How Light Is Used To Create Images-5

by William Lulow

With all that has been said in the previous articles, a photographer needs to know exactly how to apply light from various artificial sources in order to create an image. My technique for applying light is to start simple.

If the subject is a human being, I try to study the person and make an evaluation of what his or her best angles or sides are and begin with the use of one general light bounced into an umbrella. I then try to notice all the shadows (if any) and see what looks pleasing to my eye. Of course, I always begin with a discussion of what the photo will be used for and the kind of image the person wants. This usually gives me a place to start (but not always). Sometimes, lighting different from what I originally envisioned will strike the subject’s fancy and I’ll have to begin anew. That’s why the initial studio set up needs to be flexible. I had a portrait to do for a person’s company website. When I looked at the website, I noticed that all the other people depicted there were lit with rather dramatic lightings. I had to change my idea of the kind of image I was going to make.


This shot was in keeping with other images on the website and consequently fit right in.

If it is a product that I have to shoot, my technique is similar. I set up my table top with the desired background (usually white no-seam paper), and begin to light the subject from several angles (one at a time), all the time paying specific attention to shadows, reflections and the details of the object itself. If it is a product with a label on it, I have to make sure that the label is sharp and readable. This is perhaps, the most important thing about a product shot for a client. He wants to be able to see and read the product’s information clearly. The viewer has to know immediately what it is and that it’s shown in the best light possible. BreastPump_6-0002-Edit

(This shot was difficult because the small bottles had to show up against the white background. The client had to be able to see all the elements in the product that she was selling.)

I then try to find the best lighting that will not only show the subject’s size and shape, but one that will add highlights to it as well. Once I’ve got the lighting I want, I try to tweak the setup so that it becomes visually interesting.

It’s worth noting that these images were made in a studio with professional studio flash units, using light modifiers ranging from umbrellas to sophisticated light boxes. These kinds of results are not always obtainable with smaller speedlights.  How and when to use these tools is a subject for another article.