Tutorial: Daylight, Fill and Shooting Angles
story with photos (27 photos) starring Ariel Anderssen
This is the third in the series of tutorial exercises we did with RE member-turned-photographer PaulMcRope which he has kindly allowed us to share with you on the site.
I didn't keep detailed notes for this sequence. Parts one and two were self-documenting via the EXIF, and subsequent parts we shot a white board or one-camera stuff to remind us of what we were doing!
Look at the the set-up as illustrated in "daylightcontfill.jpg" and I'll take you through it. We set up a typical shooting scenario- Ariel was posing on the bed and the direction of the lights was fixed. We had a window with daylight coming through as our main source for most of the shots. It was not direct sunlight, just diffuse general daylight on a sunny summer day. To balance that we had an LED light panel, 2ft x 1ft in a vertical orientation, about at Ariel's head height, on a stand in the corner of the room. I put it there because a) I know from experience that's a good place to put it and b) about the only other place where there is physically space to put it in that room is in the doorway by the window, and it doesn't do much there (it's just making the window "bigger" as the light is coming from a similar direction).
Paul then roamed around taking our standard two comparison shots - full length and head-and-shoulders portrait- standing in various positions relative to Ariel and the light. You can figure out where he's standing in each shot by looking at the bed and the rest of the room and comparing it with the diagram. Ariel turned to keep facing Paul, which meant the light was hitting her face at a different angle each time. At the end, I turned up the fill light to compete with the daylight, then overpower it, and finally closed the curtains and shot with just the LED panel as a dominant light source. Although as we were in a pale-coloured box of a room, there was still plenty of light bouncing around.
For the first sequence of shots we're just testing lighting levels. I set the LED panel to just fill in the shadows a bit and provide a second catchlight in Ariel's eyes. (Pro tip- if you ever want to figure out how a shot was lit, zoom in to the model's eyes and look at the reflection of the lights). I've annotated each shot with my best guess as to which camera position we were in so you can cross-reference the shots to the diagram. I set the fill light intensity so it was filling the shadows a bit but not competing with the daylight too much. I tried to colour balance the light by eye, but as you can see from the final few shots where we closed the curtains I got that a bit wrong- the fill light is warmer (more orange) than the daylight. It's hard to judge by eye how it will render on camera.
Note that the images I've published in this and the other lighting installments are JPEGs straight out of the camera rather than going through the usual RE image processing chain. Lighting effects how skin tone and texture is rendered and I wanted to record that in a "neutral" way using the same processing settings across all the images. Using the camera JPEGs was the simplest way to do that. One would make more flattering and prettified versions in post, so apologies to Ariel for literally not showing her in the best light in all these shots. That's how we learn what the best light is.
Look at the second sequence of shots, the headshots starting with res_25062018_DSC06804.jpg labelled "Position 1, daylight only. No fill". Paul took a shot at positions 1, 2, 5 and 6 for the following four lighting scenarios:
- Daylight only. (Fill light switched off). The only light to the shadows is from daylight bouncing off walls and ceiling etc.
- Daylight, plus fill as I'd set it at a "natural" level to soften the shadows and provide a second catchlight in Ariel's eyes, without competing too much with the daylight.
- Daylight, max fill. I turned the LED panel up to full brightness, so now it is competing with or even overpowering the daylight, depending on angle.
- Max fill only. We closed the curtains and lit with just the LED panel on full power. The colour cast comes from me having not quite matched daylight colour with the LED.
What can we note about these shots?
First, changing the angle between the camera and the main source of light makes images with dramatically different look-and-feel. Look at the daylight-only sequence. From position 1, we have quite a glamorous look. It's kind on Ariel's skin, she's got nice catch-lights in her eyes, and the background is sliding off into shadow.
From position 2, the same subject in the same room in the same light looks a bit different, but still quite glam. Note that her nose is casting a shadow to one side of her face, but that both her cheeks are quite well lit. This is a contrasty version of what we're going to call "glamour lighting", a theme which we will develop over the next couple of tutorials.
