Understanding light is one of the main conditions for successfully illuminating our subjects in photography or videography. Matthew Rosen from KINETEK explains some basic principles of lighting, and how to apply them on different types of surfaces. It’s explained in a simple way, with comprehensive examples, so it will be very useful and easy to follow for all the newbies.
There are two types of readable light – ambient, the one in which the subject is, and reflective, which bounces off the subject into the camera. Ambient light can be read with an incident meter, reflective can be read and in-camera matrix meter, a spot meter or a waveform monitor.
There are three different types of surface – reflective, transparent and neutral, where neutral is basically everything that’s not reflective or transparent.
Reflective surfaces – reflected light
Of course, a good example of a reflective surface is a mirror. When you shine a light into a mirror, it will just reflect the light somewhere else and remain dark when you want to photograph it, although when you use an incident meter, it will show that it’s well lit.
For reflective surface like this, we need to light the area that the mirror is reflecting. The reading will show that it’s not well lit, but you’ll see in the camera that it is, and that’s what’s relevant in this case.
Transparent surfaces- backlight
With transparent surfaces, you can’t light as you’d light a neutral subject, because they don’t react to the light the same way. For example, a glass bottle is both reflective and transparent. This is why you can light it by reflecting the light, but it’s not enough, as it’s more transparent than reflective. Using ambient light won’t work either, because it goes through the bottle. If you want to light a transparent object properly, you need to light what’s seen through it. In the example in the video, it’s the wall behind the bottle.
Neutral – ambient light
You can light a neutral subject successfully with ambient light. Of course, sometimes you’ can (and need) to combine it with reflective light to accentuate the features, separate the subject from the background, or compensate for the lack of ambient light.
Keep in mind that many subjects are comprised of different types of surfaces, so they require a combination of lighting techniques. Product shots often require all three techniques, and faces require two – ambient for the skin and reflective for the eyes.
Although you will combine the lighting techniques, it’s good to remember these three principles. They can be helpful in many situations, help you plan the lighting for your shots and make the photos properly and beautifully lit.