Lighting – Keep it simple

Sometimes I think people can get way too caught up with the gear of photography. When you start getting into lighting you can really start getting gear crazy, you want multiple lights, radio slaves, light modifiers, etc…. Sometimes though keeping your lighting ultra simple can be your best bet and still allow you to get some amazing images! Whenever I am working a wedding I am always looking out for dramatic lighting and love spotlights and other very direct lighting that venues often times have.

This photo is an example of a very quick and easy shot that we got that required no lighting or anything to setup. I was photographing a wedding at a restaurant. It was actually a daytime wedding and the reception was at the main restaurant around 2:00 in the afternoon. In one corner of the room they had this little woven fabric hanging from a tapestry bar. It was a pretty cool texture to use for a background and they had it lit with just one strong spotlight. Even though it was still day and the room had a lot of ambient light I knew that with the power of that spotlight we could create a dramatic image. Setting up this shot was simple, I had to have the subject look slightly up towards the light to avoid any hard shadows under her eyes and set my exposure for the light on her skin. I don’t have the time to get a light meter out while I shoot, so all I do normally is zoom into the area I want to meter and get an exposure from my camera. So I would focus on her face, see what the exposure is there and then manually set that in my camera. That will give you the correct exposure but also since there is such a different with the light on the subject vs. the light on the background your background will become much darker. In this case since it was daylight and there was plenty of light coming in this helped me to get a nice dark and dramatic background where the subject can just pop right out of. If you would have just let your camera average out the scene it would have made that background more true to real life so it would have been much lighter and then the subject would have been way too light and blown out.

You can also change how dramatic the light is by simply having your subject move the angle of their head. The more the subject is facing the spotlight the flatter the light. The more that they turn away from the light the more dramatic the shadows will be. If you want something very dramatic like Hollywood lighting then just turn the subject slightly away from the light. Also check out our post on Hollywood lighting from awhile back here: Holllywood lighting for photography

It only took a few minutes to shoot and we captured some great images of the bride that were very dramatic, all done with existing light during the day. Here is a shot of my wonderful assistant modeling for me as we tested out the light beforehand.

For those interested here are the tech specs for this shot:
Canon 5d
ISO 800
50mm 1.4 lens
1/40th second @ f/3.2

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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  1. I understand your point, there’s a lot to be said for limiting the amount of gear you deploy when lighting a subject. I think you could have chosen a better example, however. The shadow areas below the subject’s head and much of her hair have no detail at all, which arguably isn’t aesthetically pleasing. Moreover, it doesn’t really support the crux of your argument. I think you would have been on firmer ground if you had kept the exposure within the dynamic range of the camera.

  2. Hey James,

    Thanks for the comment! You are right the bottom of her hair is lost in the shot, it is there in the shot but just needs to be brought out better in PS (didn’t spend any post time on this since it was just a test shot). Appreciate it and maybe i’ll add the final image to the post later.



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