From position 5, the character of the light has changed completely. Now the right side of Ariel's face as we look at it is falling off into shadow while the left side is brightening up towards almost whiting out. The small moles on her head which were essentially invisible in the previous two shots have now been thrown into sharp relief, especially the ones near the diving line between light and shadow on her face. It's very dramatic although not necessarily that flattering, and it forms the basis of the second big regime of lighting people, "cinematic lighting", which we'll expand upon in future tutorials too. Note that in this shot Ariel's eyes lack the sparkle that they do in the previous two, because we no longer have a defined reflection of the main light source (the window) in her eyes. Her eyes haven't gone totally dead because light is reflecting off the pale walls and the white shiny front panel of the LED light, which is acting as a reflector and filling in the shadows as well even though the light is switched off!
From position 6, we've lost the over-emphasis of small moles and skin texture, and we've gained a halo effect especially on Ariel's hair because the main light source is now behind her. This is backlight, and it is very beautifying when used in combination with other components of the light, which is a theme we will develop in future tutorials as well. Her eyes are saved from complete dead-shark-ness by the reflections of pale walls, but they lack the sparkle they had from position 1.
Right, now let's turn on a bit of fill light and compare and contrast.
From position 1, nothing much changes. There's just a bit of warm light in the shadows.
From position 2, the shadow of Ariel's nose on her face had been softened a bit and warmed by the more orange light coming from the LED.
From position 5, the shot is absolutely transformed. The gradation from light to dark across Ariel's face is still there, as is the over-emphasis of moles which happen to fall near the dividing line between light and shadow. But the effect of the catch-light in Ariel's eyes from the LED panel really lifts the shot, and the camera is much more able to record the difference in brightness between the light side and shadow side of Ariel's face too. This shot is now properly cinematic, and the drama is worth the hassle of de-emphasising the tiny blemishes which get blown up to mountainous size by the lighting. This is the sort of thing we use retouching for in RE images- photoshopping out moles which have unluckily caught the dividing line between light and shadow like this. I consider it entirely fair to do that, because in real life you simply don't notice these moles and blemishes on someone's face, especially not someone as professionally gorgeous as Ariel. It's just an artefact of the lighting pattern- in the position 2 shot, same model, same light, just slightly different camera angle, you can't see them AT ALL.
From position 6, we've retained the glory of the backlight halo but evened out the shadow a bit and supplied those oh-so-important catchlights. Ariel looks much more sparkly and alive, and the shot is now one we'd be proud to put on RE. We've still got a hint of over-prominent blemishes, again an artefact of the light (now it is the dividing line on her face between the light and shadow from the fill light, which is in about the position relative to her that the window was for position 5.
The next sequence I whacked the power up on the fill light- daylight and MAX fill. I'd say it look pretty good from position 1, position 2 and 5 are bit horrid, and position 6 by bad luck has only one catchlight so looks a bit sharky-eyed. The lesson from which is that it is worth having one dominant source of lighting on a scene. This is called the KEY LIGHT and we will learn more about that in future tutorials.
Finally, we closed the curtains and shot just with the fill light on MAX. Apart from the colour cast, these look kinda similar to the daylight-only sequence, only from slightly different angles, which tells us that the important variable for this test is the ANGLES between the main light, subject and camera.
What have we learned? That we need to decide on a dominant lighting source in the scene, called the KEY LIGHT. That it helps a lot to have a second light to lift the shadows and supply catchlights in the eye- this is the FILL light. Sometimes we even use a really small light just for CATCHLIGHTS- typically a ring light or small on-camera LED light panel, turned down very low so we see its reflection in the eyes but it doesn't cast significant light on the scene per se. Finally, we saw the magical halo of BACKLIGHT. These are the ingredients of THREE POINT LIGHTING (key, fill, backlight) which will look at in future tutorials.