Friday, August 26, 2011

3 Point Lighting Essentials

Three point lighting is the standard lighting technique used in video. Many of the special effects movies light their actors using this method on green screens. It’s a good idea to become comfortable with three point lighting because it has the power to transform an otherwise boring and flat image into a dynamic interesting image.Using a 3-point lighting set up will make your subject look awesome and you'll be instantly renowned as a 'pro'. The lighting styles of many pros like Dave Hill, Jill Greenberg, Joel Grimes and rest of the grunge gang is based on this simple traditional film lighting method. Also, a bit about the retouching that'll make the image 'POP'. 

The goal of three point lighting is to create the illusion of a three-dimensional subject in a two-dimensional image. While you can create dimension a number of different ways, like using depth of field etc., there’s no doubt that using light and shadow adds a powerful way to accomplish this.

What are the three points of light we’re talking about?

Traditionally, the three point lighting for classic portraiture was divided into:
The Key Light – This is the main light used on your subject.
The Fill Light – The purpose of this light is to fill in the shadows created by the key light, preventing them from getting too dark and being able to see details in them.
The Back Light – This is used to separate the subject from the background. It is also called as Hair light or Rim Light.

To create this look, one thing to remember is: Whichever way the subject is facing in the frame, put the key light on that side of the camera. Incidentally, this style of lighting is called “short lighting” because this lighting illuminates the short side of the face, leaving the broad side of the subject’s face (the side of the face closest to the camera) in shadow.One thing to be cautious about is the fill light should not create a second shadow. If you see two shadows, that means the fill light is too powerful and needs to be reduced.

A common misconception with 3 Point Lighting on location is that you need three separate lights. Here’s a common technique that actually requires zero lights…

In the late afternoon or early evening, when the sun is about 45 degrees up in the sky, place your subject with their back to the sun, and put your camera in front of them. With the sun behind them, they’ll have a beautiful glow around their hair and shoulders. This gives the effect of the back light in a 3 point lighting setup. The sun is the back light. Now have someone hold a reflector off to the side, out of the frame. Reflect some of the sunlight into your subject. This reflected light acts like a key light to model their face. What about the fill light? Nature will do its job. The sunlight will reflect off the grass, off the sidewalk, off the sky and clouds, creating an ambient light that will help fill in the shadows.

That being said, if you want full control over the lights indoors, you probably want to use one light to be your key light, a reflector or a foam core board to be the fill light, and use the sun as the back light.

Getting Creative with 3 Point Lighting...

Okay, lets get a bit more experimental. Now we all now what a traditional three point lighting is. What if we move the lights around so that there are two back lights, and one key light. and what if the back lights are more powerful than the key light...

What you get doing this, is the base of modern 3-point lighting that is used by many advertising photographers including Jill Greenberg, Dave Hill, Joel Grimes, Tim Tadder, Jim Fiscus etc. Their lighting style gets more elaborate, but once you get the hold of what is discussed here, you can add more lights for fill etc. Take a look at a detailed post of their lighting style here.

For the title image, here is the lighting setup:

I've used two medium sized Elinchrom Varistar as back light on either sides of the subject. They are on full power, and the key light is bounced from a silver umbrella at half power and so is actually used as a fill light.

Varistar is my current favorite light modifier and does almost everything i want. It is slightly expensive than a white umbrella, and the only difference is the back is covered with black cloth to prevent light leak and increase the flash output. I also use a larger version, which is slightly smaller than an Octabox, but at 1/4th its price.

Okay, back to the topic...below are two more images from the session...

Also, one most important part of every studio shoot with a powerful fan. You can use a hair blower, wind machine, foam core to manually create breeze, industrial fans etc. I use a vertical fan/HVB(high velocity blower) which I found at Sam´s Club. It is really cool as the fans are hidden, height is good, and the wind can be channeled in all important direction. And yes, it is very powerful even from 10 feet away, as you can see below...

Okay, now the retouching part. I've always pushed Photoshop to its extreme to give results i wanted. Sometimes the steps are so many for a certain look, that i forgot how i did it by the time i was really happy with the editing. Hence I created a lot of actions, which is these days commercially available as Pro Photoshop Actions. For these images, the action i used is called Photo Illustration, from the 150set. The look i was trying to imitate was the one similar to Lucis Art, but more for people rather than landscape. This action makes the image pop, adding a lot of detail and texture, which can be fine tuned. This is the image before and after the 'Photo Illustration' action (with some tweaking of its editable layers) and an extra boost of contrast for the backdrop(which wouldn't have been necessary if the backdrop was black instead of dark gray)...


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