Sunday, November 02, 2014

Uber-Dramatic Lighting

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There's a time and place for dramatic lighting but it's not for all the time and for all places. Just because you can do something, even if you can do it well, doesn't mean you always should.

I regularly view a lot of images on the web and one thing I've noticed is that many photographers seem overly preoccupied with producing rather dramatic lighting with their people images, glamour images and otherwise. It's as if they believe their images won't get noticed if they don't utilize dramatic lighting techniques when snapping them.

By dramatic lighting techniques, I'm referring to things like constant use of HSS (High Speed Sync), high contrast noir-like approaches, images that seem to live permanently in some shadow world, overly obvious (and excessive) use of chiaroscuro  and other ways of making photographs appear overly dramatic from a lighting perspective.

Sure, those dramatic lighting approaches can yield cool photos. And there are accomplished shooters who regularly employ high-drama-lighting for their usual and consistent styles, sometimes gaining their notoriety from using such lighting styles and approaches. Nothing inherently wrong with any of that. But if you're still learning about lighting and suddenly you learn how to shoot with uber-dramatic lighting techniques, even if you learn to do it well, you still should continue learning various other lighting techniques, styles, and strategies rather than suddenly deciding your lighting education is complete because of the cool, dramatically-lit photos you now can snap. Dramatic lighting is not the zenith or pinnacle of lighting techniques. They're simply sometimes effective techniques and styles amongst many other effective ways of lighting your subjects.

Here's an FYI for some of you: Overly dramatic lighting isn't for everyone. It can come off as over-done when it's over-utilized. By "everyone," I'm not speaking about the photographers who use such techniques regularly, even always, themselves. I'm referring to others, perhaps customers and/or clients, or viewers and/or potential users of the photos.

While some of those others, perhaps quite a few, will be wowed by your ability to produce dramatically-lit images, there are as many who appreciate photos with more substance than dramatic lighting alone can produce.  That's another thing I've noticed: more than a few shooters who seem to shoot all their portraits, glam and otherwise, with dramatic lighting approaches seem less interested (or appear to have spent less time) focused on the emotional appeal of their images or the story if a story of sorts was intended. Yes, dramatic lighting certainly contains emotional appeal on its own. It can also be a key component of an image's story. But if the emotional appeal or story told by the lighting doesn't match the emotional appeal or story that's intended or expected, the subject of the image (or the story or both) doesn't often make sense... if that makes sense.

The more tools you have in your bag of tricks, the more flexible and adaptable a photographer you'll be. I don't mean gear or equipment in my mention of "tools" in the previous sentence. I'm referring to soft tools, intangible tools, e.g., techniques, approaches, styles, strategies, that stuff.  The more of those you can call-on with, at least, minimal levels of expertise, the generally better photographer you'll be, regardless of what you're shooting.  Don't be a one trick pony lighting-wise! Even if some lighting approaches don't ordinarily match your vision, it's good to know them and how to use them because you never know when they'll come in handy or even be required.

The model at the top is Tera Patrick. She's rather simply lit with two lights and a reflector: A big main light in front, modified with a 5' Photoflex Octo with a 3' white reflector underneath and angled-up for some gentle fill, plus another light at the top of the stairs modified with a small shoot-through umbrella, angled-down providing a hair light. Could I have lit Tera on that staircase more dramatically? Sure. No problemo! I know how to do dramatic lighting, even uber-dramatic lighting. I have more than a couple of lighting styles in my bag of tricks. But dramatically-lit wasn't the style the client wanted.

I learned my lesson years ago about making cool (IMO cool) dramatically-lit glamour images that weren't in the style the client wanted. Upon seeing one such set of images, I received a none-too-appreciative phone call from my client saying, "Jimmy! What am I supposed to do with this artsy shit?"  Yep. "Artsy shit." That's what he said. Exact words. And he even went on to tell me the photos were really good in an "artsy shit" sort of way, but that's not what he wanted. Leastwise, in terms of the lighting approach he expected me to utilize when shooting for him. Did he want mediocre photos? No. Flatly-lit, low-contrast photos? No again. But he didn't want artsy shit either.

So, here's a bit more FYI for some of you: Everyone, i.e., customers and clients and others, doesn't want or particularly care for artsy shit. Perhaps more don't than you might imagine.  Course, if you're simply shooting for yourself, you might want artsy shit for all your work. If so, have at it. But even so, if you like sharing your images with others and especially enjoy getting viewer's pats on your artistic back, also know that all viewers of your images may not appreciate your artsy shit the way you do.  I suppose it all depends on what it is, or how it is, you want to present yourself as a photographer and/or an artist-- as a 100% "artsy shit" shooter or something else. Perhaps, something more?

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