Let There Be Light
….and there was Light!
Let’s face it, if God needs to turn the lights on to be able to work then so do we. That’s what we get for following a God who doesn’t have Nightvision, eh?
Anyway. On to Light.
I’m going to give a very quick whistlestop tour of how Light Makes Mood and how its possible to change the feel of an image just by repositioning a single light source. All the way through this I’m going to be explaining where lights are using clock positions; 12 o’clock is directly above the scene, 3 o’clock is to the right and 6 o’clock is lit from below. It makes the descriptions easier.
But first, I need a volunteer from the audience. Someone who is willing to stand in exactly the same position for ages with the same goofy expression of their face. You sir, the man in the white sweater…….
Meet Dave. Dave is a professional model who loves eating children and small puppies. Oh sorry, that should be eating, children, and small puppies. Typo. He’s a Poser model which means I can toss lights around him for days and he won’t move a muscle. He’s lit using the default light-set for Poser which is unfortunately rather good – so good in fact that all too often it’s easy to cop out and not work the lights at all. It’s a three light setup – a main bright light at 10 o’clock with another much softer light just to the side of it. This serves to soften the edges of the shadows. Down at 5 o’clock there’s a flesh-coloured light used to warm the shadows a little; in other words, it’s a good imitation of a classic ‘studio’ set. For portrait shots, it’s perfect. We want something a little moodier though, and it’s always better to take stuff away, so………
Take away the 5 o’clock light and Dave is starting to look moodier already. It’s a late afternoon look which whispers “Dave has a dark secret” into your ear. Remember, all we’ve done is taken one single light away – the other two are in place so the shadows are still soft, but are now pretty deep. This is the kind of shot you’d expect when a subject is lit from a window – the shadows give plenty of depth to the shot, and the mind interprets that as a Good Thing. Which is nice.
Technically, I lied about there only being three lights. That white background was throwing a lot of light around too, and if we replace it with a black one, the image changes again. Same two lights, different background, different feel. Dave looks normal again, the kind of guy your mother would like you to meet. Depending on… well…. y’know…. As the lights are the same, the shadows are the same as the previous shot, but because the contrast with the background is different, they don’t seem as deep. Go figure.
Take away the softening light and we’re down to a single light source. The white light on it’s lonesome at 10 o’clock gives a colder feel to the skin and Dave looks like he’s recovering from a long illness. It’s also what you’d expect to see on a cloudy day; the diffuse light is cooler than direct bright sunlight, and it’s times like this when the single light might need a helping hand…..
…. but not like this! Moving the single light into the centre and you’ve got the instant deer-in-the-headlights flash shot. This is just like 95% of all camera shots the world over – a bright light pointing straight at the poor punter’s face. Just add a hunting rifle for that perfect killshot. It’s not a flattering light at all, so it’s worth avoiding unless you really don’t like the person. Sorry Dave.
Move the light across to 3 o’clock and Dave has gone all sexy moody. It’s strange that our minds interpret light from the right as attractive, but light from the left (see below) as evil. Or maybe that’s just me.
A light at 6 o’clock puts us into serial killer evil mastermind territory. The nice sexy Dave has buried the body somewhere and is out stalking the streets for his next victim. C’mon, we’ve all shone a torch under our chins. We know the look.
Another change of position, another mood. Here we have Dubious Dave. There’s something sinister about him, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. This is the Dave you wouldn’t let babysit. He’s the Dave you suspect in those low budget horror flicks but turns out to be ok after all. 9 o’clock light is great if you want to set a mood which throws up questions in the viewer’s mind.
12 o’clock light is Dead Dave. It’s Dave the Zombie. Lighting from directly above narrows the cheekbones too – that’s one of the reasons they have so many ceiling floodlights above catwalks. All supermodels are really obese, didn’t you know? It’s all done with lighting. That, and Photoshop.
Finally, we’re back to Normal Dave. Light positioned at 2 o’clock works much like light at 10 o’clock. Dave’s completed his journey from sexy to dubious to moody to evil and back again. Phew. And he didn’t move once.
There you have it. Simple light, lots of moods. Heck, I’ve barely scratched the surface!