Light Source Options

Those who spend most of their time working in natural light have come to appreciate the difficulties of making the best exposure reading, working the point of view, and maintaining tonal value and detail in the scene. One of the reasons for the increasing interest in HDR (so-called High Dynamic Range imaging) is that it seems to be a digital way to overcome the curse of the ancient photographer--contrast. But those who work with auxiliary light, with anything from reflectors to extra on-camera flash to full-featured strobes and "hot" and " cool" continuous lights, have something on those who count on just the sun for their illumination. They know that there is a way to control contrast, to tame the direction and intensity of light, and to bring light into shadows that would otherwise sink into deep tonal obscurity.

This knowledge does not come naturally. It is something learned over time and with experience, and from those who have mastered their lighting technique and are willing to share. It comes from choosing a light source that fits the type of work you do--whether it is tabletop, with a light tent or reflectors, with battery-powered monolights, or with a full bank of strobes with accompanying modifiers such as snoots, softboxes, and umbrellas. Each choice creates a different mood and light enhancement, with some being more apt for commercial, portrait, or even location event work. And the best learning process is to get your hands on some gear and do it. My first light-learning setup was a pair of reflectors with photofloods, which I would have to reposition with oven mitts on. You don't have to resort to such ancient techniques and tools these days, what with the many types of basic lighting setups available.

As you'll see from the wide variety of reviews and how-to articles in this issue, there is certainly more than one way to light a set, and to bring light into whatever space you are working. The new breed of monolights, for which we have provided a compact buyer's guide, certainly makes life for many photographers easy, with all-in-one light and capacitor, many with accessory battery packs available. In addition, many of today's strobes can be radio controlled. Combine that with the aforementioned battery packs and it looks like corded shooting is becoming a thing of the past. The mobility and compact size and weight these units afford opens up new areas of lighting that were unavailable before. Plus, there are the new breed of continuous light sources that seem ideal for inside work with digital cameras, where white balance and exposure techniques are easily applied.

This issue is dedicated to lighting and the many types of tools you can use and techniques you can apply, for everything from portraits to still life. The reason we continue to feature reviews and how-to articles on lighting is because there's always more to learn. Some thought that when digital came along all this concern about lighting would go away, that one could simply press the button in auto and then retouch and fix the image in the processing stage. Clearly that's not the case. If you spend more time fixing images, or retouching mistakes, than you do with your subject when you make the image, then clearly something's wrong. That's when taking the time to master your gear pays off, when you realize that your time is better spent peering through the viewfinder, not at the computer screen.