Best Book Ever – Light: Science and Magic – A Book Review

light science and magic I have just finished reading Light: Science & Magic (for the second time) and (again) I can not calm down. It took me a week and I spent every almost every waking hour reading it. Let me share the joy I had with you.

In general, Light: Science & Magic tells you everything you need to know about photography lighting. And the stuff it doesn’t tell you, it tells you how to figure out yourself.

Just before I go into an in-depth review of the book, I’ll say that reading this book in one week was both good and bad for me. Good, because I got an intense dose of photography lighting, obtaining critical mass of lighting know how. But, because reading so fast did not allow me to perform any of the exercises on the book, this is why I plan yet another slower reading of Light: Science & Magic where I will try out and test the techniques portrayed in the book.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you think in the comments. Now for the review:

Chapter 1 – How to Learn Lighting

This chapter is mostly a general introduction. It discussed the way t approach the book and makes it clear and simple – this book is for any one who wants to photograph better, regardless of available equipment. Here is what I took from it: “Learn about the light and the science. The magic will happen.”

Chapter 2 – Light: The Raw Material of Photography

This chapter discusses the physical qualities of light. After a brief hard core physical intro, the chapter turns to discuss the three main qualities of light: Brightness, Color and Contrast. It is already in this chapter that you get a hint on how this book is different. Contrast is explained via a series of illustrations and examples (hope you like pepper), that will follow through the entire book.

The next step is to discuss the light and subject interaction – that is how light is absorbed, reflected and transmitted through and by different subject. Until this point the examples are given in a pure world. The approach is scientific and describes light behavior in an ideal and simple world. Sadly, the world is neither ideal nor simple, but the foundations laid here are the base for understanding the more complex lighting scenarios in the rest of the book.

Chapter 3 – The Management of Reflection and the Family of Angles

If I had to choose a core chapter for the book this chapter would be it. This chapter explains two on the main themes that will echo through the rest of the book: types of reflections, and the Family of Angles.

Did you ever wonder how the moon is so bright in an image even though it is so far away? I mean, the inverse square rule, should have made the moon real dim, right? Wrong. While going over diffused reflections, Fil and Steven explain how the rule of inverse square still apply to distant object that produce diffused reflection. The same level of commitment is applied to direct reflection – this is a mirror like reflection. Lastly we are introduced with a more tricky reflection – a polarized reflection. This is the glare thingy you see bouncing of black surfaces.

Ok, now comes the basic of basics of this book – The Family of Angles. It’s kinda hard to explain what is the family of angles without an illustration, this is why you can look at the explanation and illustration here and here. Fil and Steve really help to understand the concept using illustrations and diagrams. The concept of the Family of Angles is a fundamental concept in light management and will accompany any idea or theory that is displayed in the book.

Chapter 4 – Surface Appearances

I just loved chapter 4, after all the theory you get to see the simplicity and ingenuity that the principles learned in the first three chapters is applied to simple and complex scenarios: Shooting paintings? It’s the family of angles. Doing a product shot? It is reflection management. A simple solution is applied to everyday photographic problematic scenarios.

What I liked here is the step by step approach that builds a lighting system where each step deals with a different problem to create a full lighting solution. All illustrated and clearly explained. Actually after this chapter it is nice to try and solve the problems even before it unfolds.

Chapters 5 through 7 – Metal, Glass and Everything Nice

The following three charters are all real life applications of the reflections theory and the family of angles theory. By Applying those theories to common photographic situations, you get not only the know how on how to handle them, but also the principles that you can use for other situations.

Chapter 8 – An Arsenal of Lights

This was one of the funnest chapters to read. The title can easily be swapped to understanding the lighting of portrait photography. Covering (almost) every possible lighting directions accessory and combination, this chapter helps the understanding of how each individual light add to the complete portrait. This chapter covers positioning of all the lights needed in a portrait: main light, fill, kicker and background. It also illustrates how the family of angles is relevant when selecting the main light. By far, this was the best portrait lighting guide I have ever read.

Chapter 9 – The Extremes

White on white and Black on black subjects. Whadayaknow same theories apply here.

Chapter 10 – Traveling Light

If you are in to strobism, you are covered.

Light: Science & Magic
@ Amazon – Best lighting book I have ever read
ISBN: 0240808193