Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives

Illumination: supplement

200608bc_amesintro An excerpt from Kevin Ames' "Photoshop CS2: The Art of Photographing Women" (Wiley Publishing, Inc., avail. Sept. 2006)
All photos ©Kevin Ames

In our August issue of Professional Photographer, we printed an abridged chapter excerpt from Kevin Ames' informative and instructional "Photoshop CS2: The Art of Photographing Women." The following is a collection of sidebars, tips and notes that we couldn't include due to space limitations.

Desperately Seeking Soft Light
Figure 1.1 is a close-up of Laura without any makeup. The “Sunny” image is lit with harsh light as indicated by the very sharp-edged cast by her nose. Skin texture is revealed. Note the two beauty marks above her left eyebrow, the pores, and the very fine hairs on her forehead. Also notice the specular highlights (mirror images of the light source) on the left side, tip, and bridge of her nose caused by naturally occurring skin oils. Compare these light quality clues with the “Overcast” photograph. The only difference is the light source has been diffused (spread out into two dimensions) so that it is huge when compared to the size of the subject. The soft light quality minimizes the skin textures and oils by spreading out the shadow edge. Soft light makes textures almost disappear. Add makeup, and the retouching becomes a whole lot easier.

200608bc_ames01
Photo: Figure 1.1

NOTE: Harsh light is ideal for revealing textures because of the sharp shadow edge transition that defines it visually. It is good for revealing weaves of fabric, strands of hair, and the makeup of a surface. Skin is a surface, too. Seeing texture in a woman’s skin is not a good thing. (Texture in skin means wrinkles, lines, and pores.) Women really don’t love harsh light.

NOTE: Harsh light that is low in contrast is a compromise that reveals textures in fabrics without revealing too many flaws in skin, especially when a makeup artist is involved in enhancing the skin’s natural beauty.

Incident and Reflective Light
Light either hits a subject or bounces off of it. It is considered to be either incident or reflective depending on where it is in relation to eye, capture device (sensor chip), or film. Incident light falls onto the subject. Reflective light bounces off of the subject and is on its way to the camera or the eye.

NOTE: The aperture controls the light made with flash in photographs. A burst of light from an electronic flash travels at the speed of light. Shutters are not fast enough to control the amount of flash recorded at the camera.

Decimals and Thirds
Modern incident and reflective light meters provide readings that are accurate to one-tenth of a stop. This causes confusion because some f/stops have decimal points in their names. By popular convention a light meter reading of 5.6.3 means f/5.6 and three-tenths (roughly 1/3) of an f/stop, which is equivalent to f/6.3 (f/5.6 plus 1/3 of an f/stop) on your camera. The reading on the soft light image (Figure 1.8) reads f/8.4, telling the photographer that the correct exposure is f/8.0 and between a third and a half. Depending on personal preference, photographers round the tenth of a stop in this instance either up to a half f/9.5 (very slightly underexposed) or down to a third f9.0 (very slightly overexposed). It is important to use tonal references such as a Gretag Macbeth ColorChecker Chart or a ColorChecker Gray Scale card used in the examples in this chapter.

200608bc_ames08
Photo: Figure 1.8

TIP: When a diffusion panel is introduced to a lighting set, it affects the color of the light. Be sure to shoot a ColorChecker again so that you can neutralize the color shift from the panel.

Contrast and Seeing
Controlling the quality of light and constraining it to a range that the camera can record and even more important, to one a printer can reproduce, is what lighting is all about. One of the biggest problems with recording images is that digital chips (CCD, CMOS) and film have limited contrast ranges they can capture. Our eyes are limited to about the same range except that we have brains. When we look at a high-contrast situation, our eyes “see” an image. What really happens is that first we view the bright areas, and the brain remembers the details in the highlights. Then the iris of the eye instantly opens wider to see into the dark areas while the brain remembers the bright ones and integrates them into a single picture we refer to as sight or vision. Capture media has no brain. It can record a limited contrast range. Contrast must be controlled to allow the subject to be photographed with recordable detail in the highlights and shadows.