What to do with a single light?

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by Robert Kennedy, Dec 7, 2002.

  1. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    I recently got an Alien Bees 800 W/S light, with stand and a sliver/white bounce umbrella.

    Due to budget constraints and certain upcoming holidays, it will be little while before I get the other two I planned on.

    But it seems like I should be able to do something with a single light. I've played with it a bit, but would like some more concrete ideas.

    Ideally I'm thinking this may be a good way to do some nudes I'd planned on. I've always wanted to try some of those single light (I assume) nudes where only a portion of the body is lit and the rest is in featureless shadow.

    Any hints? Tips? Ideas here?
     
  2. William Levitt

    William Levitt Member

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    Robert,
    be happy that you only have one light to deal with. The problem I see most are people that use too many lights.

    Portraits, product shots and other still-lifes and even fashion work can be done with one light and some reflector cards. In fact, the best stuff usually uses only one light. Too many lights confuse the viewer, because the human eye is naturally accustom to seeing only one source of light, the sun.

    Get some reflector cards, in all different sizes, some black and some white cloth and you're in business. The quality of that one light can of course be varied by means of honey combs, different reflectors, softboxes and umbrellas. You've got plenty of possibilities right now.

    Go go crazy and have fun experimenting! [​IMG]
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    I like the effect of one light and a reflector or two, sometimes with a second light for the background. Multiple light setups usually produce a more theatric effect, while single light setups (single light on the subject) usually look more natural. Either can be stunning when done well.

    Almost all of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' portraits, for instance, are done with one light and an umbrella, sometimes with a background light and occasionally with a reflector.

    So one way to experiment is to start with the light relatively high with an umbrella, say, directly aimed at the subject right over the lens axis, then you might sweep the light in an arc either to the left or the right, depending on how the subject is oriented, keeping the light-to-subject distance the same. See how it looks in the camera at 20-degrees, 45, 60, 90, etc. Try different heights as well.

    To fill in shadows, try a large sheet of foamcore relatively close to the subject on the opposite side of the camera from the light. If the subject is sitting or standing upright, you can put another sheet of foamcore flat underneath the subject to reflect light back up toward the face and fill in shadows under the chin and nose.

    You could do a whole series like this with the same subject and pose in 35mm, taking notes as you go, then use the contact sheets as a reference until you find the setups you like.

    Here's one of mine, with one light on the subject high and to the left of the camera, no reflector, and a small light with a 5" reflector close to the ground behind the subject for the background:

    http://www.echonyc.com/~goldfarb/photo/ng2002.jpg

    I could have left out the background light if I had used a dark background for a more low-key look.
     
  4. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    Cool. I do have a 32" 5-in-1 SP reflector. So I have some possibilities.

    Anyone know though the best way to get that high-contrast "one side lit" look?
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    Start with your light with the basic reflector and no umbrella, set low (maybe a little higher than the camera--but experiment with the height, because it might depend on the subject), about 90-degrees to the right or left of the camera axis. If the effect is too strong, you can try a diffuser over the light, the umbrella for even more diffusion, and a reflector card opposite the light to decrease the contrast ratio even further. For an even harder look, use a grid over the light.