Three point lighting can mean any lighting set up that uses, (you guessed it!), three lights. Somewhere in your camera or speedlite manual there is a hastily drawn diagram illustrating a simple 3 point lighting arrangement.
Word of caution though, those diagrams are terrible and will probably leave you in a lurch when photo-time arrives and you go to take your first picture only to realize that your lighting set-up isn’t gonna cut it.
The lighting scheme I am going to share with you today is an alternate set-up; and when done right it opens the doors to some pretty interesting possibilities. First, let’s discus what you’ll need:
The biggest difference between this set up and the ones you’ll more commonly find online is that two of our lights will be effectively behind and to the sides of our subject, rather than two lights in front.
Diagram of our 3 Point Lighting Technique.
I forgot to get a good production photo during the shoot. Which by the way, is a no no. You should always get a good production photo during the photo session so, if you have to come back and revisit the set for pick-ups, you’ll have a good visual reference to which you can match the lighting accurately. Luckily, I’m familiar with this set up, so not having a production photo isn’t too bad in this case.
This diagram to the left illustrates the basics of the set up. Two strip lights behind the subject, and one light in front of the subject. The lights in the back are positioned so that they are pointed at the subject’s shoulders. The vertical height of the lights depends on the height of your subject.
With strip lights, it’s important to know that even though they may be very tall, the ‘hot-spot’ of light is still centered in the middle of the box. That means I usually end up adjusting my strip lights so that the middle of the box is lined up with the top of my subject’s shoulders. If that isn’t giving you enough vertical coverage, then tip your strip lights so the top of the box is leaning towards your subject. Why does this work? A light source appears brighter the closer you are to it. Tipping the top of the strip light towards your subject will project more light onto their head, while the brighter middle area of the light will be a bit more dim because it’s slightly further away. Using the inverse-kinematic laws of light to your advantage, how cool is that!?
The light in front of our subject was a 22″ beauty dish. This doesn’t have to be a beauty dish, however. It can be an umbrella, a soft box, even a huge octobox. For our purposes, however, we were going for a slightly zappier, edgier light so a beauty dish was the perfect choice.
We placed the beauty dish on a C-Stand with a boom arm and leavered it over our subject. The light should be just high enough to be out of the frame of our picture. You don’t want it too high, or else you’ll fill your subjects eyes and cheeks with shadows. Keeping it just above the camera’s line of sight will render some nice shadows while still dishing some light into the eyes.
For this photo, we really want the edges of our subject to be defined. For this reason, I suggest you adjust the power output of your strip lights before you start fiddling with your main light. I know this is a little backwards from conventional lighting logic, but these strip lights are tasked with making our subject pop out of the background so this is where most of our lighting power will be coming from.
You can tell that you’ve done it right when you do a test shot and your subject is completely outlined in light, but the center of the subject’s face is in near-total darkness.
Next step is to dial in your main light. In our case, it’s the 22″ beauty dish from Paul C. Buff. Also, making it’s debut in my studio, is the PCB Einstein. I’ll get to the specifics of this light a little later on this post, but for now let me just say this: WOW, this light is awesome.
Okay, back to the Beauty dish. Once you have your strip lights producing the right amount of edge lighting on your subject, you are ready to introduce your main light. Start low, as in, power that light all of the way down. We’re trying to add just enough light to bring out the eyes and the features of the face. More precisely, you’re aiming for something like 1 stop under what would be considered optimal exposure. If your studio light doesn’t go low enough in power, just walk the light away from your subject until it looks right.
In my case, the light was about 2 feet away from the subject, with Einstein running at 1 stop above it’s minimum power. For my beauty dish, I am using a sock diffuser to help spread a little light into the shadows – but even with a diffuser on a beauty dish, your light will remain relatively sharp.
Compare the image to the left with the one earlier. You can see that the main light adds a subtle, but dramatic difference.
Using this lighting set-up gives you a very striking final frame. The edge lighting lifts the subject off the background and the main light adds a ton of mood to the portrait – but don’t stop there!
This lighting set-up can be used outside of the studio. It will work with nearly any suitably moody envorinment. It is, perhaps, a little too dramatic for corporate portraiture, but it works great on athletes, or theatrical personalities.
This technique also works particularly well if you are doing a composite image. So, how do we go about doing that? Well, let’s explore further!
I started this project knowing that it would ultimately end as a composite in Photoshop. I shot our subject on a gray seamless because the background doesn’t really matter. The gray just gives me a nice blank color to lift our subject off of in Photoshop later. So that leaves us with the question, “What is our background going to be?”
Well, it’s a sports themed shoot, so I went out scouting for sports themed locations. The locations don’t have to be specifically tied to sports either. Basketball, for instance, has a long history of being played in run-down inner-city courts. So go find a shabby court, or even an old alley way. You just need to tie the background to personality of the photo.
