Note: This is the first of a series of articles taken from my book: “The Handbook of Portrait Lighting.” (c) 2013 by William Lulow. All material herein is copyright by William Lulow and may not be reproduced in any way without written consent.

Properties of Artificial Light

by William Lulow

Artificial light is normally produced by light bulbs of one variety or another. The most common are household utility light bulbs which range in intensity based on how many watts they supply. Artificial lights for photography work the same way with the exception of non‑continuous light sources such as electronic flash or strobes. Light from a continuous light source, such as an ordinary light bulb by itself would scatter light rays all about the room in a generally haphazard way with approximately a 360‑degree field. When we are considering lighting a subject for a portrait, this type of light would yield a flat, low contrast looking picture with little definition and no directional shadows. The purpose therefore, of using certain reflectors with these light sources is to aim the light in whatever direction we want in order to create definition and detail and focus the light to hit certain parts of our subjects. Also, by using these reflectors, we create shadows on our subjects which can be used for various purposes.

So, the first important property of artificial light for portraits is that whenever a reflector of some type is added to a bulb, the light is given some direction.

The tools available to us for directing light in various ways are the following:

(1) Reflectors,

(2) Spotlights with lenses,

(3) Umbrellas,

(4) Light diffusers (spunglass, frosted acetate, plastic),

(5) Light Banks,

(6) Light projectors,

(7) Snoots and cones,

(8) Grids,

(9) Reflector Cards,

(10) Barn doors and Gobos,

(11) Strobes (Electronic Flash).