Apr 9, 2011

Taking light away

Adding light to any situation is fun. Pop a reflector or flash and boring light turns into fun light. Learning to mix existing and added light to get a look that you want is challenging and fun, so that seems to be what I do a lot of.

Over the last year or so, especially working for the newspaper, I have leaned more heavily on using existing light and finding ways to take light away to create contrast. This is called subtractive lighting...

Here is a practical application.

A few weeks ago at the Dallas Arboretum we had a nice overcast sky. The color from the flowers was really popping and there was lots of light (and photographers) everywhere.
Arboretum Blog-1983

This is all fine and good for snapshots, but with so much light from so many directions, the light gets flat and funky.
My lovely wife is beautiful and pregnant, and not flattered by this light.
Arboretum Blog-2095

And this is why many reflectors have a black side. So that you can remove light from one side to get definition.

Of course, this was a pleasure trip, so I brought only one camera, one lens and no reflector. What to do? Find another location that naturally blocks light.

The Arboretum has some "Fairytale Castles", including the one with deep window sections. Voila. Compare with the other picture.. the light highlights her face and adds dimension.
Arboretum Blog-2121

Here is another one... in this case a cloudy morning at an elementary school "Career Day" event. Again, in overcast outdoor light. However, when I put this sharp-dressed young man under an awning and close to a building, it was as if he was lit by a giant softbox to the left.
Kennedy Career Day-6814

Looking for good light includes looking for ways and places to take away unwanted light. That can often be easier than adding light. And if you are shooting alone, there is a lot of freedom gained by not dragging out a light stand and a flash.

This is true for non-human subjects also by the way. Sometimes to get a nice look, you have to look at where to remove light to get some shadows and definition.

Don J.

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