Your Camera’s ISO Settings

Your Camera’s ISO Settings

by William Lulow

The camera’s ISO setting is a tool that controls the amount of light entering the camera by setting its sensitivity to light. ISO stands for INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS ORGANIZATION. This is an international group of people who decide what standards the world will use for most items that require numeration of some sort. The lower the number, the less light the camera “sees.” So, an ISO setting of 100 will be less sensitive to light than a setting of 1000, say. If you are shooting in a situation where there is very little light, (at night, for example), you might need to use a higher ISO number so that the camera can “see” more light. In many cameras equipped with a built-in flash, if you don’t change the ISO number, the flash will automatically pop up to add light to the scene. This would be undesirable in shooting a sunset, or a concert. So, if you don’t want to use the flash, you would need to increase your ISO setting.

The ISO setting is really where to begin your exposure settings. But, you need to decide what you are willing to sacrifice if you use a higher ISO number, because as you increase your ISO setting, you begin to decrease the quality of the images. Higher ISO settings introduce some “noise” or “grain” to the image. The higher the ISO setting, the greater sensitivity to light will be affected but also the greater the graininess of the image. If you are in a situation where there is very little light, you may decide to sacrifice some quality in the image for the chance to make any image at all! This was the case the other night while I was shooting a band performance. Most concert venues have stage light that highlights the performers. This place had no such light. So making images there was extremely difficult, at best. Here’s one example:

Here, the light on the musician’s face and the light reflecting off the guitar were very difficult to balance and needed some help from Photoshop.

Here’s another where the light on the musician’s face was almost negligible and as he looked down, it was even less. Some of these images were shot at ISO 2500 or 3200. Usually, when I shoot performances, I like to keep the ISO setting at no more than 2500. Because at much more than that, you will begin to see some breakdown in image quality.

This one was shot at ISO 2500, but the instrument was darker and therefore did not reflect more light than the singer’s face. Here the detail was pretty good and the exposure was fairly accurate. (All readings were made with the camera’s meter in center spot mode with “Back Button” focusing. Some images were underexposed by 1 stop when the subject was under the one bright light at this venue).


Elements Of Good Composition

Elements Of Good Composition

 by William Lulow

Photography classes always speak about composition. But what, exactly is it and how do you know when a composition is effective? Basically, a composition is the placement of objects or subjects within the frame. Different compositions can be achieved by:

  1. Moving the camera up, down or side to side
  2. Tilting the lens up or down
  3. Moving closer or further away from the subject(s)
  4. Using lenses of different focal lengths

An effective composition is one that keeps the viewer’s eye attending to the part or parts of the image that the photographer deems most important. If you intend to communicate your feeling about a particular subject, you want to capture your viewers’ attention and hold it.

There are several tried and true methods to achieve this:

  1. Create lines that lead the viewer’s eye into the image.
  2. Create interesting enough subject material to hold a viewer’s interest.
  3. Include a subject that will serve to bounce the eye back to the initial interest lines.
  4. Divide your image into thirds, like a grid.
  5. In most Western societies, when we read, we scan left to right. We do the same for images. Therefore, if you place an important object on the right side of the image, our eyes will tend to bounce back to the left side after seeing it.
  6. Any type of “circular” placement of important parts of an image, will tend to hold the viewer’s attention more.

Here are some examples:

Here, the train tracks lead the viewer’s eye into the image and the largest object is placed near the middle of the composition. The veering out of the tracks on the right serve to keep the viewer’s interest focused on the tracks in the middle, which reinforces the interest in the tall building.

Here, the lines created by the blue sky, the puffiness of the clouds, the contrast of the palm trees against the grey of the clouds and the low horizon create interest in this image. The lifeguard’s small house on the left of the scene serves to keep the viewer’s eye concentrated on the image as a whole.

Generally, anything white in a composition will attract the viewer’s eye before the black areas. By placing the white areas on the right side of the image, the eye is attracted there first. Then it is free to wander to the shadow areas and back to the highlight, thus keeping the viewer’s attention.

In this image (shot from a very high angle), the roadway itself, makes an “s” shape that naturally leads the eye from the bottom left to the top right of the frame.

