additional light.

1. I positioned the small softbox and speedlight, mounted on a gorilla pod, on the bench behind Victoria.

The hairlight I added is subtle and soft, giving the impression of sunlight streaming in.

2. To meter off my skin tone I opened up by half a stop.

As you can see, the first shot is still a great shot but I think the additional light adds a nice contrast to the image.

3. Based on my meter readings, I introduced an extra ½ stop of light onto Victoria’s hair using a softbox.

Building the shot | Adding some bling


Step 3: The setup

Building the shot | Adding some bling


Shot 1b: Adding some bling This portrait of Australian actress Kate Ritchie was taken in a hotel room whilst she was getting ready for a television awards ceremony (the Australian equivalent to the Emmys). This was a very similar circumstance to Victoria’s shoot in that I had large windows directly behind me, providing beautiful soft beauty lighting. The main difference between the shots is that this was an editorial shoot for a national Australian magazine so I had an assistant who could hold the light over Kate’s head, and ensure it was out of shot. This also meant we could work a lot faster, and it was a quick shoot as Kate had places to be!

Building the shot | Adding some bling


Step 1: Get your ambient readings I’m using my: • Canon 5D Mk II with my EF 85mm f/1.2 IS L lens I was using my Elinchrom Quadra and medium softbox. These lights are obviously more expensive than the little speedlight I used in Victoria’s shoot but the results really aren’t that different. The important thing to remember is that light is light is light. The way the light behaves and the techniques you can use are the same regardless of how expensive your equipment is. My settings for this shot are: • ISO is set to 400

Australian actress Kate Ritchie. The image at left is shot in daylight only. The shot at right shows the difference with the additional light.

• Lens focus length is 85mm • Aperture is F/ 1.8 @ 1/60th of a second

Step 2: Build the shot If you look at the before shot, you can see that the daylight looks great. There are beautiful catchlights in her eyes and the ambient light is creating some hairlight. 1. I really wanted to bring out some more highlights without killing the effect of the daylight, so I had my assistant aim the large softbox, on an Elincrom Quadra, behind her.

 gain it’s only a subtle difference but I A really think it “makes” the shot. 2. I metered off my skin tone, opened up 2/3rds of a stop. 3. Based on my meter readings, I introduced an extra ½ stop of light onto Kate’s hair using a softbox.

Building the shot | Adding some bling


Step 3: The setup If you find yourself shooting in a small room or tight space, it’s useful to have a light stand with a boom attachment. That will allow you to keep your lights out of the shot. It’s also useful to have someone hold your lights for you, especially in these tight scenarios, so you can get more control about where the light is positioned. While you may not have an assistant for every shoot, you can usually find someone to hold a light for you. I’ve asked publicists, agents, best men and bridesmaids to help. If you really don’t think you’ll be able to find those extra pair of hands, get yourself a boom.

Building the shot | Adding some bling


Shot 2: Mr Devoandare This portrait was taken on a trip to Sicily this year for my client www.sicilianfoodtours.com. I was running a photo workshop in the gorgeous village of Chiaramonte Ragusa. My students and I had arrived early on a Sunday morning and to our great delight found an empty piazza with Mr Devoandare sitting in a Fiat 500. I felt like I’d walked onto the set of a Fellini movie. It was a very cool moment.

Mr Devoandare in his Fiat 500 Building the shot | Mr Devoandare


Step 1: Get your ambient readings My first step is to always take an ambient reading focused on the face of my sitter. This will give me my base exposure based on the overall setting. As I add lights, one at a time, to build my shot my exposure never changes. I’m using my: • Canon 5D Mk II, with my EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM 105mm lens • Two 580EXII speedlights • Photoflex small softbox My settings for this shot are: • ISO is set to 100

My 580EXII speedlight

• Lens focus length is 105mm • Aperture is F4.0 @ 1/80th of a second

Step 2: Build the shot Once I got my ambient readings, I began to introduce some fill flash. 1. I start by positioning my Photoflex small softbox to send a small soft and contained amount of light into Mr Devoandare’s face. 2. Then I introduce a hairlight to the back of his head, to simulate sunshine streaming in through the back of the car. 3. I’ve also introduced some warmth to this shot by adding a warming gel to the flash.

Top left: The original shot without additional lights. Top right: Photoflex small softbox positioned in front, angled at 45 degrees. Bottom left: Rear hairlight added. Bottom right: The end result. Magnifico!

