I have been trying to teach myself studio lighting for the past while, via a few good sites on the net. The best I have found are strobist and lime. These guys are all using digital cameras these days, but light is light: learning how to light a subject and use light to sculpt your photographs has nothing to do with digital, film, or the camera.
The main source of light in our universe is, of course, the sun. Whether it’s harsh noonday sun, or more likely here in Ireland, the giant softbox of cloud cover, the sun is our main light source. You may think that this is obvious, and that it has nothing to do with studio lighting, but the sun is simply a source of ambient light. When shooting indoors in the evening, electrical lighting is the ambient light. We all regularly use ambient light as our only light source – a lot of people express a preference for this. But we are also all aware, whether subconciously or not, of the affects of this ambient light source.
Students of photography are taught to be aware of the light source. To get your exposure right, what do you need to do? Expose for the shadows. Expose for the highlights. Use the correct film speed. Be aware of how the light is falling on your subject. Try to use the ambient light to add something to your subject. So after a while students will be getting their exposures right, and will start doing mad things, like getting up before dawn to catch that sunrise and the way it sculpts the landscape. Or pushing film to capture night scenes.
At some point we start to think more about light. How can we change the light source? Change the direction of the light? Add to the ambient light? In other words, studio lighting. If you like to photograph people, studio lighting can open a whole new world. It puts the photographer in control. Visualise a scene and light it the way your mind sees it. And of course, you don’t need a studio. The point is that you are learning to control the light – remove some of the ambient, add some flash, think about it, be creative.
So, to get to the point of this post (been a long build up!), since the dawn of photography and cinema, there has been a whole industry building up an array of stuff that you can buy. Reflectors, umbrellas, softboxes, barn doors, snoots, grids, backgrounds, foregrounds, lights, strobes, the list goes on and on. You could spend a fortune and still not make a good photograph (always a problem with photography, actually). Luckily there’s plenty of people in the world who don’t want to or can’t afford all this gear, and recognise that studio lighting is the home of cardboard, gaffer tape, gels, tinfoil and black plastic drinking straws – yep, DIY! You may not be able to build yourself a Hasslebald (even if you do get pretty good results with a shoebox and a pinhole), but you can build an array of studio equipment – hooray!
Pretty good! Time to get busy!
Coming soon – Jason’s funky foam bounce flash (seen in action at Padraigs opening night)!