Direct (Dramatic) Light

by William Lulow

In the days before electronic flash (strobes) everything was lit with hot light (incandescent bulbs). Some of the early efforts using this technique became classics. Given the prevalence of flash units, soft boxes and umbrellas, we often forget that the classic lightings were often the best for making dramatic portraits. As a matter of fact, most of the lightings I use for my editorial, fashion and beauty work are derived from the classical lightings that utilized the old hot lights. So, I might start with a Hollywood Lighting, but instead of using a photoflood, I’d use a strobe with an umbrella in the same position. This gives me a tremendous amount of control. I did a portrait not too long ago of a man for his company’s website. I was planning on using my normal umbrella setup in a Hollywood Lighting position, but when I looked at the company’s website, I saw that all the portraits were really dramatic.  (The company was based in Italy). So, the Hollywood Light would really look out of place. When I got to the location, I immediately set up my main light (still a strobe) in a Rembrandt Lighting position without the umbrella. I didn’t want a soft light. I wanted a much more dramatic lighting.

This is one of the final shots:


The umbrella would have softened the lighting effect and basically destroyed the drama that the shadows created.  There are many different effects that can be created with just one light. This image actually was lit with two lights. The second was aimed at the background in order to produce the gradation from dark to light.

The lesson here is that you can’t apply the exact same lighting solution to every lighting situation. You have to think about the kind of image you want to create every single time you’re out there taking pictures.