Here is yet another image with a slanted line that runs right to left within the frame. Because it is lighter in tone than the rocks, it tends to catch the eye and takes it to the center of the image. Then, because the rocks are the largest object in the frame, our attention is drawn to them afterwards, leading to the “circular” compositional element spoken of earlier.

These are just a few elements of good composition. Remember, as photographers, we are dealing mostly with rectangular limits to our compositions. So, think about where you place your important objects within that frame and how you might direct a viewer’s eye to see what you want them to see.




Music Photography

Music Photography

by William Lulow

Those of you who have followed my blog or viewed my Facebook page over the last 4+ years know that I have done quite a bit of performance photography. It all started when I was living and working in Denver, CO. I managed to connect with a writer, Jackie Campbell, and we both did many articles for the Denver Post as stringers. Jackie retired many years ago, but I continue to work at photographing musicians. As a matter of fact, back then, the paper bought just about every article we suggested and delivered to them. It was an interesting relationship, to say the least. It did provide both of us with unusual access to many well-known musicians and performers in the early 1970s. In addition to Judy Collins, Rod Stewart, Chuck Berry and Taj Mahal, we also did stories on local musicians in the Denver area. One was an organ player in an old Denver church who kept a vintage pipe organ working. Another was an impresario of sorts who opened a nightclub in Boulder and gave us virtually free reign to come and shoot/interview many of the performers who came to town. We got the interview with Judy Collins because she was born and raised in Denver. We actually went to her father’s house on Sixth Avenue to meet her.

For my part, my interest in musicians and photographing them stemmed from my life-long hobby of playing the guitar. I took several years of guitar lessons when I was ten years old and even a year or so of piano lessons as well. I’ve even written a couple of songs over the years, but not very good ones. Then, in 1970, on a trip to San Francisco, I met a man who was one of the original “Rock n Roll photographers.” His name was Jim Marshall.


(c)Photograph by Steve Hathaway

This is a shot of Jim by renowned Bay Area photographer, Steve Hathaway. (Used by permission):

I had seen his credits in several books about the Woodstock Music & Art Fair held in August of 1969 in White Lake, NY. Many of his images are still famous today. He had a studio on Union Street and was very welcoming when I just popped in on him one day. He had a fairly large, kind of loft space which had a red backdrop hung at one end on the day I visited. I recognized it from a cover he had shot for CAMERA magazine of the singer Janis Joplin. It was a turning point in my career. I had decided that I wanted to photograph musicians since I really didn’t have what it took to be one. (I had determined by then, that photography was going to be my career.)

And, after photographing quite a few musicians by 1974, I decided that what I really wanted to do was to be a studio photographer. Instead of just shooting performance images, I wanted to make photographs for album covers and other publicity materials. This led me to learn more about studio photography and lighting by working for several large fashion studios before opening my own in New York City, which I finally did six years later.

New York City is a difficult place in which to photograph musicians. You simply cannot gain access to any of the major venues here unless you are working for a recognized magazine. I did do an assignment for New York Magazine on New York studio musicians, but it did not run because they chose to do a piece about Miles Davis instead. Here is my shot of famed bassist Ron Carter from that assignment in 1975:


So, after relocating my business to Westchester County (about 40 miles north of NYC), I finally connected with the The Towne Crier Cafe in Beacon, NY which attracts many well-known musicians. I continue to photograph there and it has been a good relationship for several years.

My latest effort was photographing the guitar picker extraordinaire, Helen Avakian (with Dave Irwin):


You may look at my Rock n Roll page for many of my other sessions with musicians.

Making Photographs On Vacation

Making Photographs On Vacation

by William Lulow

Since we’re approaching vacation time, and, if you are anything like me, you enjoy making photographs no matter where or when! So, when I’m on vacation or traveling, I’m always looking for elements that would make great pictures. Usually, for me, it’s a combination of a good composition and interesting light!

When you are visiting a place, you don’t always know where to find great compositions. So you need to be aware of what makes them. It can be an interesting angle, shape or contain visual clues such as depth and vanishing points. Horizontal lines within the camera’s aspect ratio are usually not interesting unless they are placed very high or low in the frame. So, I’m on the lookout for lower or higher camera positions. 

