You can buy an expen­sive cam­era, you can mem­o­rize all the prin­ci­ples of com­po­si­tion, you can take three post-pro­duc­tion cours­es, you can hire a pro­fes­sion­al mod­el. But if there was bad light at the shoot­ing, this will not help — any­way, the result will be mediocre at best. About what kind of light is bad and what to do with it, we under­stand this mate­r­i­al.

Such light will fit for a cre­ative por­trait, but it will def­i­nite­ly be bad for a clas­sic one / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

In this text, we will rather talk about shoot­ing peo­ple and report­ing. Light when shoot­ing land­scapes, archi­tec­ture and sub­jects is a top­ic for a sep­a­rate dis­cus­sion.

What kind of light in pho­tog­ra­phy is con­sid­ered bad
top light
low­er light
Green light flu­o­res­cent lamps
Rigid secu­ri­ty
col­or reflec­tions
Bor­ing dif­fused light
How to fix bad light
Move or rotate the mod­el
Fin­ish the light
Break the light
If noth­ing helps at all

top light

Any­one who has been into pho­tog­ra­phy for more than a day has prob­a­bly heard a hun­dred times that noon is the worst time to pho­to­graph peo­ple, because the sun is high. Let’s take a clos­er look at why.

The fact is that the high sun gives light that falls strict­ly from above. It forms shad­ows that do not adorn human faces. These are the shad­ows from the eye­brows that lie above the eyes, the shad­ows from the eye­lids that lie under the eyes, the shad­ows from the nose and lips.

In the pic­ture below, a com­par­i­son of the top light and a more cor­rect por­trait one: placed a lit­tle in front and a lit­tle above the eyes of the mod­el.

Top light on the left, low­er front light on the right / Pho­to: petapixel.com

Top light can be found not only at noon on a sun­ny day. Very often you can get it by shoot­ing indoors in a sit­u­a­tion where the new­ly­weds, for exam­ple, were right under the lamp.

Over­head light­ing is the most com­mon and fre­quent­ly occur­ring light­ing error.

lower light

The low­er light is a very spe­cif­ic thing. It is very unusu­al and great­ly changes the fea­tures of the human face that are famil­iar to us. Such light is often used for artis­tic pur­pos­es. For exam­ple, in hor­ror films, to show the inhu­man nature of the char­ac­ter, insan­i­ty and oth­er strong emo­tions.

Frame from the film “The Social Net­work”. The low­er light empha­sizes the intox­i­ca­tion of the hero and the adven­tur­ous­ness of the ideas that he offers to his inter­locu­tor / Illus­tra­tion: The Social Net­work, 2010, direct­ed by David Finch­er

For a clas­sic por­trait, low light is unac­cept­able. We rarely see faces illu­mi­nat­ed in this way, so low light will always cause dis­so­nance.

In life, such a light can be found when peo­ple are sit­ting at an illu­mi­nat­ed bar counter or, for exam­ple, study­ing some show­case in a muse­um. In a good way, in these sit­u­a­tions, such light needs to be cor­rect­ed.

Green light fluorescent lamps

Such light is easy to find indoors, espe­cial­ly if old lamps are installed there. In addi­tion to the fact that such lamps usu­al­ly shine from above, they still have two prob­lems.

First, the col­or of the light. They may be yel­low­ish, often green. It is often dif­fi­cult to find an ade­quate white bal­ance to be good. You can use the func­tion of spot white bal­ance meter­ing on a white object (for exam­ple, on a sheet of paper), but the automa­tion does not always work cor­rect­ly. Espe­cial­ly if there are win­dows in the room: the light of dif­fer­ent col­ors mix­es and gives a com­plete mess in terms of white bal­ance.

Anoth­er prob­lem is that the spec­trum of such lamps is usu­al­ly very nar­row and lim­it­ed to the green region of the spec­trum. Some­times this light is so green that the range of WB set­tings in the cam­era (some­times even in the con­vert­er dur­ing devel­op­ment) may not be enough to com­pen­sate for this hue. This is espe­cial­ly true for jeeps and videos. There are more chances to pull out more from the equals dur­ing devel­op­ment.

