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OneLight for life

Q: HI ZACK. ARE YOU STILL APPLYING YOUR ONELIGHT PHILOSOPHY TO YOUR COMMERCIAL WORK? OR WAS THAT MAINLY TO SHOW BEGINNERS WHAT SOMEONE CAN DO WITH ONLY ONE LIGHT SOURCE, BUT WHEN YOU’RE ACTUALLY OUT ON A PAYING GIG YOU USE WHATEVER YOU NEED TO GET THE SHOT YOU WANT, EVEN IF THAT MEANS MULTIPLE STROBES? OR DO YOU STILL KEEP IT AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE? I’VE FOUND THAT IF I LIMIT MY CHOICES, THE MORE CREATIVE I GET. ELSE IT BECOMES, “MEH, LET’S THROW ANOTHER LIGHT IN THE MIX.”

A: OneLight for life!

If a job requires multiple lights then I go that route. I rarely find myself using more than three lights. Only once in the past year did I get into a situation where I had every stinking light I owned firing on a set. I was shooting six guys wearing black on a black background. I had one big light (7′ octa) firing as the main, and then lots of grids and smaller softboxes firing as rim/hair lights. I had about eight lights firing on that set.

I typically start with a single light. If that’s all I need then I’m good. That one light is my main light. It is being used to show the viewer of the photo what or who the subject is of the photograph. As I add more lights to a set, their purpose is usually to accent the main light. If I’m photographing someone with dark hair against a dark background then I may want some more separation. Their dark hair on the shadowed side of the photo may just bleed into the background. I’ll add a light at that point to separate their hair from the background. Sometimes that second light hits the subject. Sometimes I put it on the background. That’s my typical two-light setup. Three lights come into play most of the time when I’m shooting on a white background and I want the background to be pure white. I light the subject and then light the background. Putting two lights on the background is the easiest way to pop it to white. Three lights: one main, two background.

079_01_mary.jpg

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I was asked to do a lighting feature for PDN magazine and I booked my friend Mary to be the subject. I was trying to illustrate the use of small lights and how to deal with them on location. Mary was lit with a Westcott 28″ Apollo softbox. Her boots were lit with a Nikon SB80-DX flash laying on the ground. :: Canon 5D Mk II / 35mm / f3.2 @ 1/160th @ ISO 100.

You are correct in that limiting choices pushes creativity. When I really need a push I’ll go on location with no lights. Lights are my go-to. I’m comfortable with them. When I don’t have them I freak out a little bit, and it pushes me to find the light. I’ll also do things like head out on location with only one prime lens. I have to make the entire shoot happen with just that focal length. It’s maddening and exhilarating and liberating all at once. One camera. One lens. One light. A lot can be done with a simple rig.

080_01_mary.jpg

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As mentioned, Mary was lit with a Westcott 28″ Apollo softbox. Her boots were lit with a Nikon SB80-DX flash laying on the ground. Without the second light, her boots would have gone black since they weren’t getting much light from that softbox. That’s why I placed the second flash on the ground to kick a little light onto the boots. The second flash was set to 1/128th power since I didn’t need that much light to just create a highlight on the boots.

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