Here, I’ve used the vanishing point technique with this iPhone snap. 

If you are using a wide angle lens (which, by the way, are just about standard on most camera phones these days), you probably should concentrate on focusing on the foreground because that’s the part of the scene that will be closest to the lens and therefore rendered larger in the finished image. Distant shots are not easy for the camera phone to capture because it uses a shorter focal length lens. Additionally, about using flash, I’m always amazed by people who take their phones to places like large arenas or stadiums and then try to use the camera’s flash. They probably don’t realize that the flash’s effective distance is only a few feet or so, rendering it completely useless in a large space. So, if you must use your camera phone you certainly do not need to use the flash. 

Here is an example of when you should use your camera’s flash. This image was made in the shade of a swimming pool canopy. I used the camera’s built-in flash to fill in the shadows created by the shade. You can see where the sun lit portion of the shot is washed out, creating a nice, white background. So another, simple technique to employ on vacation is to use the camera’s built-in flash to fill in shadows even when you are shooting in direct sunlight. As long as the lens is shaded, you will get some interesting shots.

And, another technique I like to use on vacation and doing professional jobs is to ask subjects to stand in the sun while I keep the lens in the shade and use a flash to fill in shadows. Here’s an example:

Faces are nicely lit while the sunlight creates highlights on the hair and sides.

Another element of composition are vertical lines. These help frame a subject and tend to direct the viewer’s eye to where you want it to go:

 And, when I am shooting horizontal images, as I said, I usually like to place the horizon either very low in the frame or very high. I try to avoid placing it in the middle:

This one is a bit above the middle, but still works to direct one’s eye to the center because of the highlight from the sun.

Here’s one where the horizon is at the very top. 

I almost never take a picture of myself or my traveling companions standing in front of a scenic spot or famous landmark unless I make the people secondary in importance to the scene or, if I just want to prove we were there. (Which I’m not too sure merits that much attention due to the abilities of Photoshop). 

Here is a couple standing in front of the New York City skyline, but notice how I placed them off to one side. Plus they are not looking at the camera! So, if you have to place your subject in front of a famous landmark, make the people incidental to the scene. That way, they are there, but not just standing there!

Another interesting element while traveling is capturing sunsets. Since you are aiming your camera at the light source when capturing sunsets, every object in the scene will be a silhouette, by definition.

Here, I have included people walking and a boat in silhouette to give the composition a more human touch. Also note that they are off-center which actually serves to draw the eye into the frame more! Also, when doing sunsets, you might try under exposing a bit to render the sky colors deeper! This was about two stops underexposed. 

When traveling, try to utilize different compositional elements and inventive lighting techniques to make your images more interesting. 

Exposures With iPhones And Cameras On “AUTO”

Exposures With iPhones And Cameras On “Auto”

by William Lulow

iPhones are very handy tools, right? Well, unless you’ve got some real photographic skills, maybe not so much. This past Father’s Day, I thought I’d try to catch my granddaughter hanging out with one of her cousins. A nice “moment” occurred and I reached for my phone and snapped this image:

Notice how the background is perfectly exposed and the two “subjects” are in shadow. This is basically what most AUTOMATIC settings will produce. These “cameras” are trying to yield an overall image that is, more or less, correctly exposed. Well, in this case, it was less! I even tried to fill-in the shot with my iPhone’s forced flash. That effort was not successful because the flash doesn’t go off instantaneously! It takes a couple of seconds to focus and the pre-flash has to light up in order to get the light correct. By then, the moment has gone! These settings are also often fooled by just this situation – a dark foreground and a bright background. You need to have some photographic knowledge of how to override an automatic setting.

I was able to rescue this shot with the help of the PHOTOSHOP EXPRESS app and here’s the result:

In the days of film, we used to “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights.” If you let your camera do the thinking for you, you will almost always be disappointed. You need to think about what you want your images to show and how you want them to look.

Sometimes, an automatic image can be overridden (or, in this case fixed by post processing) and you will get closer to what you saw in your mind’s eye. But, more often than not, you will have to take some steps to ensure that happens.

So, THINK about what you want to capture and then try to figure out what will get you there. As I said, if you leave it up to your camera, it can most often figure out a “correct” exposure, but not when you have an unusual lighting situation.