Also, unlike sun­light, which has a con­tin­u­ous spec­trum and includes all the shades that the eye sees, the spec­trum of lamps is often dis­con­tin­u­ous. There­fore, if under the sun we see on human skin a smooth tran­si­tion from a more yel­low fore­head to red­der cheeks, then under the lamps these areas will have sharp col­or bound­aries.

Com­pare the com­plete­ness of the spec­trum of the sun and dif­fer­ent lamps / Pho­to: physicsforums.com

If the stream of light looks like in the third fig­ure, no mat­ter what white bal­ance you set, there will still be no nor­mal col­or ren­der­ing. If the spec­trum of the light source does not con­tain the desired wave­length, the cam­era sim­ply does not see these shades.

Among oth­er things, these lamps flick­er, and par­al­lel light and dark stripes may appear in the pic­tures — flick­er. To get rid of flick­er, you need to use only shut­ter speeds that are mul­ti­ples of 50: 1/50, 1/100, and so on.

Why such a mul­ti­plic­i­ty? When the shut­ter speed is not suit­able, we catch a moment where the light has already reached half a frame, and not yet anoth­er part. In 99% of cas­es, the lamps flick­er at a fre­quen­cy of 50 Hz, so by choos­ing shut­ter speeds that are mul­ti­ples of 50, we get into the fre­quen­cy and catch only those moments when they are on.

Rigid security

Back­light­ing is when the light source is behind the main sub­ject. A mount can be use­ful if you are shoot­ing a sil­hou­ette, for exam­ple. Also in the back­light, you can get beau­ti­ful pic­tures when shoot­ing at sun­set. In all oth­er cas­es, the counter is more like­ly to harm.

For exam­ple, poor back­light can be encoun­tered if speak­ers at an event speak against a bright­ly lit screen. Or when peo­ple pose with their backs to a win­dow indoors.

If you need to work out peo­ple’s faces well, back­light is your ene­my / Pho­to: unsplash.com

color reflections

Imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion where the main char­ac­ter of the frame is stand­ing next to, for exam­ple, a bright red wall on a sun­ny day. The light of the sun falls on the wall, is reflect­ed from it and, tint­ed by its light, flies on peo­ple’s faces. The faces are red.

These things will hap­pen regard­less of the col­or of the wall. There will be blue — there will be blue faces. Sim­i­lar reflec­tions, by the way, can be obtained when shoot­ing on a sun­ny day in green­ery — trees and bush­es tint the light of the sun green, and we get green faces.

On the cheeks of the bride you can see green reflex­es / Pho­to: youtube.com

Col­or reflec­tions can be ignored — they are part of the nature of light reflec­tion. But if the reflex­es pull the blan­ket too much on them­selves, they can be attrib­uted to bad light and deal with them.

Boring diffused light

Such light can be found dur­ing the day on a cloudy day. Smooth light comes from all sides, so there is no pro­nounced black and white pat­tern on the faces, every­thing is approx­i­mate­ly the same gray. This is not to say that such light is real­ly bad. He’s just bor­ing.

In fact, it is quite easy to shoot with dif­fused light: it is dif­fi­cult to get under­ex­po­sure or over­ex­po­sure with it, it is dif­fi­cult to make a mis­take on the white bal­ance. It, as a rule, does not change and does not depend on the direc­tion — you can turn around and shoot in the oth­er direc­tion, get­ting approx­i­mate­ly the same black and white pat­tern. On a sun­ny day, this will be more of a prob­lem: when shoot­ing in the light, some para­me­ters are need­ed, when shoot­ing against the light, oth­ers. But where there are more dif­fi­cul­ties, there are more oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Por­trait with dif­fused light on an over­cast day / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Bor­ing dif­fused light, strict­ly speak­ing, does not need to be cor­rect­ed. But it can be mod­i­fied if you want to get a more inter­est­ing pic­ture.

The options for bad light can be end­less. But there are not too many recipes for cor­rect­ing light, but they are quite uni­ver­sal. The eas­i­est option:

Move or rotate the model

Don’t remake the light, just find the spot with the best light. Col­or reflec­tions from a green wall? Let’s get away from her. Win­dow behind? Let’s swap places so that the back­light from the win­dow turns into a front light, or even bet­ter, a side light. Are the lamps hang­ing direct­ly over­head? Let’s get out from under them, and even bet­ter — let’s go out into the street, where there is just a beau­ti­ful low sun.

