Sunday, November 17, 2013

Headshots Review

My previous two posts described my progress through Lighting 102 lessons on two ways to control a light source, position and apparent light size.  These controls had a major impact on the end result of the Lighting Boot Camp assignment on Headshots.

In an earlier post, I admitted to you that I was blindly plodding my way through the Headshots assignment.  Now that I understand position and apparent light size better I wanted to go back to this shoot and explain in more detail how this shot was created and how these controls affected the end result.

I’ll begin with apparent light size.  In the last lesson I learned that the apparent size of our light source affects how large the transition is between highlight and shadow. To produce soft light an apparently large light source is required.  Soft light extends the transition between highlight and shadow.  In contrast, apparently small light sources produce hard light and reduce the transition between highlight and shadow.

In my headshot shoot I used a combination of hard and soft light sources.  I wanted my main light to be soft so I used a shoot-through umbrella positioned slightly higher than the model’s head on the camera left side.  This position creates shadows under the model’s nose and chin.  These shadows add dimension to the model’s face but by utilizing an apparently large light these shadows are softened.  
I envisioned my second light source being natural light coming through a nearby widow camera right.  It was partly cloudy the day of the shoot, so my light source kept going in and out.  Instead of dealing with nature I set up a second speedlite in front of the window.   I left this speedlite bare, making its apparent size small.  This produced hard light and you can see the transition between highlight and shadow on the left side of the models face is really small.  

By modifying the apparent size of either of the light sources the transition between the shadows and highlight can be changed.

Distance also affects the apparent size of a light source.  This shot was taken in a relatively small room.  Adding or removing an umbrella was more effective in modifying the size of the light source than altering the distance between the subject and the light source.  However, the distance of the light source did have a major effect on the exposure of the background.  If I wanted to darken the background without repainting the wall I could have moved the umbrella light closer to the model and taken advantage of the flash’s depth of field. 

Don’t forget about the Specular Highlight.  A specular highlight is light reflecting directly off an object into your camera.  Even though it seems that the human face is not a reflective surface, it is, and specular highlight does come into play.  The 3-dimensional attributes of light toned objects are defined by shadows and dark toned objects are 3-dimensionally defined by specular highlight.  This has a major impact when dealing with subjects with different skin tones.  In this shot, the models skin tone is fairly light so the shadows are giving the photo a 3-dimensional look.   

Regardless of the model’s skin tone specular highlights also show up in the models eyes.  These specular highlights in the eyes are called catch lights.  Catch lights make a photo look more natural.  You can typically tell the shape of the light source by looking at the shape of the catch light in the subject eye.  The shoot-through umbrella used in this shot creates the round catch light.  If a rectangular softbox was used the catch light would be rectangular instead of round.

As a general rule of thumb (insert Boondock Saints opening scene), the shape of a catch light should mimic a natural catch light.  For instance, for an indoor photo the light source creating a catch light could be a window creating a rectangular catch light so creating one with a rectangular softbox would be appropriate.  For an outdoor photo creating a rectangular catch light wouldn’t match a natural round catch light caused by the sun.  I’m not saying that softboxes shouldn’t be used in outdoor photography; professional photographers used softboxes outdoors all the time.  I just want you to be aware of the shape of the catch lights that you create.  This might not seem like a big deal, but gaining an understanding of this can help you determine if the shape of the specular highlight is important in your own photography. 

Another neat thing that I learned from is that you can further alter your light modifier by blacking out a portion of it.  A logo, design or even wording can be added to a light modifier and it will show up in the specular highlight.  I haven’t personally tried this yet but when my new softbox comes in I might.  I’ll let you know how it turns out in a future post.

The subject of my next post will be the L102 Cooking Light assignment.  When I was working on the cooking light shoot I thought back to how these controls affected my headshots assignment.  It was important and helpful for me to relate my newfound knowledge to my previous work and I wanted to share it with you.  I hope that this helps you further understand the position and apparent light size controls.

For more on specular highlights and working with skin tones check out Lighting 102: Unit 2.2:

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