How Light Is Used To Create Images – V

How Light Is Used To Create Images – V

by William Lulow

In the past few articles I’ve discussed how light is used to create images. But, there’s a whole lot more to it than that. The “Psychology Of Light” comes into play here as well. Once the photographer has decided what lights he or she will use, the decision has to be made on how exactly to use them and what kinds of lighting will be used to create just the kind of photograph desired.

All this presupposes a complete knowledge of whatever lighting you decide to use. Whether it is studio strobes, speedlights or actual hotlight, you need to know all the various ways these tools can be used before you attempt to create a psychologically meaningful portrait.

Like most everything else, light has a definite psychology. Dark images are “moody” or convey a sense of mystery. Light images are usually happy and convey a sense of lightness or airy-ness! It is important to keep these things in mind whenever you start to do a portrait. You need to find out what the final “judge” of the picture wants. Portraits for websites and other publicity images need to be informational. They need to show what the person looks like, but at his or her best. Personal images, the shots that photographers usually do for themselves or their portfolios, can really be anything they like. I’ve often said that a personal portrait is more about the photographer than the subject. Many famous photographers have photographed the same subjects, yet they all look different. That’s because each photographer has a different “take” on how the subject looks.

You have to keep the rules in mind. Publicity and advertising photographs are most often “directed” by someone other than the subject (an art director, usually). So, if you want to sell those images, those are the people you need to please. If you’re doing a private commission, I would suggest finding out how the subject sees him or herself and then try to please them. If you’re doing a photograph for your own book or collection, then you are free to make whatever kind of image pleases you!

So, “light” pictures are mostly informational and must be lit accordingly. You need to fill in shadows and add highlights and keep the backgrounds light to make the image have an uplifting psychological impact. Conversely, if you’re trying to create a psychologically “down” feel, then the lighting should be shadowy, moody and the backgrounds dark.

Once you have been able to make these types of images consistently in your body of work, you can then try breaking these “rules” and discover what effects you can create.

Here’s a psychologically “light” image:

Expressions are smiling and the background is light. Here’s more of a moody image:

This is lit by a single edge light and the subject has a serious expression.

Keeping expressions in mind is important to the outcome of your portraits. I usually like to talk to my subjects to try to elicit expressions, but if you’re creating a “mood” portrait, sometimes playing slow music can help. Trying to control the “psychology” of your shoots will lead to better portraits that really say something about you as a photographic artist. And, using light creatively usually makes all the difference in portraiture.

How Light Is Used To Create Images – IV

How Light Is Used To Create Images- IV

(Electronic Flash)

by William Lulow

Most photographers these days use various types of electronic flash units to provide illumination for their images. The gamut runs from simple, inexpensive on-camera flashes to large, studio ones. The studio models can cost thousands of dollars and even the smaller, professional grade portable units can be expensive as well. They are designed to replicate the effects of hotlights so, in order to use them correctly, an understanding of how light works is necessary. In the previous article I introduced the various types of electronic flash units as well as the smaller speedlight.

You can see that I’m using two “packs” and five “heads” in my small studio. My normal portrait exposures are f/11 @ 1/125th of a second at ISO 100. The packs are capable of putting out 1000 watt/seconds each, but I’m only using 250 watt/seconds on my main light, 125 on my fill-in light and 125 each on my accents and background lights. This is a”typical” setup which allows me to use all lights or as little as one, depending on the effect desired.

 The relative power of these units is measured in WATT/SECONDS. (How much power is put out in a one-second flash).  This is usually not very helpful when comparing  studio flash units. What is helpful is knowing that if your exposure with a 500 watt/second unit is f/8, say, with a 1000 watt/second unit you would have twice the light output , allowing you to shoot at f/11.  Some studio units are rated at 3200 watt/seconds or higher. This enables studio photographers to achieve a fairly high degree of light output allowing them to do things like stop motion, create stroboscopic effects, or to shoot at very small lens openings. This used to be important in the days of large, studio view cameras and slow film that required small lens openings to carry focus (lots of depth-of-field) and provide crystal clear images for advertising and catalog use.

