Developing an eye for quality lighting starts with learning to light

Exposing for the dead brown grass behind Cassie and then using my speedlite to fix in the shadows gave me the image you see above. ISO 100 1/30 f4. Canon 600-EX-RT fitted with 1/4 color temperature orange gel and grid. Compare the exposure to the behind-the-scenes picture below. There is at least 4 f-stops of difference in the light so using available light would mean either a blown-out background of dead brown grass or a silhouette of Cassie in the foreground.

If you asked me which among all the skills in photography takes the
longest to acquire, I would say it’s the ability to find and utilize where the good light is in any scene.

Cassie, Marvin and I behind-the-scenes. Thank you Tim Sivils for the picture. For this particular behind-the-scenes image, the exposure was 1/30 f8 ISO 200 Canon Powershot G11.
Cassie, Marvin and I behind-the-scenes. Thank you Tim Sivils for the picture. For this particular behind-the-scenes image, the exposure was 1/30 f8 ISO 200 Canon Powershot G11.

It doesn’t come very easily because in order to develop a knack for finding the ‘good light,’ you have to learn to manipulate what’s already there in the scene.

For this portrait of Jessica I made as demo during my class at the Riverside Art Museum, I used a silvered reflector. Nothing fancy at all.
For this portrait of Jessica I made as demo during my class at the Riverside Art Museum, I used a silvered reflector. Nothing fancy at all. 1/250 @ f1.4 Canon 5DMark2 with a 50mm lens.

Sometimes it’s very obvious, other times very subtle.

It’s only through using your own lights on location a lot,  whether it’s a tiny speed light, a large studio strobe or even just a reflector,   that you can begin to recognize the potential areas you can set up when you arrive for successful portrait photography.

The atrium of the Riverside Art Museum is flooded with lots and lots of light so I used a reflector, 2 clamps and a light stand. We dragged the chair over to a good spot so Jessica was moved away from the background. That way when I shot with my lens wide open, the background was obliterated by my shallow depth-of-field.
The atrium of the Riverside Art Museum is flooded with lots and lots of light so I used a reflector, 2 clamps and a light stand. We dragged the chair over to a good spot so Jessica was moved away from the background. That way when I shot with my lens wide open, the background was obliterated by my shallow depth-of-field.

For those too lazy to learn to use your own lighting, take note.

There is a wonderful  unintended consequence of learning to light.

You will develop an awareness of light and start paying attention to light’s subtleties and before long, you  start to recognize when the quality of light suits your purposes and your landscapes and event photography will see a vast improvement.

I kid you not.

Then before you know it,  when you’re shooting fun stuff for yourself, you become a lighting snob, you only go out with your camera in the early morning hours or the late evening.

The wind was not cooperating when we attempted this picture. It was blowing the right direction by the problem was it was also gusty and unpredictable. Midway through shooting this, my light stand came crashing down.
The wind was not cooperating when we attempted this picture. It was blowing the right direction by the problem was it was also gusty and unpredictable. Midway through shooting this, my light stand came crashing down. ISO 100 1/200 sec f5.6. Main light White Lighting 800 XL studio strobe with fitted with 1/4 Color Temperature gel and 20°  grid. I could have shot this with just available light but I wanted to warm up the skin tones and make the bubble stand out.

I use some sort of supplemental lighting in most of my work.

Midway into shooting this series with Ariana and bubbles the wind picked up and brought my main light crashing down.
Midway into shooting this series with Ariana and bubbles, the wind picked up and brought my main light crashing down. Fortunately the damage was minimal. I have to replace a sync cord for the radio slave. iPhone 5s.

How elaborate and how much just depends on the situation and the scene I find before me.

It may be that the color temperature looks cold or blue and I just want to warm the skin tones of my subject or else I want to add some ‘pop’ or contrast.