Hairlight is a style of light that lights hair, not an actual type of light. It’s useful to separate your sitter from the background. Building the shot | Mr Devoandare


I usually carry gaffa tape to attach gels to my lights. On this shoot I forgot to bring it and had to MacGyver the gel onto my light using a band-aid.

Step 3: The setup

The village of Chiaramonte Ragusa.

The bigger picture of Mr Devoandare with the lighting in shot.

Building the shot | Mr Devoandare


Shot 3: The gentleman This image is another example of a shot using my “safe� system. It was taken on the same day and in this instance I could have captured a great shot just using daylight.

This was a lovely man who wandered by, on his way to church, and agreed to have this photo taken.

Step 1: Get your ambient readings The lighting was flat and even, which is a good basic light for portraits, but I wanted to add some contrast and really make this image pop. I’m using my: • Canon 5D Mk II with my EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM 105mm lens • Two 580EX speedlights • Photoflex small softbox My settings for this shot are: • ISO is set to 100 • Lens focus length is 100mm • Aperture is F4.0 @ 1/125th of a second

Location and image shot, using only daylight.

Building the shot | The gentleman


Step 2: Build the shot My first attempt at adding fill flash has put +1 stop of extra light onto his face. If I was shooting a beauty shot, I would probably go with that (and even push it an extra +1/3 stop) because the brighter, flatter light helps to smooth out any irregularities in the skin tone. But this wasn’t a beauty shot. It was a character portrait. I wanted to make it dignified, even heroic looking, and while the lighting improved his skin tone it still lacked the kind of contrast I was looking for. This is the kind of decision you’ll find yourself making on a shoot. You don’t want to keep your sitter waiting while you make up your mind; it’s worth taking a moment to check the effect you’re creating. I like how the new backlight adds some drama and contrast to the shot but I felt the lighting was a little bit hot (overexposed) and the shot would benefit from some light on his face.

The image is my first attempt at adding fill light. It gave an exposure of ISO 100, Aperture of F5.0 @ 1/125th of a second, Lens focus length is 100mm.

Here I have introduced a backlight with a warming gel, keeping the gentleman’s front lit only with daylight. The backlight was a speedlight (bare) set to give an aperture reading of F/6.3, which is +11/3 stops over the base setting.

Building the shot | The gentleman


Remember, one light at a time As you can see, I only introduce one light at a time so I can see exactly what the light is doing and how the overall shot is being impacted. If I had added the front light and then added the backlight, it would be difficult to accurately measure exactly what the individual lights were doing. Firstly, I changed the angle of the speedlight with a softbox (as the front light) so that rather than being fully lit on hi, we’re only lighting his left side. Then I reduced the amount of light from +1 stop, to +1/3. This change in angle produced more modeling in his face, compared to the overlit look of pic B. Even so, I felt it was now looking a little dark so I turned the backlight back on.

Here, the backlight has been turned off and a front light reintroduced.

The final image.

My final lighting adjustment was to increase the front light via the softbox by 1/3rd stop, to +2/3rds of a stop, and reduce backlight by 1/3rd stop to +1 stop. The final image now has a great balance of contrast, good skin tone and ‘pop’.

Building the shot | The gentleman


Step 3: The setup

The bigger picture of our gentleman with the lighting in shot. My light whisperers in this shot are Paul Renner and Tina Koutsogiannis. Also in this shot is Kaily Koutsogiannis.

Diagram of slight repositioning of softbox.

Building the shot | The gentleman


Shot 4: Creating mood and drama In previous chapters I’ve introduced fill light to my portraits to enhance what is already there. You can add drama and mood to your images by introducing greater contrast in the fill lighting you use. The results are subtle and most people wouldn’t even notice your images are lit. Both these images of Cameroon national athletics champion Jean Ammi Mbeng were taken using the exact same lighting. This three-light set is currently really popular in many commercial advertising campaigns and movie posters. It’s the perfect style of lighting for athletes because it gives amazing definition to the body. Even though this shot looks really technical, the steps to achieving it are exactly the same as all the other shots we have done so far.

Cameroon national athletics champion Jean Ammi Mbeng. Building the shot | Creating mood and drama


Step 1: Get your ambient readings I’m using my: • Canon 1DS Mk III, with my EF70-200mm f2.8 L IS USM lens The first step, as always, was to determine my ambient reading. In this case at 2 o’clock on a bright sunny day my reading was: • ISO is set to 100 • Lens focus length is 200mm • Aperture is F8 @ 1/200th of a second You can see that the bright sun above Jean is a hard light source that is giving some great definition to his body. To complement the sun, I opted to use my Broncolor mobils and my Elinchrom Quadra.

