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Category: All About Photography : Photographic Field Techniques : Studio, Still, & Personal Portraiture Photography

Photography Question 
Bianca S. Newby

Shadow Problem: How to Position Lights?

I have two vuPro 100 w lights, and a miniboom/hairlight 250. I'm having problems with shadows and either not enough light or too much. How do I figure out how to position my lights, so that I get better photos with no shadows?

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11/20/2008 12:43:06 PM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  Hi Bianca,
You might think about it this way: If you are outside on a right sunny day, the sun takes up a small part of the sky. You have hard detailed shadows and you see texture very well. The sun is a small light source. While I know that it is very large, the business of being 93,000,000 miles away makes it effectively a small light source. If you are out on an overcast day, the light comes from the clouds. The light comes from all directions. The light effectively creates no shadows at all. This is a big light source. The only reason for using things like umbrellas, soft boxes and light panels is to make a small light source act like a large light source. It is important to remember that you do need more power to make a large light source, as any of the tools for changing the size of light also absorb light. Bouncing light off a surface also increases the size of the light source.

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11/20/2008 5:01:49 PM

Harry H. Marsh   Bianca,
Softening the light will help eliminate harsh shadows. Another two setups that will help remove background shadows entirely is to position the lights high above the camera (left and up 45 degrees, and several feet above the lens) and to move the background 3-6 feet behind the subjects. The subject's shadows will then be well below the area the camera views!
One more thing is to light the background, but this only works if you have the background light level 2 stops over the subjects (i.e., a bright background), which is not recommended for portraits.

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11/25/2008 8:58:14 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Hey Bianca. Let me add this to what's been said.
First, learning lighting, whether it's incandescent or using strobes, requires practice over time. Start with one light and one subject, either someone with a lot of patience or a styrofoam wig holder on a stool or even a manequin.
Position your camera and your light at 45 degrees to the camera and your subject. BUT make sure your subject is far enough in front of the background, whatever it is, so that shadow just falls off and doesn't fall on the background. Everything produces a shadow. Your job is to use it creatively, modify it or eliminate it.
To do those things, you may need to move your camera and light back from the subject. After you position one light, pay attention to the facial features of your subject, especially the eye sockets, nose and below the nose. You may need to raise or lower the light to eliminate or change those shadows. Move the light around a bit to see how that effects the shadows as well. Modifiers like softboxes or umbrellas are nice but may create their own problems as well. So this is an experimentation issue too. All the portraits on my website were done with a single light and one fill card to the side. My lamphead was a 1000 watt second Bowens monolight in a Chimera 3x4 foot softbox.
Once you get that first lamp set, with or without a modifier, then add either a fill card or reflector OR another lamphead of less intensity, say 1/2 power than your main, first light. Set a background light if you feel it's really necessary and that should be about 1/4 of the power of the main light. Those general settings can be modified of course, depending on what you're trying to do and how much light you really need. Lighting is really a matter of personal preference as are backgrounds, I think. But again, practice practice, experiment and practice some more. You'll get it in time.
Enjoy the learning process, and perhaps even consider one of John's lighting courses.
Take it light. ;>)

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11/26/2008 5:15:03 PM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  Thanks Mark! As you say, practice is important!

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11/26/2008 10:04:01 PM

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