Today, with digital camera sensors that are far more sensitive to light than film ever was, such large amounts of studio flash power are simply not needed. I have photographed products with settings of 1/125th of a second at f/22 with only 500 watt/seconds of power. The flexibility of these studio flash units allows the photographer to connect several lights (known as flash heads), to one power pack. Many of them can power three or more heads and some can power up to five heads.  Of course, the more flash heads you plug into one unit, the more the power to each is diminished. This is the reason that many studios have several flash generators (packs) and multiple heads in order to cover various lighting needs.

These flash heads are all professional quality and capable of flash output of around 2400 watt/seconds. But having many flash heads and power packs are no help unless one knows how to use them. These units must also be powered by a generator and although portable, are nowhere near as easy to carry as many, lighter, off camera speedlights.

The term “speedlight” refers to smaller, less powerful flash units like the one below:


These are not professional studio flash units and, by comparison are only capable of putting out only around 50 –  100 watt/seconds of power (depending on the unit), but they are small and very handy. They can be mounted on a camera or used off-camera when mounted on a light stand or other place, but even though light modifying accessories are available for them, they probably don’t have enough power to be used with umbrellas, and setting them up with umbrellas can be tricky. Also, note the size of the light itself is quite small. Not particularly good for lighting portraits.  Speedlights can also be set up to fire with radios. Some have these radios built in to them. For others, you will need to buy a radio transmitter to put on top of your camera.

You can also purchase what is called a “monolight” which is an electronic flash unit with the generator built in. Here is an example:

The beauty of these lights is that they have no cords and don’t need the extra weight of a generator.

But today, speedlights may be the only lights you would need. Unless you are doing regular studio shoots requiring one of the larger units above, one or two of these flashes may suffice for many events and other outdoor use.  One should get used to using them by following some of the earlier articles detailing specific lighting effects obtainable by placing these lights in different positions. (If you wish more information, kindly refer to the blog archives). Again, use the same positioning of lights to create desired effects by referring to the articles which talk about the various classical lightings for portraits. Here again, is what my normal studio setup looks like:

Studio quality electronic flash units allow the photographer complete control over lighting. They last a long time, give constant quantity and quality of light output, are fairly easy to set up and strike and generally, make using artificial light in any setting easier than it has ever been.

How Light Is Used To Create Images – III

How Light Is Used To Create Images- III

by William Lulow

Note: This is the third article in the series and contains a bit of history.

In the old days, most studio photography was done with theatrical hot lights. And, they were just that…HOT. Flash has actually been around almost since the beginning of the photographic process in the early 1800s. Photographers used a mixture of potassium chlorate with other substances and ignited it in a flash bar to produce a brief, intense flash of light. Sometimes it was accompanied by a loud noise as well.


 After that came the flash bulb which was a glass bulb that contained crumpled up aluminum in an environment of oxygen. It was ignited by an electric current produced from a battery. Today’s electronic flashes are made with a small flash tube that contains xenon gas that is ignited from an electric charge produced by modern batteries. It produces a short, bright flash of light.

EarlyFlashBulbIn the past, it was difficult to synchronize the flash with the camera’s shutter. The camera had to be mounted on a tripod and the lens opened before the flash was ignited. Later, it was also hard to synchronize the flash with the shutter. There was a “B” (bulb) setting that delayed the opening of the shutter for a fraction of a second until the flash bulb reached its peak of illumination. Today, modern electronic flash units can be synched to fire instantaneously when the shutter opens.

On camera type flash
On camera type flash

It is important to understand the basics of artificial light before one begins to work with electronic flashes, but most people will just go out and buy a small flash unit that can fit in their camera’s hot shoe and just snap away. Flash units that are mounted onto cameras, or the built in flash units that accompany most modern cameras are limited in the kind of light they provide. The light comes from the same spot as the camera and produces a harsh, flat light that is basically only good for illumination, that is, to provide light when there is not enough ambient light to take a picture. It’s not really great for portraits.

As an aside, in our digital world, most cameras can take a picture when it is all but pitch black in the room. ISO speeds up to 64,500 are not uncommon. But with high ISO settings, some image quality suffers. I have shot events with my portable flash units at settings of ISO 1000 with no real loss of image quality. (I’m not blowing the images up that large, however. But, I’m still able to get decent 8×10 size prints).

