Let there be light! 
written by Daschund Woof

Whatever kind of photography you do, be it digital, film, polaroid, daguerreotype, 35mm or pinhole, there’s always one thing in common...
You always need light.

So what makes the difference between a family vacation snapshot and an Ansel Adam’s “Moon and Half Dome”? Apart from lens choice, different format and him being a genius, the difference is (yes, you guessed right) light. Not quantity but quality.

Now, obviously you all already realized how close, quality wise, my shots are from Ansel Adams... As close as I am from the spot where he shot “Moon and Half Dome” (for those of you that don’t know, I live in NY...), so this article is not about teaching how to do lighting, but to try to share some ideas on our “brush” (that is, light)

One of the things digital helped me so much is with experimentation. Being able to take as many pictures as I can and being able to see them right away helped me improve my photography more than anything. Who never tried to set up a shot of anything and ended up with a boring photo? Well, I did, lots of times, to a point that I had given up any attempts at any studio work. Even after going digital, my first studio shoot was a disaster. I followed all the rules, key light, fill light, hair light... Result? Boring... After that I started realizing that the nice photos I see on magazines rarely have lighting that goes by this rule. That’s when I filled myself with courage and decided to start playing with light a little bit. And never got to stop... :)

When I shoot anything now, I ask myself first: “Can I do something different here?” That’s why on most of the photos I post I say I was “playing with light... I try to play with it as much as I can as a way of learning what works and what doesn’t.

Lately, unless I’m shooting a model at the studio, most of my shots are done with just one light (I call them “One light wonders”). And with one light and a bouncer or a flag you CAN do wonders. If your subject is something small (a flower, a pen, a baseball) it’s even nicer, but you can also use it with larger subjects (people, for example).

Well, enough talking... This article is not a crash course in lighting (although you can use it as one), but just to share how I do my lighting. You can use it as a starting point or to expand your “bag of tricks”...

Most of my still life shots are “One light wonders”


“Don’t loose focus”


This one, for example, was shot with a single light on the right side and a little above. A bouncer was used on the left side to fill the shadows. Not very complicated, is it? :)



This one was shot with a light almost at the same level of the rock. I also used a card to block the light a little on the left top side to accent the shadows there.

Another thing that I do a lot is using just the modeling light from the flash... As I like most of the time to have a very shallow DOF, it’s kind of difficult to achieve this with the flash, so I just leave the modeling light on and don’t fire the flash. Maybe when I have a real studio and don’t have to do my photos on my bedroom I will be able to put the flash as far away as needed to get that f/2.8 exposure! LOL



Another one with just one light, this time a soft box from above. This time I used the flash and not only the modelling light once I wanted to freeze the action and also get as much DOF as possible (I didn’t want to miss the shot because it went a little out of focus... LOL )

"Golden Lilly"


This one was shot with one light behind and below the flower, pointed up so that it illuminated both the flower and the background. I used a bouncer card to get some light on the front of the flower so that it wouldn’t blow the background.

Now when it comes to people, I still try to keep it as simple as possible also. A lot of my photos are taken with two or three soft boxes (actually, a bunch of Home Depot halogen working lights through two or three diffusers). My most common setup is the three soft boxes above my head, the two on the sides being a little “tilted to the inside” so that they all face the model. These are two examples of this setup:

Model: Izabella


Model: Jolynn

If I want something different, I normally just move the soft boxes around, two on one side and one on the opposite side, for example. Not in a 45 degrees angle, but on the side of the model. This is what you get with this setup:




My latest post, “Thoughtful”, is also done with this setup:



In other words, the main thing with light is that you need to experiment. Use the fact that you don’t need to pay for film and development and shoot as much as you can! Don’t have a subject? Get one! A pen, a pencil, a baseball, a flower, anything. Get your wife or your husband to pose for you (yes, I know, after your third “session” they will want you to get a new hobby, but you got three sessions where you learned lots of stuff). Play with different lighting setups, don’t be afraid of the shadows (“The dark side bad is not, willing to explore it you should be, and a great reward you will have”...) and specially don’t be afraid of putting the lights where they’re not supposed to be.
No genius is a genius because they follow the rules... :)