The image at left is shot with ambient readings. The one on the right has my aperture adjusted to darken the background.

You can create this shot with any portable flash lighting although if you are only using speedlights you may struggle to get enough light strength.

Building the shot | Creating mood and drama


Step 1: Get your ambient readings I’m using my: • Canon 1DS Mk III, with my EF70-200mm f2.8 L IS USM lens The first step, as always, was to determine my ambient reading. In this case at 2 o’clock on a bright sunny day my reading was: • ISO is set to 100 • Lens focus length is 200mm • Aperture is F8 @ 1/200th of a second You can see that the bright sun above Jean is a hard light source that is giving some great definition to his body. To complement the sun, I opted to use my Broncolor mobils and my Elinchrom Quadra. You can create this shot with any portable flash lighting although if you are only using speedlights you may struggle to get enough light strength.

The image at left is shot with ambient readings. The one on the right has my aperture adjusted to darken the background.

Step 2: Build the shot Next, I wanted to darken my background to add some drama and mood so I closed my F-stop down by 1 stop to F11.

You can adjust the ambient light by adjusting your shutter speed but in this instance my shutter speed was at maximum sync speed for my camera, so I had to adjust my aperture instead.

The final reading is: • ISO is set to 100 • Lens focus length is 200mm • Aperture is F11 @ 1/200th of a second

Building the shot | Creating mood and drama


To light Jean, I introduced my front light first. Here I’m using a beauty dish with gridspot to help me narrow the focus of the light I’m introducing. Now that I’ve introduced an extra ½ stop of light to Jean’s body my light meter reading is F11½ @1/200th of a second. Finally, I introduced my backlights. I’m using a small softbox (positioned to my right) and a gridspot (positioned to my left). I’ve also added a black “cutter” reflector panel to stop flare from my backlight hitting the lens. The reading off my backlights is F16½, 1 stop over my front lights. This is how we get the beautiful highlights on Jean’s arms that really sculpt his body.

The image at left shows the beauty dish and grid spot introduced. The image on the right has the backlights added.

Building the shot | Creating mood and drama


Step 3: The setup

After I’d finished Jean’s body shot I decided to try something with a tighter crop. Here is the final result.

Positioning the lighting (from above).

Building the shot | Creating mood and drama


Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill I was at a high-pressure shoot recently and one of my clients was watching me make adjustments to my camera and lighting. They commented, “How do you remember all that stuff? You make it all look so effortless.” The truth is that after thousands of photo shoots it has become second nature but this wasn’t always the case. Why am I always checking and rechecking exposure? Because I broke someone’s wedding. Why do I always use a light meter? Because I ruined the shot of my life by looking at my camera screen for the exposure and my hairlight ended up being +3 stops over. That shot should have stopped traffic. Instead, I lost a client. How do I know how shutter speed affects flash? Yep, you guessed it – botched another job. I cried for a week after that job.

Why do I back up twice while I’m shooting? Because an assistant accidentally dumped an entire shoot into the trash. I’m still in need of therapy over that one. I’m proud to admit that I have failed spectacularly on countless occasions. The aftermath is always the same. I have a complete meltdown become a bit tired and emotional. I then spend a week at home curled up in the fetal position watching entire seasons of One Tree Hill and consuming my body weight in Nutella. As painful as each failure is, I learned something new each time and I NEVER EVER made those mistakes again. They become burned into my brain.

The good news is that you won’t be able to completely stuff up in the spectacular manner that I did. Why? Because you have smart digital cameras that will do it all for you. But if you really want to take your photography to the next level, you have to take a few more risks. Yes, there is more to lose but the payoff is oh so worth it. It’s my hope that after reading this book you will be inspired to go beyond flash on camera and create beautiful lighting that defines your style as an artist. I hope you take risks, follow your instincts and, most importantly, see the light.

If you aren’t failing, you are playing too safe. You need to go out and fail, time and time again. Get up, cry for a bit, learn, grow and move on.

So it’s with hand on heart and this is said with love: I hope you have a few spectacular failures on your road to finding the light. May your road to success be filled with amazing sights and lit with beautiful light.

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography. – George Eastman

The end

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Portraits lighting the shot  

Portraits lighting the shot