If you want to begin to be creative with your use of light, you will need to purchase one or more units that can be operated OFF the camera. These will have to be mounted on light stands or placed in other positions around the studio or wherever you are shooting.

Most photographic studios today use a type of electronic flash that requires a flash generator and several “heads” mounted on light stands, all off the camera.

Here are some examples of large, studio electronic flash units. They are used in most large studios today:

These are the “packs.” They are flash generators which take electricity and turn it into a current that will flow through the flash “heads” below, and produce a short, powerful flash of light.

More about these units in the next article, but the best way to learn how to use these lights is by first beginning with regular incandescent “hot” lights (as I have said). I have detailed the placement of lights in other articles and you can refer to the archives in lighting for more information. I also re-post some of them from time to time. Then, using the same positioning, you can begin to develop a technique for shooting portraits with flash units.

Note: Any modern electronic flash unit can also be used with a softbox by using what is called a “speed ring” that allows the softbox to be mounted to the lights themselves. Most flash “heads” also have holes that hold photographic umbrellas as well.

How Light Is Used To Create Images – II

How Light Is Used To Create Images – II

by William Lulow

In the last article, we talked about MODIFYING light in order to create images. Today, we’ll talk about the various types of light modifying tools we can use. Since the simple reflector is limited in its ability to provide the kind of light necessary for good, commercial portraits and product shots, it needed to be changed. Over the years, photographers found that they still needed to direct light toward their subjects, but that light was much more usable if it was soft. So, they tried to figure out what could make the light soft. And, they discovered that a large light placed fairly close to their subjects would give a very pleasing effect. Manufacturers of photographic lighting equipment began making very large reflectors that were able to take large bulbs. Today, these kinds of light fixtures are sometimes referred to as “beauty dishes.”


They are large, very broad reflectors that are also fairly shallow. (The one pictured above is only 22” in diameter. But some were quite a bit larger.) They were of the theatrical variety in that they often took a fair amount of electricity to run and became very hot to handle. But, the science of these lights, in terms of the effect they had on the light they produced, made for nice, soft light that could be used to create great portraits. THE LARGER THE LIGHT SOURCE, THE SOFTER THE LIGHTING EFFECT.  This is one of the main ideas for portrait photographers. They need large light sources in order to provide the kind of illumination required for commercial portraits.  Photographers began to use these large lights in their studios to get that special, soft light they wanted. As a matter of fact, Francesco Scavullo, the famous Vogue Magazine photographer in the 1970s and 1980s, actually modified a very large theatrical Klieg light. He took out the bulb, replaced it with a specially made series of flash tubes, and put a double thickness of white plexiglass in front. It became known as his special light. A friend of mine, who used to assist for Scavullo, said it was about three feet in diameter. At any rate, because they were so hard to handle, people began looking for ways to get the effects they wanted more easily.  As manufacturing practices improved, they found that this effect could be obtained with a large umbrella with a reflective material inside it. Light from a bulb had to travel to the umbrella, bounce off it and then travel the remaining distance to the subject. This served very nicely to soften the effect of the light. One of the problems with this application of light is that it tended to lessen the light’s brightness and therefore, called for longer exposures, something that often made portraiture difficult. (Remember: photographers in the 1940s and 1950s often used large view cameras with very slow lenses. They needed a great light output to be able to make portraits at f/11 or f/16 – something we do routinely today.)  As soon as electronic flash units began to be manufactured, photographers found that they did indeed, produce enough light for short exposure times as well as smaller f/stops.

7foot umbrella

This photographic umbrella has a diameter of roughly six feet! It also has a black backing which prevents light from escaping through the material which would greatly lessen its effect. The one I use is about five feet in diameter and has about twice the number of ribs that normal umbrellas do. This is because the more ribs there are, the rounder the umbrella appears. This creates a beautiful “catchlight” in the subject’s eyes as well as giving the light an overall broader effect. Here is a picture of my umbrella in use:


You can see how large it is, relative to me and the camera.

