Practice lighting - low key warrior statue

Principles, theories, practices, and your own experiences...

Practice lighting - low key warrior statue

Postby mattchase » Mar Sat 11, 2006 1:27 pm

I've been practicing a bit with my studio lights lately, trying to remember all the things I have forgotten in the last year of not doing this much anymore, and learn some new stuff too. I've also spent a fair amount of time looking for a good lighting book, I have one that is decent but a bit dated, and just ordered two more so will let you know what I think of them when I get them. One of my major criteria for a good book is a diagram of the lighting setup with each sample photo. So many books I looked at had good info and great photos, but no diagram as to the lighting setup! So with that...

A diagram! I wanted this to be low key, but didn't want to backlight the statue so positioned the softbox to the side of the table, which also helps keep light off the background. I also didn't want a direct sidelight, so pointed the box forward towards the camera. By doing this I am actually using the far left side of the softbox only (from camera position) to light the statue. If you have a modeling light in your strobes or use hotlights, you can see this effect as you are moving the light. It will seem like you are pointing the softbox away from the subject completely, but because of the shape of the softbox you will still be using the far side of the box while light coming from the near side and center are being kept off the subject.

Image


Image

Al of the photos here were converted with the same settings in Adobe Camera Raw. They had a minor amount of exposure correction done to them, and nothing else. The photo above was done with the setup as shown but with the reflector at a bit of a distance, to give just a touch of fill. The reflector is also to the side of the statue so not much light is being bounced onto his face. I wanted to keep it dramatic but not lose the detail in the background such as his arrow pouch.

Here is a shot with just the softbox. The entire right side of the statue has pretty well gone into the shadows. It's a nice dramatic effect, but a little too much detail is lost on his left side such as the arrow pouch.

Image

And here is a shot with the reflector closer to the statue, slightly above and slightly forward of the statue (as shown in the diagram - you can actually see the reflector on the inside of his right knee). His face and left side are fairly well distinguished compared to the previous two examples. I felt this was too much fill.

Image

Here is a cropped comparison of all three shots. The key light and exposure was the same for all these shots, the only difference is the reflector and its position.

From left to right: key light only, key plus reflector at distance, key plus reflector close to statue.

Image
So there you go. If you are just starting with lighting then a single light in a softbox and a white / silver reflector will go a long way to keeping things simple while still giving you good results.
Last edited by mattchase on Mar Sat 11, 2006 4:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby JB » Mar Sat 11, 2006 3:10 pm

Great example of how reflectors REALLY DO WORK. You may not notice it with your own eyes when you shoot, but when you see the images on your screen and in print, you do notice a difference.
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Postby mattchase » Mar Sat 11, 2006 4:12 pm

Yup. I had been using with 2 and 3 lights, using grids and barn doors and other spiffy accessories, but not getting results I was happy with. Going back to 1 light and a reflector was just what I needed to help me remember that it is how you use the light that matters more than how many lights you have. And any of the three images above are fine results, it all just depends on the look you are going for.

Oh, hey JB, I'm out of space in the image gallery. ;)
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Postby JoePhoto » Mar Sat 11, 2006 6:32 pm

Great tips Matt! Especially about using one side of the softbox. I remember when I first did this - it was such an eye opening experience. Just to warn people - certain lenses can flare when doing this. Take care in having your lens hood on or even obstructing the softbox light from hitting the lens.

I must also give major kudos on the excellent lighting diagram! :D
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Postby TonyK » Mar Sat 11, 2006 7:35 pm

Yes, thank you. :)
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Postby Vance » Mar Sat 11, 2006 9:07 pm

I would also think a flag could help to block unwanted light. :hs

Great stuff Matt.

Makes me want to break out the AB and do some myself. :D
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Postby mattchase » Mar Sat 11, 2006 9:20 pm

Thanks for the comments.

A flag would have worked well to sheild my camera lens from stray light if it had been necessary. To those who unfamiliar, a flag is pretty much anything you use to block light from going somewhere you don't want it. It can be black fabric on a frame (litteraly like a flag), a piece of foamcore, a book, your hand, etc.

Joe, don't stroke my ego too hard! That is one hacked up diagram I made...but hey, if I could draw I wouldn't be a photographer! ;)
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Postby JoePhoto » Mar Sun 12, 2006 8:44 am

I've also heard a 'flag' being referred to as a 'scrim' by my old photo professor. I built one out of cheap PVC piping and used a piece of black fabric. That's what I meant by obstructing the light from the softbox.
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Postby mattchase » Mar Sun 12, 2006 10:11 am

Flag, scrim, grid, and gobo are just some of the confusing things you get to learn about with lighting. Technically a flag is for blocking all light, and a scrim is for knocking down the intensity of the light, but you often get scrims that are flags. I am looking at a kit right now that is a collapsible flag kit, it has a solid black flag but also comes with a couple of flags designed to work as scrims and one to work as a diffusion panel too. With hotlights, a scrim actually looks more like a grid, it is is a small round disk with a metal mesh that cuts down the amount of light coming from the hotlight, and it's all metal so it doesn't melt (like a flag would). Grids are also a round metal disk that are used to knock down the amount of light and also change it's diameter, but are typically only used with strobes. And gobos are used to change the pattern of the light, like punching a number of holes in a piece of black foil and putting that in front of the light to create the effect of light coming through a tree. But I have also used that same black foil to make a flag to block all the light from hitting a certain area. Wheee!

I've built a few things from PVC, we were actually required to do so back when I was in school as one of our assignments. We had to make a diffusion panel from PVC and ripstop nylon and use it for some outdoor portraits. Mine was about 7' x 4' in size and I'm guessing here but think it cost about $30 to make, and it worked very well. The same type of pre-made panel would have cost a couple of hundred dollars to buy. I just built a lightbox out of PVC and white nylon fabric, works pretty well but not as well as a commercially made one. But I also only spent about $10 on it, compared to about $75 for an equivelant sized commercial one. And my silver reflector is a 20x30 piece of foamcore from Walmart with aluminum foil glued to one side. Cost about $8. I am trying to find some gold foil so I can make a gold reflector using on side of my black reflector too.

Next time I have lights setup I will take shots of the various accessories in action to post for you guys to see.
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Postby JB » Mar Sun 12, 2006 4:55 pm

Flag srimminy, flag scrimminy, grid, grid, gobo...

Maybe that's what Dick Van Dyke was really singing with Mary Poppins.
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