It is not nec­es­sary to be hero­ic and make good light always and every­where. You can find him and fol­low him. Smart heroes always go around.

Move away from bad light. Look for a good one / Pho­to: unsplash.com

This method is ide­al for sit­u­a­tions where you have some con­trol over the shot. But it’s not suit­able for hard­core report­ing where you can’t direct any­thing.

And one more thing: to see bad light right on the set, and not bite your nails in hor­ror in post-pro­duc­tion, you need a cer­tain lev­el of obser­va­tion. It, in turn, gives expe­ri­ence. A begin­ner needs to be very atten­tive and con­stant­ly return to the light in order to see and cor­rect prob­lems with it in time.

add light

If you are shoot­ing a wed­ding ban­quet, and the smart dec­o­ra­tor decid­ed to seat the new­ly­weds with their backs to a large win­dow, then noth­ing can be done about it. Most like­ly, you will not be allowed to rearrange the podi­um or trans­plant the main char­ac­ters of the hol­i­day. And you have to shoot.

In this case, you can fin­ish the light. By itself, the back­light doesn’t spoil any­thing for you, but you need to add one more source: frontal or top-side.

To do this, you can use a reflec­tor or flash. You will also need a stand, a suit­able soft­box, and a set of radio trig­gers to work com­fort­ably with your flash.

The por­trait was shot in back­light, but the face is well worked out. This effect can be achieved using a reflec­tor or flash / Pho­to: unsplash.com

In the same way, over­head light or bor­ing dif­fused light is being final­ized. Over­head light most often needs a fill­ing front light in a pair. Scat­tered — upper-lat­er­al draw­ing. And hap­pi­ness comes.

The over­head light of the sun out­side is also easy to fix with a reflec­tor. Flash is a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult. You need, first­ly, a pow­er­ful flash, and sec­ond­ly, syn­chro­niz­ers com­pat­i­ble with the cam­era in order to be able to work in high-speed syn­chro­niza­tion mode.

Break the light

In the case of light or low light that is not good in col­or, sim­ply sup­ple­ment­ing it will not work — par­a­sitic shades or strange shad­ows will still spoil the pic­ture. It is bet­ter to try to inter­rupt such light. To com­plete­ly inter­rupt the light, you first need to set the cam­era set­tings so that with­out a flash it sees noth­ing in this room but a black square.

You will need:

  • min­i­mum ISO val­ue (most often it is 200);
  • cov­ered aper­ture (you can start at f / 4 and turn in both direc­tions);
  • the min­i­mum fast shut­ter speed at which flash­es work (most often it is 1/100).

After that, we take the flash­es and expose them to a decent scheme of light. For more infor­ma­tion on how to shoot a reportage with one or more flash­es, we wrote in this mate­r­i­al.

When shoot­ing with pow­er­ful flash­es, it doesn’t mat­ter what the light was orig­i­nal­ly in the room / Pho­to: unsplash.com

This approach can also be used to improve over­head light­ing. The only neg­a­tive is that when work­ing with not too pow­er­ful flash­es, this method is only suit­able for small rooms. But with Godox Wit­stro AD300Pro, you can flood a large hall with light.

If sud­den­ly in the night you hear a cry “Enough! I’m trans­lat­ing in bw! ”, Most like­ly, this is a wed­ding man who, for the fourth hour in a row, is try­ing to make the bride’s face more human in col­or after shoot­ing in some small reg­istry office. Yeah, the one with the old flu­o­res­cent lights and green wall­pa­per on the walls.

Con­vert­ing a bad shot to bw is a Solomon solu­tion if noth­ing else helps / Pho­to: unsplash.com

There are cas­es and sit­u­a­tions when it is dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble to fix the light on the shoot­ing. And in post-pro­cess­ing, it also turns out some kind of non­sense. In these cas­es, the trans­fer of images to bw comes to the res­cue.

Black and white can for­give and endure many tech­ni­cal mis­takes. For exam­ple, if over­ex­po­sure by a step is crit­i­cal in col­or, it even looks appro­pri­ate in bw.