Shooting products present slightly different problems for photographers in that you may have to deal with reflections and other highlights from shiny surfaces. And, many products have various shapes. But, the same principle of having a large light source as a mainlight still applies. It’s just that if you’re shooting a product like a bottle, for example, you may not want to have the reflection of an umbrella. So, photographers decided to make a box that was large and rectangular in shape so that the reflection would be more in line with the product. Hence, they invented the SOFTBOX!

6-foot softbox

Softboxes are great for product shots and other still life images because the light from them is even and the highlights produced are rectangular rather than round. Here is an example:


If you look at the highlights in this shot of three bulbs, you’ll notice that they are long and take the shape of the bulbs themselves. An umbrella light for this shot would have been a wrong choice because it would have produced a round highlight and not shown off the bulbs as well.

A softbox is different from an umbrella in that the light it produces is direct light (even though it is softened by the translucent front), whereas the umbrella is a “bounced” light and produces its soft effect by its size and the distance the light has to travel to get to the subject.

So, the take away from this article is that if you’re going to do commercial portraits, you will need a large, round light source as your main light. If you’re going to do product shots, you’ll need a large, rectangular light source. Remember again: THE LARGER THE LIGHT SOURCE IN COMPARISON TO THE SUBJECT, THE SOFTER THE LIGHTING EFFECT!

The next article will deal with modern uses of other light modifiers. Stay tuned!

How Light Is Used To Create Images

How Light Is Used To Create Images

by William Lulow

Note: About every six months or so, I like to republish this series of articles about what it takes to create a particular type of image and why we use the kinds of equipment we do to control light. I consider it very important to the study of photography.

I thought I’d revisit a topic that is really basic to anyone wanting to learn how to express themselves in photography. This is also a beginning article about artificial light and its application. Other articles will follow from time to time.

Light is the most important tool the photographer has. The camera is probably the least important. Lenses however, are right up there in importance. If you use a cheap lens on a good camera, your images will suffer. If you use a great lens on any camera, your images will be great. But, light is really the determining factor in how effectively your image communicates its intended ideas.

It doesn’t matter from what source the light comes. What really matters is how you control it. Light can be controlled in many ways. It can be generated by an electronic flash unit. It can be from an ordinary light bulb. Or, it can be natural light from the sun. The important thing is that you need to learn to control it for your purposes.

How is light controlled? If you put a light bulb in an ordinary lamp socket with no shade or reflector, it will scatter the light rays in all directions. If you want to make a portrait, for example, this won’t help you much. So, the next step is to try to DIRECT the light toward your subject. The thought process here is that you need some kind of REFLECTOR to help direct the light. The most common type of reflector is the kind you might buy at a hardware store. It comes with a clamp so that you can affix it somewhere and direct the light where you need it. This is most commonly a worklight that would illuminate a workbench or desk. Again, if you wish to make a portrait, this kind of light will be harsh, create a lot of shadows and will be fairly weak in terms of the actual light it puts out. You can buy a PHOTOFLOOD bulb, which will be stronger, but for this you will need a larger reflector and perhaps some pot holders because it will get fairly hot.

To summarize, your first efforts at controlling light will involve some kind of LIGHT MODIFIER,  either to direct the light where you want it, or to change it in some way.

Every type of lighting you will use in a studio setting or outdoors will involve some type of modification. It can be a sophisticated light bank or a simple reflector. Once you think of light in this way, you are on your way to understanding how to work with light to make images.

12inchLight Reflector Photo Studio Reflector 50 degree Scoop Light Studio Light Kit Studio Light Kit_2

Here are some lights and light modifiers. There are reflectors, large and small, umbrellas, light stands and perhaps a boom to allow the light to reach exactly where you want it. There are also softboxes of various types. Again, if you are serious about learning to use light, some or all of the equipment pictured above will be necessary.

If you are intending to pursue your interest in photography to the point where you are thinking about light and how to use it to create the images you want, then you will need to develop a proficiency with the tools of lighting: bulbs, reflectors, portable as well as studio flash units.

Another reason to understand how artificial light works to create images is so you can recognize and appreciate special light as it occurs in nature. Sunsets/sunrises, reflections, backlight situations are all important to understand. The study of light in general should be a prerequisite for any course of study in photography. Don’t forget a PHOTOGRAPH is literally a LIGHT PICTURE! Learn how light affects almost everything in our universe.