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This chapter is from the book

Creative Lighting

Learn to see your muse, as the camera will record it. One way to truly shortcut this process is to hook your camera up to your computer so you can see each image large on the screen. (See Chapter 3.)

Open a JPEG or RAW photograph in Photoshop. Zoom in to see the actual pixels at 100% and check your focus. Look at the catchlights in portraits. Be aware of the contrasts in the photograph. Is there a shadow that has lost detail? Are there any blown-out highlights (aside from the specular highlights)? Where would a little more light make a big difference? Those differences can be so subtle—you may only notice them by comparing them to other photographs.

Take a look at the photograph of Atlanta Falcons cheerleader Nikky Williams (Figure 4.19). Look at her left arm. It has a deep shadow. Her hair on that side falls into shadow and looks dull. The addition of a silver 42 x 72-inch bounce panel behind her adds a rim of light to her hair, along her arm, and along the edge of her gown (Figure 4.20).

Light different

Break down your lights after each shoot. Or a least move them off set and, in the case of electronic flash, disconnect them from the power packs. That removes the temptation to treat each subject the same as the one before. Each subject, especially when that subject is a person, is different. Remember Apple's "Think Different" ad campaign? Make your slogan "Light Different." Consider this photograph of Lauren. When we met, I was completely taken with her strong angular face, high eyebrows, and blue eyes. The editorial shoot called for three quarter-length poses (Figure 4.21). After we'd finished with the assignment, I moved in for close-ups. The lighting is two 2 x 3-foot Chimera Super PRO soft boxes. They are forty-five degrees from the lens to subject line and about two feet away. This is a soft, lower-contrast light that you won't find outdoors in "natural" light. And it is very compelling. A close look at Lauren's catchlights tells the setup's tale. Notice the highlight around her upper lip and the specular highlight showing off the shape of the lower one (Figure 4.22). Break rules. Light differently.


I can't begin to describe how important play is in creative lighting. Try stuff. Shoot a photograph into your computer and study it. Change something. Shoot another and scrutinize that one. Keep going. Make notes or, even better, take photographs of the setup with a point-and-shoot camera. Never stop asking, "What would happen if...?"

I'll close with a happy result of light play. I had a cucoloris (also called a cookie in the motion picture industry) made of metal screening that had been burned with a blowtorch. I wanted to see what it looked like when photographed (Figure 4.23). I put up a blue background paper then placed the cookie in front of a bare-bulb flash head. That makes it a very small origin of light. The result is a sky full of clouds (Figure 4.24). I had no idea that would happen. Now I have another technique in my lighting kit.

Play. The rewards are indescribably useful and, well, lots of just plain fun.


The techniques in this chapter came from several years of being around the late Dean Collins. Many (if not most) of the photographers of my generation owe Dean for our knowledge of how light works and how to make it work for us and the camera. He gave us the definitions describing light.

Here's a photograph of Dean grabbing a couple of beers out of the darkroom sink during a party at my studio in March of 2002 (Figure 4.25). I hadn't used the darkroom since 1999 for processing and printing. It was great for parties, though. The darkroom has since been converted into a digital workroom, and I wrote this book sitting where the enlargers once stood. Things change. Photographs remind us of what is gone. For more on Dean, visit

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