I decided to be a little more specific with my photo and I drove around town looking for a suitable series of locations that would match my pictures. I finally found a high school football field that would work perfectly for what I had in mind.
I walked around the field until I decided on a composition and then I began to shoot bracketed shots. The reason for the bracketed shots was because I knew I would be merging these into an HDR image. Why HDR? Well, the light on our subject is dramatic, so the background should be dramatic too!
The picture to the left represents the HDR we’ll be using in our final photo. I created this by merging 3 photos in Photomatix and then Tone Mapping the result in lightroom. You can use whatever process you are most comfortable with in terms of your own HDR images.
Once we’ve gotten our background prepped, and we’ve cut our subject free from his gray background it’s time to marry to the images into one composite.
How you put your photos together, and the visual treatments you apply are completely up to you. There’s no real step-by-step, and it all comes down to personal style. Since my vision was to have a gritty sports portrait, I spent a lot of time making sure the final image conveyed the attitude I wanted. I also spent a lot of time doing things we normally do with our portraits; retouching, dodging & burning, liquefying, etc…
Below is the final export.
I’ll be writing up a full review on the Einstein within the next day or so, but I just wanted to quickly add how impressed I am by it’s features and performance. It played a large part in allowing me to achieve the image I wanted.
In regards to the lighting scheme I’ve laid forth in this post, I just wanted to say it’s not something I came up with on my own. I’ve seen a lot of great work from great photographers, all of which have influenced the way I approached this particular project. I suggest you go out and get inspired too!
The weather forecast was calling for 3-6 inches of snow, the temp hovering around 33 degrees. If you’ve ever lived on the east coast, then you know it can snow even when the temp is above freezing and this can cause you a few problems.
Whether it’s 36 degrees Fahrenheit , or -10 below, the problems dealing with the cold are pretty much the same; staying warm is your first-most priority. The second priority is staying dry if possible. Anything below 20 degrees and this is relatively easy. The colder the air temperature, the less likelihood the snow will melt upon landing on you and your equipment.
But when temperatures get above 20, especially above 32 degrees, snow can melt on contact and ultimately effect your clothes and equipment in the same way as if you were standing in a rain storm. For the event, we would be standing on the ice, over a frozen lake, right in the middle of the action and subsequently, the weather. I took this into account and set up several shoot-through umbrellas attached to light stands to act as actual umbrellas, keeping the snow off of my speedlites and giving me a dry place to stand. When I had to change location to get a better vantage point for a photo, I would take my photo and then retreat under the umbrella and dab-dry my camera with a soft towel. This meant my camera gear was never in any real danger from water damage.
Another issue with shooting in a blizzard is visibility. I had brought my speedlites so I could stop the action in midair, just as these poor folks were about to take the plunge, as well as to help equalize the exposure between the subject and the near-pure white background. Problem is, when the snow is coming down heavily and you shoot with a flash, all you’ll see is the reflected light bouncing off the snow in the air, ultimately overexposing your photo. Because of this I had to work in two modes. One mode was in shutter priority with no flash. I never use shutter priority, like never ever. But here, where I need around 1/600 of a second to get a crisp action shot, using Shutter Priority was the best bet. For this scenario I also had my ISO bumped up to 800 and my aperture around f/11 (+/- a few stops depending on the changing light).
When the snow would let up a little, I would turn back to using my speedlites. I was using multiple speedlites to help spread the load so as not to overtax the batteries. The lights were TTL, unmodified, zoomed out to their max. When using the lights my camera was set at 1/200 of a second, around f/8 and an ISO of 100. 1/200 of a second works here because the flash is stopping the action, rather than raw shutter speed. You could also have used Highspeed Sync in this case, but the burden on your flashes would mean long recycle times and possible missed photo opportunities due to that recycle time.
The was coming down so thick at times it was hard to even stop and look at my LCD screen to see how we were doing with the photos. The snow and water made everything on the back of the LCD blurry and I just had to trust in my own knowledge and the TTL system.
I was very happy to see that the 5D Mark III’s auto focus system handled the heavy snow amazingly well. There were a few hiccups where it would focus on an area of falling snow, rather than the intended subject, but for the most part it cut through the white stuff and found the target nearly all of the time.
We spent 4 hours on the ice, in the driving snow, in the freezing cold and, to be honest, I started to envy the jumpers who only had to spend 10 seconds in the 33 degree water before being whisked off to a heated tent. But the experience was fantastic. I actually like being in the snow, and there, in the middle of this expansive frozen lake, I found the setting very beautiful.
It should be mentioned that it was because of my great friends at the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank that I got the opportunity to come and take photos of this thrilling (chilling?) event. I strongly ask you to support ACRBD and other Food Banks by donating food, time, and money. It’s a great cause!
