How to Lighten Your Photos and Videos like an Expert


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Taylor illustrates the difference between soft and hard light by using the example of sunlight shining on a sunny day (hard) and a cloudy day (soft). On a bright day, light is coming from one small source––the sun––and therefore it creates a hard shadow. On a cloudy day, the light is coming from every direction because it is diffused by the clouds, so there’s little to no shadow. In the world of photography and videography, hard light is what comes from a small source such as a bare flash, whereas soft light is what you’d get if you put a large diffuser (or a softbox) in front of the flash.

The The position of the light can change the photo in many ways, whether it’s creating a silhouette, separating a subject from a background, or even lighting the background itself. To illustrate the way a light’s position can affect the impression of an image, Art Streiber uses the example of an on-camera flash, which immediately evokes the sense of a caught moment at an event, or a paparazzi shot. A completely different impression can be created if that flash was moved off-camera, perhaps held in your hands at the end or your outstretched arms.

The Intensity of the lightThe brightness of the light determines whether or not you want the scene to look natural. David Hobby applies the cooking metaphor to dialing in the intensity of light: “You taste the soup. You think, ‘It needs a little more salt.’ You add some salt. The only real difference is, with lighting if you add too much salt you can easily take it right back out.”

Karl Taylor shows us how to use shadows and color in order to create emotion. “Is that light coming through a gap in the curtains,” he asks. What is it that creates a positive atmosphere? Is it the warm light from the gap combined with the blue shadows? Is it that just enough detail is visible in the shadows?”

Karl Taylor Photograph

Karl Taylor claims that our visual systems don’t depend on color but rather on brightness and shadow. “We’re seeing in black and white without realizing it.” Taylor uses the example of flecks on a deer or the stripes on a tiger, which don’t seem very stealthy when viewed in color, but in terms of luminosity to other animals who see in black and white, it’s brilliant camouflage. Taylor warns that the color of an image can fool the eye into believing it is brighter than it is. He edits an image’s luminosity in black and then white. then edits for color, so the color doesn’t trick his eye into a false sense of brightness.

Create a Lighting Scheme

Lighting spice racks can quickly become cluttered. Pros take it one step at a while to create their lighting schemes. “The first light source is what’s known as your ‘key light,’” says Austen Paul. After you establish where you want to put your first light, you put the “fill light” on the opposite side. The fill light should be about the same brightness as the key light in most cases. Paul explains that fill lights can make the subject appear more 3D. Fill lights slightly darker than your key lighting create a gradient, from lighter to darker.

You can create photos that are more expressive and three-dimensional with a simple one-light kit.

Photograph: David Hobby


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