Going The Distance - part 2 of 1 2

by Dave Montizambert Published 01/10/2012


As you look over Anna's nose (Diagram 4), when the soft-box is positioned close, you see a good portion of the soft-box. This results in the shadow edge transfer that we see in Image 1 of Anna. If the soft-box were moved further away as in Diagram 5 you see less of it. This would correspond to Image 2 of Anna. The whole point is, as the source sees further into the shadow, it eats further into that shadow creating a gradual transition from fully lit to shadow. As the source sees less into the shadow, it eats away at that shadow less, creating a smaller transfer area. The smaller the transfer area, the harder the lighting appears.

Portrait photographers tend to use the same lighting set-ups for each subject. However, every subject is unique, and each subject has different surface characteristics which need to be analysed individually before deciding on the appropriate light quality to compliment those characteristics and create the appropriate mood. For instance, in this image of Anna, I wanted to create a glamour shot with a dramatic shadow, and I wanted to draw attention to that shadow. The best way to draw attention to shadow is create a short rate of transfer between the fully lit area and the shadow (hard shadow edge transfer). But on the average person, harder lighting (when not retouched) is usually not very complimentary. With Anna it was different, Anna has a very smooth complexion, this smooth complexion allowed me to work with harder lighting and no retouching.

A more common main-light position for glamour lighting would have the main-light in a more frontal position, but for my taste (in this shot at least) a frontal position would lack the drama and character that side lighting provides. You see, I like to accentuate facial characteristics and add some character to glamour images that might otherwise end up as vacant beauty shots. Anna has a long face that I think gives her character. The side position of the soft-box helped to accentuate Anna's long face by creating 'short lighting'. This means, when Anna turns her face into the light, the mask of light on her face is oriented away from the camera, and the shadow side of her face is towards the camera. Short lighting creates a thinner looking subject. It does so by 'slimming down' or compressing the amount of mainlit area that the camera can see.

In the end, remember that light quality is controlled by size and distance of light source, and that the effect of size is relative to distance and that the effect of distance is relative to size - they go hand-in-hand. If you are interested in learning more about lighting and controlling light quality, check out my book Creative Lighting Techniques (Amherst Media publisher).

DISTANCE OF LIGHT SOURCE - If you wanted to change shadow edge transfer, but could not alter the size of the light source, you could alter its 'apparent' size by distance. Visually, a light source can be made to appear larger or smaller to the subject by increasing or decreasing its distance. If you wanted to make the edge of the shadow transfer over less area, let's say one quarter of the area, simply double the distance of the main-light to the subject. Visually, from the subject's point of view, the light source appears smaller by the inverse square law - the inverse square of the distance. That is:

• Take the change in distance (in this case twice the distance expressed as 2/1), invert it (1/2), then multiply it by itself (that's squaring it).

• 1⁄2 x 1⁄2 = 1⁄4.

The light source would now appear 1⁄4 of its original size to the subject.

The shadow edge would transfer over 1⁄4 of the original area making the lighting appear harder. The smaller the light source appears to the subject, the harder the lighting appears.

Just remember:

Placing the light source close to the subject creates a softer shadow edge transfer.

Placing the light further away from the subject creates a harder shadow edge transfer.

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1st Published 01/10/2012
last update 06/11/2019 11:06:12

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