Sometimes you just hope the stars align. It can be the talent; are they willing to go along with this crazy idea of mine? Sometimes it’s making the client understand the intricacies of the shot. Sometimes it’s something that’s completely out of your control like the weather.
Weather is the bane of all photographers. At best you can rely on the weather channel to give you the conditions that may exist in, oh, say 2 hours from now. For fairly small time frames, weather predictions are usually in the ball-park of what the reality will be. But, say the shoot is 5 days away, a week, 10 days or more! Well, then you’re stepping into some really iffy territory. Sure, you can probably be guaranteed that it’s not going to snow in the middle of July, but trying to predict puffy clouds against a clear sky at sunset a week from today? Yeah, not gonna happen – most likely. If you’re lucky everything will work out, and if you’re not, you are in for total re-think of how you have to approach your photo.
I’m not trying to get a pretty good photo, I am trying to get THE photo, the one that is in my head. During rainy seasons we’ll often set a primary day and then a back up day just in case the weather is not cooperating at all. This is sort of ‘best-case’ planning for avoiding ‘worst-case’ scenarios. Even then, if your back-up date approaches and the weather still isn’t in your corner, you have to be ready to prepared to make the best of what you’ve been given. Thankfully, bad weather doesn’t mean bad photos. As Moose Peterson says, some of the best photos are made in the worst weather. Even then, however, it’s not a good idea to drag your model into a tornado and just hope she keeps her face to the light as she’s being lifted into the air, on her way to meet the Great and Powerful Oz.
There are also times when a certain type of weather is a necessity in your photo. Your rain jacket product shoot might require a backdrop of storm clouds, or that magazine shoot you’re on depends on a sunny beach while you’re taking photos of surfers. In these cases you have 3 options.
You wouldn’t be the first photographer who’s had to resort to any of the above options. Personally, in a pinch, I would opt for the studio option if all else fails. But, in my opinion, there’s no substitute for the real thing.
All of this came into play recently when I had a shoot scheduled, several weeks in advance, that called for snow. I wanted the whole sha-bang. Snow on the ground and snow falling from the sky. Why was falling snow important? Well, it would be nice to capture snow falling throughout the image, but more important, nothing beats the look of freshly fallen snow on the ground. So, with my desire for fresh snow firmly in place, so began the anxiety laced waiting game. You know the game, the one where you’re checking weather.com 5 times a day to see if your dreams will come true?
Luck was on my side. As the day approached the likely hood of snow kept increasing. On the day of the shoot snow was forecast to start falling at 4pm, exactly 1 hour before the scheduled shoot – Perfect! We packed up the gear and headed out. Our location was an area next to the Cuyahoga river, deep inside of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Less than 15 minutes from our arrival the snow began to fall, heavily. So heavily in fact we lost control of our car for a moment as it struggled to deal with the inch of fresh snow covering the small, windy road. We made it off of the road and into the parking lot without further issues.
There was a new problem however. Remember all that snow I wished for? Well, there was so much snow falling that it caused a white out. Visibility was no more than just 20 feet or so – not so good for a photo that required a river-scape in the background. Hedging our bets we walked down the trails to our final location and began to set up our gear.
In any situation where you’re dealing with wet conditions (snow is, after all, just water) it’s important to take the safety of your gear into consideration. We took extra shoot-through umbrellas and used them as, well, umbrellas, shielding our flashes from the heavy snow. My cameras, a 5d mark II and mark III, are both weather proofed so as long as I took some simple precautions to keep them from being heavily soaked they would be fine.
By the time we finished our set up, the falling snow had slowed down to a workable level. We got the talent in place and started to snap away. Right away, we knew everything was working beautifully. The snow, the light, the location, the river – all of it was playing together just as I had seen it in my head for all of these weeks. It felt so great to have everything come together at the last moment and, pun alert, just click.
Not all shoots will work out this well. The weather is something you can’t predict with any degree of certainty, at least not 100%, so you have to plan ahead – sometimes weeks ahead. Be prepared to be flexible, and make sure your client understands they may need to be flexible too. If it’s a large budget shoot with a lot riding on the final frame, it’s worth taking the time to get it done right in the right conditions.
Early in November I had the opportunity to photograph a wedding for an absolutely wonderful couple; Jim & Leslie. We met Leslie through a previous job, The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, where she works in the fundraising department. When we first met to discuss if we would be a good fit for her wedding, (We met in mid summer, several months before her wedding date), she expressed how important it was that the wedding photos shouldn’t staged – she wanted a very sweet, intimate, editorial look to her photos — it just so happens that shooting in an editorial fashion is one of my favorite styles for weddings
When someone says, “Editorial”, it can mean several different things. For the most part, editorial means any photo that happens naturally in the moment without the photographer staging or intervening in the photo in anyway. When I am shooting a wedding I’d suspect that nearly 95% of of my photos are shot in an editorial manner. The last 5% are things like formals where the photographer needs to work hand in hand with the bridal party and family in order to get all of the expected photos.