On location late evening. 1/200 sec f4.5 ISO 100 Canon 7DM2. 80mm lens. 2 600 EX-RTs.
On location late evening. with Ariana 1/200 sec f4.5 ISO 100 Canon 7DM2. 80mm lens. 2 600 EX-RTs.
2016-05-25 18.43.29 HDR-2
My main light a Canon 600-EX-RT speedlite inside a Lumiquest Softbox on a small light stand on the left gelled with 1/4 CTO. The 2nd Speedlite is on the ground pointing at Ariana on the right. (Click on these 2 pictures to get a bigger view of the image)

The key is to light it in such a way that the viewer doesn’t even realize I’ve used lighting.

I want to make it so subtle that the viewer doesn’t even ask how was this lit.

2016-05-25 18.44.06-1
The reverse angle shows the behind-the-scene placement of my 2 Speedlites. Both were triggered on manual power. The Speedlite on the left and on the ground was fitted with a Honl grid so I could aim the light just ever so carefully at Ariana’s hand because the main light falls off quite suddenly.

I suppose in my mind, if the lay person noticed the lighting, then I would say I may have failed: the lighting was so distracting, it took the attention away from my subject.

Before I forget, I want to thank my friend Thomas Marquez, an outstanding fine art artist for his assistance during the photoshoot with Ariana and also for taking the behind-the-scene pictures.

If you’re in the Southern California area especially close to Riverside, consider attending  a small flash lighting workshop I’ll be leading on Sun June 5 1:30p to 5:30p.

Read what others have said about my workshops.

Peter Phun Photography

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Outdoor portraits using high shutter speed sync

The downside to shooting in the shade of trees is the greenish cast that comes from sunlight filtering through green leaves. Shooting in camera raw helps.
The downside to shooting in the shade of trees is the greenish cast that comes from sunlight filtering through green leaves. Shooting in camera raw helps. ISO 400 1/160 @f2.8 80mm setting on 80-200 zoom lens. Available light only not Speedlite used.

When photographing people  outdoors, besides the esthetics of your location,  the time of the day is probably the single biggest factor in determining how good your picture will look.

Lighting especially its intensity is critical because available lighting in any scene outdoors determines

  • if your subject will be squinting
  • if you can overpower the ugly patchiness of your background
  • if you can control the contrast between your shadow and highlights
  • the mood and color temperature of your final image

Continue reading Outdoor portraits using high shutter speed sync

High School Senior Portrait 2–Water Polo player Nicholas Barba

The evening light coming through the large windows made it very contrasty. So my 800WL was a necessity. ISO 100 1/160 f4 100 mm lens
The evening light coming through the large windows made it very contrasty. So my 800WL was a necessity. ISO 100 1/160 f4 100 mm lens

Generally speaking high school girls don’t mind having their pictures taken as much as boys.

So when Nicholas’ mum Staci approached me about doing her son’s senior portrait, I sort of expected he would have to be bribed  by his mum.

I’ve had to photograph large groups of VIPs  e.g the newspaper’s board members, university chancellors and other intimidating folks so a high school senior is easy, right? Continue reading High School Senior Portrait 2–Water Polo player Nicholas Barba

High School Senior Portrait 1–Water Polo player Nicholas Barba

Nicholas balances his love for water polo with his academics very well. All his classes are Advanced Placement classes like Physics and Biology
Nicholas Barba balances his love for water polo with his academics very well. All his classes are Advanced Placement classes,  like Physics and Biology, His Letterman jacket behind is one of his most prized possessions. 1 Speedlite aimed at his books in the foreground. Another  Speedlite at about 11 o’clock aimed at his jacket. Main light is a 300Ws  White Lightning strobe with a grid aimed at his face. All strobes were fitted with 1/4 CTO gels.

I’ve always loved challenging myself when it comes to photography.

Whether it was getting in on a plane in a dogfight or rappelling off a cliff, having a camera in those instances meant I could replace my fears with my strong desire to come up with exciting images that are unusual. Continue reading High School Senior Portrait 1–Water Polo player Nicholas Barba

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