How’d He Light That?

Prince of Cheap here again!

Lets take a break from cheapness for a split second. Times up! (The lesson is free!) This post will give you some tips on analyzing images in order to recreate them. For example the image below was shown for my free workshop, Monster Lighting Tactics. (Look for the next one!) The images below tells more than the untrained photographer can recognize. The first thing you should notice is that there is a very specific and defined light and dark side of the faces of the subjects in front. Bright on the left and darker on the right. But notice that there is no significant difference of light on the right and left sides of the background subjects faces. Whats wrong with this image? You have to ask yourself, “Whats going on here?”

How'd He Light That?

There are several things to question here:

  1. The depth of field is on the shallow side: image gets very blurry just after the subject. Why?
  2. Why isn’t the light even throughout the image?
  3. Why does the overall image look as though its lit with flash and regular ambient light?

Here you go –  a look into how the lighting was done. (Image below is a page from my workshop lighting book “Monster Lighting Tactics: The Workshop”)

How He Did It - The Diagram

The diagram gives you lots, as you can see. It shows where the light source was placed as well as what type of modifier was used – just the standard issue 7″ silver reflector. The small box shows the Innovatronix Tronix Explorer 1200 to power the strobe on location. It shows the angle the camera was able to see. It even shows the depth of field in the angle (showed growing darker the further past the subject you see).

What have we learned? The shadows give away where the light came from!

How'd He Do This?

Here’s a closeup of just the happy couple! Instead of bringing the flash out further in front of them and angling the bounced light towards them I kept it very side lit. As the area was already in very subdued light I had to find a way to add some snap and character to the image.

Another example of light revealing itself.

Another example

Very simple! Just look at the top of the eye! See the little white dot? Its the reflection of the light source. The human eye is a very reflective surface that loves to tell on a photographer! Look in it and you more than likely should be able to tell what type of light modifier was used (maybe – maybe not in this case). Here, it may look like a $279.00 22″ Mola or Profoto Beauty Dish, but its really a $29.00 32″ Alien Bees Brolly Box! Now had that light in the eye (which we call a catch light) been square then more times than not it would’ve indicated that the photographer used a softbox, lightpanel or some other window shaped light modifier. Also (a big one) not where the catch light is in the eye. Its in the center upper part. This tells where the light was placed!

Example 3

The image above was lit with 3 lights. 1) Medium Softbox for the face at the right. 1) Small 24×24 inch softbox for an edge light at the rear right. 1) 5n1 reflector (white side up) underneath the elbow for under fill. 1) Full power flash in a 7″ silver reflector to white out the background. Some kind of very soft light source for the edge light at the right of the image. Definitely one of two options: A.) Photoshop for the background or a very powerful background light.

Example 4

This easy setup can be dissected in a few seconds. First look into the subjects eyes. What do you notice? Where is the light positioned? What type of light modifier is used? Where are the shadows falling? Are the shadows pitch black or do they reveal detail (hints of a fill source of some kind)? Is a hair light or accent light involved? How was the background lit?

Answer: A single 200 watt strobe in a 40″ Amvona Brolly Box (my answer to a lack of a beauty dish), a white piece of 20×30 foam board below the model on the posing table below her, and a single 120 watt strobe bare bulb aimed just behind the subject at the background. (My classic 2 light setup modified into Beauty Light).

Another tip: the catch light size tells the size and or distance of the modifier from the subject. Larger catch lights indicate larger or closer modifiers.

What does all this have to do with cheapness you ask? Lots! Think about it. When you can’t afford a softbox, a beauty dish reflector, a $1,100.00 Octabox there are still ways around it! All you have to do is learn to analyze the light! Most of the time, it’s very simple! A photographer really cant hide his light!

Now you have the gift of photo dissection! No EXCUSES… GET TA SHOOTIN!

David Griffin

About David Griffin

The Prince of Cheap I am a "Jesus Freak" and a DIY photography junkie! I'm also the *second* cheapest man alive... but only 'cause my Dad is the first!

2 thoughts on “How’d He Light That?

  1. Guillaume

    Wow thanks a lot =) Can’t say I learned that much but I really would have appreciated stumbling on such an analysis 3 years back. Thanks for sharing your tips and greatest of continuations!


    Guilllaume (you gotta start somewhere ;) especially with a crappy camera. But Im getting a SLR for xmas hehe)

  2. Nur (Edinburgh Scotland)

    thanx a lot , very new to studio lighting and was getting nowhere until I found your site a few days ago. Learning from every tip that your reveal , many thanx you are brilliant.

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