Making One Light Two
Get The Main And Fill From One Source

Photos © 2004, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

Through the years, I've experimented with many different styles of light and many different light modifiers. There's an old saying that "light is light." That's true, but what a complicated mistress she is. When it comes to light, there are basically four things to keep in mind: quantity, quality, direction, and color. The trick to getting the light you want is in how skillful you are in mixing the four ingredients together. Let's look at each segment individually to see how they work in concert.

This is probably the most obvious. We grab our light meter and take a reading. If we're outside reading daylight, that's how much light we have. We either have to change locations or time to change the amount of light. Simple. In the studio, we can adjust our light source's power supply to give us more or less. Or we can move the light source closer to the subject to get more light or farther away to cut the intensity. While there are other factors to consider, for now let's ignore them. Once again, simple.

This photo of John Dyer was taken using the edge of the softbox and a mirror. The softbox creates the gradual transition of light from the highlight to shadow area (note the nose shadow) and the mirror picks up a little light on his hand.

When talking about the quality of light, we hear terms thrown around all the time like hard light, soft light, wraparound light, etc. These terms refer to how sharp the light is. Generally speaking, the larger the light source is in relation to the subject, the softer the light. For example, the sun is a pretty big light source, but it's 93 million miles away from my subject and a little speck in the sky, so relatively speaking, it's pretty small, and thus will give us a hard, sharp light. Staying outside, if I place my subject in an area where the open sky is my light source, then that whole "wall of light" that strikes him is my light source, then it's very big relative to my subject. The light in this case will be soft and diffused. More on that later.

As a photographer, the direction of light is critical. It can give shape, make things appear flat, create mood, and many other things. Think of photographing a couple on the beach at sunrise. The light is behind them and we're getting a beautiful silhouette. Now take the same photo at noon in the same location. We get an entirely different look from the sun being high above our subjects than when it was behind them. In portrait photography, photographers have used "short light," shooting from the shadow side of a person's face to make them appear slimmer, for years. This is just one example that shows the importance of light direction.

I took Alysun Perreault's photo and "opened" the lighting pattern a little, lighting more of the shadow side of her face to create close to a "butterfly" light (so called because the shadow under the nose resembles a butterfly). A mirror was used to light her hair, as well as a background light. The image was softened and corners printed down in Photoshop.