Thinking About Light

I use to start my color classes asking students, “What do you need to have color?”. The answers were varied and usually wrong. In order to create any image you need thee things; light, an observer and an object. One of the problems that novice photographers experience is they do not understand the language and terminology of Photography. What does it mean to “bounce” the light? What is a key light? What is a strobe light? It is hard for novice photographers to get help from more experienced photographers if they don’t speak a common language. I told a new photographer once that their picture would have been better if they used a hair light. They of course asked, what is a hair light? In this article we will explain some photography terms as they relate to light. It is not meant to be a complete glossary but rather to cover the key terminologies.

The Electro Magnetic Spectrum

First, let’s discuss the nature of light. VISIBLE LIGHT is part of the ELECTROMAGNETIC SPECTRUM. Light, as we can see it, is a very small part of the spectrum from about 400nm to 700nm. Other parts of this spectrum are X-rays, gamma waves, radio waves, etc. While we cannot see X-Rays or Infrared rays, cameras can be used to photograph these waves. Visible light can be NATURAL LIGHT from the sun or ARTIFICIAL LIGHT from INCANDESCENT or FLUORESCENT light sources. Color properties of light are expressed in KELVIN notation. Natural light is about 5000K to 6500K depending on the angle of the sun and location on the earth. On a shady day, the sun may only be 4800K. Modern Digital SLR cameras have automatic WHITE BALANCE controls that automatically adjust for color temperature. Incandescent light has a color temperature of between 2800K and 3200K providing a yellowish green light. Regular fluorescent lights have a color temperature of about 2900K, however you can buy color corrected fluorescent lights that have a color temperature equal to daylight. These are used in print evaluation rooms and even in some studios.

Visible Light

A color GAMUT is a DEVICE DEPENDENT color space that provides a visual representation of the color characteristics of that particular device. The “shoe sole” large area represents VISIBLE LIGHT and the plotted area within shows the COLOR GAMUT of the device which is in this case an SRGB COLOR MODEL. Of course you can’t have COLOR without having an OBSERVER. If a tree falls in an unpopulated area does it make a sound? No, it makes a WAVE but you need a listener to have sound and you need an OBSERVER to have color. Since we all see color differently, the CIE created a STANDARD OBSERVER so that we have a common language when we discuss color. This is built in to all color models, color spaces, spectrophotometers and colorimeters.

CIE Color Gamut

Now that we know a little about light, lets talk about LIGHTING. This is a standard studio portrait lighting set up. The KEY light is also sometimes called the MAIN light and it will create the most important shadows in the picture. The FILL light is used to fill the shadow, it may be the same strength as the KEY light and less strong to provide a deeper main shadow. The BACKLIGHT is sometime called the HIGH LIGHT or HAIR LIGHT and in a portrait setting will be used to provide a highlight in the lighting plan. The BACKGROUND light is use to light the background to give the image a more three-dimensional look.

Four Point Studio Lighting

There is a huge variety in Studio lighting from the LIGHT BANKS used by movie studios and rock concerts to simpler setups for professional photography. Photographers CONTINUOUS LIGHTING options come in cooler fluorescent light banks color corrected to 6000K. There are also less expensive and hotter INCANDESCENT lighting that has to be color corrected with light filters or by adjusting the film or camera white point.

Studio Incandescent Light

The more popular type of studio lighting is FLASH or STROBE lights that are only on during the exposure, which is usually 1/80th of a second. This creates a unique photographic problem. How can the photographer set up his studio lighting when it is dark? How can you evaluate the shadows and highlight created on your subject. Many professional strobe lights have a built in MODELING light, which is a low wattage incandescent light that you can aim on the subject to set your lighting angles. The modeling light may stay on during exposure. This will not create a color balance problem since the intensity is very low compared to the STROBE lights. You can also use regular incandescent studio light in combination with strobe lighting if your lights do not have modeling lights.

Studio Strobe Light

In studio light setups, strobe lights may have a main light and SLAVE units that are SYNCHED to go off when the main light is triggered. Photographers use UMBRELLAS and BOUNCE the light into the umbrella with the reflection for the umbrella used to light the subject. This creates a softer light. You may also use DIFFUSERS that go directly over the light to soften the light further.

Studio Umbrella Bounce Light

Experiment with lighting and capturing objects to develop your lighting skills. Have your friends’ model for you so you can practice your lighting skills. To see images from my commercial portfolio, click here.

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A Hundred Places I Went to Before I Died.

Using the Zone System in Photography

The Zone System is a photographic technique invented by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in 1941. At the time, most Photography was monochromatic and Adams worked out a system for visualization, which he considered to be a creative technique. He believed that you should look at a scene and visualize how you want the tones to look in the image. From that point he could apply exposure science to get the perfect exposure on film. Musicians say that if you can hum a tune, you can play it. Ansel Adams believed that if you could visualize the image you could photograph it. The Zone System provides photographers with a method of defining the relationship between the way they visualize the photographic subject and the final results. Although it originated with black and white film, the Zone System is also applicable to black and white and color, negative and reversal, and digital photography. The zone system is still taught today in photography schools and is a relevant tool for digital and film photography and for color and monochrome images. The image below is a good illustration of the zone system and you buy a print of this award winning image at my commercial gallery by clicking here.

