Saturday 16 June 2012

An Artist's Basic Lighting Tutorial

  There are very extensive Photography guides in the web, but a lot of them cater to avid photographers. You could always take a look through them. My little tutorial will, however, focus more on the "Lighting" aspect of photography. It will show you how lighting affects a picture.

Before the tutorial though, I have a few tips to share:

1. Use a tripod. Just, please do. It'll give your image more stability, and more stability equals to more information in your pictures, which in turn makes it easier to draw from them. And while you're at it...Use the timer on your camera. It will prevent the shake that happens when you take your pictures.

2. Aperture. Smaller stops (larger f numbers) produce a longer depth of field, allowing objects at a wide range of distances to all be in focus at the same time. So, the smaller the stop, the more details you get in your background. I would say it is especially useful in photographing still life.

3. Set your Sensitivity meter to 100. I don't know about your camera but mine has its "Auto setting" set to 100, and there must be a reason for that. Noisy images are hard to work with. "Noise" is the grainy speckles that come up on your pictures when you set the Sensitivity meter too high. I actually made the mistake of setting my meter to 800, the highest setting on my camera, and kept getting noisy images but not knowing why. The bigger the number the better, right? Not so much... Think of it as an age.... When you reach a certain age, you'll start getting wrinkles. (You go higher than 100 on your sensitivity meter, you start getting noise.)

4. To make white things look really white. Set EV conpensation up by 2 notches. I learnt this because I stumbled upon a very good wildlife photography book in my local library. Your camera sees white things as a middle value, namely grey. To compensate for that, you "add light" to your pictures to make them white. Focus on the object once, adjust EV compensation, then snap away.

5. Have strong lighting. (Unless of course a dreamy effect is what you're after.) Lighting greatly determines what kind of pictures you get, how much values there are in your picture, and whether or not you'll want that picture as a reference. Which brings me to my tutorial.

  To show you the difference between good lighting and bad one, here are two pictures with the exact same composition, but with different light sources.
Without Lighting.

With Lighting.

  The first picture was taken on a cloudy day, without artificial lights. Of course, there are times when natural light works, however, today was not the day. The second picture is much better because it has a wide range of values, from white highlights to dark shadows. It was taken with a single artificial bulb on the left of the camera.
  Now, my artificial light is not a full spectrum light, so how do I keep my colors correct? I manually edit them. Photoscape is a free, open source photo editing software that I highly recommend. (No, they're not paying me money for advertisement. They just have a really good software.) In trying to keep this post short, I will not write out how I do it, but if you're interested to see how simple it is to do with Photoscape, click here for my video how-to.

Here is a before and after gif. (a moving picture) , with and without white balance:
  The photo without white balance is much more blue, due to the cool color of my lamp, whereas after white balance correction, you get a more beige background, which is more true to life.

  Also, this picture is blurry because I would not want you to draw it as it has terrible composition. Always link your shapes. Be it using shadows, or overlapping shapes. And do you see the stalk of the front most pepper "kissing" the left most pepper. Not good at all. This, would be a better composition:

  Next, we're going to see the same composition under different lighting. I'm not saying one sort of lighting is better than all the others. It depends on the mood you're trying to convey. Our opinions may vary, and if they do leave me a comment below telling what you think.

The picture above will be our so-called control picture.
Something that I can compare the following pictures with.
It's light source is on the left, slightly in front of the camera, not too near to the subject.
Above, the light is still coming from the left of the camera, but is much more closer than before.
The shadows become longer, and the highlights become stronger.
Notice also, how the stalk of the front most pepper now jumps at you because of the high contrast there?
I think this is the picture I would draw, because it's composition looks pleasing, and the values are there.
Above, the light source is now slightly behind the peppers. You get a good range of shadows, and I really like the reflected light on the leftmost pepper.

Above is what we call a "back-lit" subject. Very dramatic. Very deep shadows. The way to draw a back-lit object successfully is to include just enough details in the shadows for the viewers to know how the form looks like. (To do so, I suggest bringing the photo to Photoscape and keep pressing "Backlight" a couple of times to bring out the details.)

  There you have it, the same subject in different lighting to show you how the same scene can look so much different just by changing one variable.

  A note before we end: You may use these pictures as references for Art practice. The peppers I used are not the freshest, though, so you might need to compensate for that while drawing. If you use these pictures on a website, please put a link to my page. I encourage you to try your own little still life set up and photograph the same subject in different lighting conditions, as you will get acquainted with how shadows and highlights change and react to your subject(s).

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