Before any wedding it’s not uncommon for the bride and groom to prepare in different areas or even completely different venues. For Jim and Leslie’s wedding this meant I would be at 3 different places throughout the day. It started in the early afternoon with the groom and the groomsmen getting ready at the Hilton. The day was overcast, and the room was lit naturally with a large window on one side of the room. The room itself was painted a soft beige on every wall, including the ceiling. These types of situations are always tricky when trying to find your white balance. The best bet would be to set your camera to tungsten – this will help immensely since the colors of the walls will even influence the color of your flash into a warm tone.
The second location I visited was where the bride and her bride’s maids were getting ready, The Bertram Inn at Glenmoor estates in Canton. This location is gorgeous. The Inn itself has a wonderful style to it, a very late 1800’s industrial-age-elegance. The room the bride was preparing herself in was a large suite, soft blue-ish green walls, a large white ceiling and several windows letting copious amounts of natural light in. This was the perfect room for pre-wedding/getting ready photos.
For the formals, my first choice was to use the attached Chapel, and while we were promised by the staff that it would be available to us for photos, we were disappointed to find out that it had been filled with empty tables and broken glass – and since it’s not kosher to have your bride walking through broken chandelier bulbs, I had to move quick and find a second location for formal photos. Luckily the front of the Inn turned out to be a perfect replacement location. We got lucky and the sun started to peek out of the clouds in the distance, which added warmth, and there was still enough cloud cover that the light remained even over the subjects. In total this provided beautiful, natural light conditions.
Once formals were done, we headed to the wedding venue; La Pizzaria, a beautiful, upscale eatery here in Canton. While the outside of the venue is fairly nondescript the inside, however, is a beautiful, open space with wooden walls and a concave ceiling, painted and lit to look like a spring sky. Wooden walls usually mean you’re in for a lighting nightmare. Trying to bounce light off of shiny, dark materials can prove near impossible. However, I knew I could use a tall light stand and hoist one of my studio strobes into the channeled ceiling and still get good light coverage where I needed it without having to worry too much about color balance issues.
The wedding itself was an exquisite affair with both the wedding party and guests filling the room with excitement and smiles. It’s always fun for me when I get to live and document a day in the life of wonderful people and this wedding was just such an experience – something I’ll cherish and remember forever.
I was tickled when the Hall of Fame asked me back this year to cover the events of their 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement. Enshrinement week covers a lot of activities and from start-to-finish, but the total event last nearly a month. It starts with several smaller festivals in the Canton, Ohio area – fairs, hot air balloon lifts, food-festivals and fireworks all happen throughout the month. The last week covers the events directly related to the Enshrinements. Those events are dinners, activities for families and visors to the HoF, ceremonies, and the Hall of Fame game that kicks off the year’s preseason. My task was to cover the events that happened inside of the Hall of Fame and the VIP parties. It’s a wonderful job with thousands of opportunities for photographs; portraits of football stars, photos people having fun, and landscapes of beautiful events.
Below are a handful of photos taken from this year’s event.
While I’ve lived in Northeast Ohio for nearly 5 years, I am still amazed by how little of the area I’ve explored. Because I am a rather restless person, this is works out in my favor — I love exploring new places for possible photographic locations.
My most recent scouting excursion was to an area within Cuyahoga Valley National Park known as the Virginia Kendall Ledges. Formed millions of years ago when much of Ohio was a great inland sea, the ledges were most likely the walls of a large island formation. What’s left now are beautiful ledge and cliff faces made up of a sandy, rocky material known as “Sharon Conglomerate.” What was once a scene of fast moving rivers is now a serene and tranquil forest with a thick canopy and graceful hiking trails.
I arrived a few hours before sunset, when the sun was starting to get low in the sky. The result was a forest floor with a gorgeous level of ambient light and equally wonderful spots of deep red, dappled sunlight peaking through the tops of the trees. I can’t overstate just how red that sun light really was — the areas where the sun’s rays hit the ground were lit up with a laser-pointer red that was so unnaturally vibrant it took me a few moments to realize it wasn’t something else just laying on the ground and was, in fact, the sun’s setting hues.
It didn’t take much imagination to realize this would be the perfect backdrop for gorgeous, empyrean photos. A wedding, engagement, or any other type of portrait session here would instantly take on a ghostly, magical quality. The surrounding area has no end of possible backdrops. There are small patches of open ground looking up at the cliffs, areas on the cliffs that look over the forest, and still more areas with stone stairways carved out of the rock face itself. Everywhere you looked there was a photograph waiting to happen.
I look forward to suggesting this area to my clients in the future, and I know when they see it, they will be overcome with how exquisite the location is.