Row for Your Life!

The simple tool that Adams and Archer developed is this 11-point monochromatic strip ranging from Step 0 to Step 10. Adams and Archer discovered that the eleven zones could be corresponded to exposure values. Exposure values refer to the logarithmic relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed and Sensitivity. Sensitivity is the film or sensors ability to record light. In his book “The Negative” published in 1948 Adams discusses the scientific relationship between exposure value and the Zone System allowing Photographers to calculate how to adjust exposure to compress or expand the zones. Again, this all ties into visualization and knowing how you want tones to be reproduced.

Zone System Gradient lines

To aid Photographers in visualization, Adams developed descriptions for each Zone. Keep in mind that the zone system strip is positive but Adams was working with negatives. The pure black of Zone 0 means that the negative was completely clear. This guide is just as relevant today as it was 70 years ago in helping photographers visualize photographic situations. Knowing that a person with light skin is Zone VII and that my meter is balanced for Zone VI tells me I need to close down one stop to achieve the optimum exposure for their skin. Keep in mind light meters today are much more sophisticated then 70 years ago and it is important to understand the operation of your light meter. In any case a light meter will not help you visualize a scene but the zone system will.

Zone System Descriptions

Although the Zone System was developed for monochrome images it can be applied to color photography as well. Keep in mind that device independent color models like HSV are based on hue, saturation and value. Value refers to the light/dark part of the color and when combined with saturation control the density of the image. The logarithmic part of exposure value applies here and so does the zone system. The greater the value, the less detail will be displayed in the image. It is more complicated than monochrome for sure but not when applied to visualization. Try visualizing your subject in monochrome and apply the zone system to that visualization. Many photographers and cinematographers carry a viewer that subtracts color from the scene. This allows them to make initial lighting an exposure decisions before considering the color elements.

Indexed Color Model

Being A Photojournalist

Being a Photojournalist

Photojournalism usually refers to a type of journalism where the picture is used to tell a story or express a position. When I first started in Photography it was the only thing I really wanted to do. Even back then it was tough to make a living as a photojournalist, so I learned how to do other things but my love of Photojournalism never left me. To this day I keep taking photojournalistic images even though nobody is paying me to do it. This one was taken in Paris France last summer. You can buy prints on some of these images on my commercial gallery by clicking here.

Warm up for Pari Roller

You don’t really need Press Credentials to be a photojournalist, but it sure helps. Since the assassinations of the 1960’s it is more difficult to get close to people and stages. Even in the 1970’s, I could never have gotten close enough to get this photograph of Senator’s McGovern and Kennedy at a Pittsburgh presidential campaign rally without Press Credentials.

George McGovern and Ted Kennedy 1972

To be a photojournalist you need to be able to work strange and long hours. Like a news reporter you have to be willing to do anything for a story. In 1978, film director George Romero made “Dawn of the Dead” in a local Pittsburgh Shopping Mall. I was assigned to cover the story for Pittsburgh Magazine. Since it was being shot at a shopping mall, it was filmed from 9 PM until 8 AM. I would shoot at night and develop the film and make the prints during the day to be able to make the magazine deadline. This is a shot of George Romero listening to one of the movie’s Producers and trying to stifle a laugh.

George Romero on the Set of Dawn of the Dead

Sometimes the story is not right in front of you. I was assigned to cover the One World Festival of Music in 1972 in Pittsburgh. I was sitting in the stands trying to figure out how to sneak on to the stage. I noticed some people sitting behind me and figured out it was Dino Valente and Gary Duncan from Quicksilver Messenger Service. The band was one of the headline acts that would perform later. I clicked this picture of Dino Valente kissing some unknown blonde which was the best image of the day.

Dino Valenti of Quicksilver Messenger Service

Caught in The Act

Capture the moment. Henri Cartier-Bresson was the famous French Photojournalist which developed the idea that for each image there is one correct moment of capture and only one. This picture was taken at a high school football championship game and I think illustrates that point. The facial expressions all have the one pure moment of victorious joy and the pat on the derriere offers the exclamation point on the moment. Bracket your exposures and take multiple exposures to make sure you capture the defining moment.

WPIAL Championship 1974

Always take pictures of the weird stuff you may see. One might think that this is some sort of worker in a radiation suit involved in some nuclear or chemical accident. The reality is quite different. This person was participating in a race that used to happen every spring at Penn State University. People would have to run a mile and drink six beers at six different bars along the run. Participants would dress in weird costumes and the money was donated to charity. The event was eventually cancelled because the University and the town councils thought in promoted public drunkenness

Bill and Stanley

Stanley Clarke and Billy Cobham at the Stanley Theather in Pittsburgh during the 1970’s. This was taken during the School Days tour. To buy a print of Stanley Clarke on my commercial gallery click here.

Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham at the Stanley Theather