How To Use Artificial Light-II

by William Lulow

Another basic property of artificial light for portraits is that, the larger the light source (reflector, umbrella, etc.) the softer, more diffuse, the light will be. So, theoretically, if you had a 12″ reflector with a 500 watt floodlight and you were trying to light a small object on a table top (a package of cigarettes for example), the light source in relation to the size of the package would be rather large. The effect of the light falling on the package would be softer than it would be on a subject of much larger size. This relationship still holds true when you are photographing people. Generally, the larger the light in relation to the subject, the softer the lighting effect. That is why most professionals use large umbrellas or large light banks when photographing people. They are striving to achieve a soft, pleasing effect and to imitate the quality of light that an artists’ “north light” studio would produce. There are, of course, times when you will want to achieve a dramatic effect with rather sharp shadows. That is the time to employ normal reflectors without umbrellas. In addition, the closer the light is to the subject, the more diffuse will be its effect. So, for soft, diffuse results, most photographers try to find the largest light sources they can and then place them as close to their subjects as possible.  I might mention that soft light is not necessarily the best light for all occasions. The great masters of portraiture used hot lights because that was all they had available to them at the time. Strobe lights were not  really commercially available until after 1950. And hot lights, though sometimes uncomfortable to work with, produce a kind of direct illumination that is easier to control than strobe. Even though the effects of both types of lighting are different, again, the principles of lighting apply equally to all.

            So, to review briefly – the two properties of artificial light covered so far, are:

1. Reflectors direct the light wherever we want it,

2. The larger the light source, the softer the lighting effect will be. It is important to keep these principles in mind when applying any type of light to a portrait subject. And, as we will see later, it is always most important to decide what kind of portrait you want to make before you set up your lights.

Here are some examples of light sources that create soft light:

7foot umbrella  6-foot softbox  Barebulb head  22inchLightReflector