I believe that the best way to understand lighting is to experiment with it. But understanding the basics of light and the general scheme of things can help you set foot in the right track. This is why I think reading lighting books is a great way to improve your photography.
Today I would like to review on of those books, Matters of Light & Depth by Ross Lowell.
Just before I dive into the content of this book, I’d like to say something about style – Ross has plenty of it. The book got a smile on my face more than once. With titles like Light of Passage, Light Philosophy, and Shedding Light, you take in valuable lessons while not feeling too serious.
The other thing that you will feel when reading the book is that it is intended for photographers and cinematographers alike. While most of the text is relevant for both, a small portion is only relevant to cinema lighting people. I read it all. It turns out that cinema lighting is also relevant for still photography lighting. I found this add another layer to the still lighting I know, as Ross’s approach to lighting is taking care of moving subjects, lighting big areas, using the same setup for multiple angles and more. Problems that we don’t usually encounter when lighting “small setup” portraits, but may be relevant when we don’t know where our subjects will be, or at what angle we will take the shot.
Lastly, the book is build from a list of short assays. Each one of the eight chapters collects assays around a single subject:
Lights of Passage
Here, Ross lays the foundations for understanding lighting equipment – herd light, soft light, and all sorts of other lights. This is also where we get acquainted with the plains technique. The best tip from this chapter is found under the lighting plains essay, where Ross discusses how to dissect a scene in order to light it correctly.
Lighting By Numbers
Here we get acquainted with motivation for GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) – there are never enough lights. Luckily, for us, non-bug-studio-budget photogs, Ross shares techniques for using (just) one light and two lights setups. Don’t worry though, there is also a section on Gazillion lights.
In Broad Daylight
Here we get a review on various situations and solutions to overcoming bad “natural” light. There are some nice tricks here for shooting night scenes as well – my favorite is getting the street wet just before a shoot.
There is a great discussion of using direct sunlight bounced off twice to light those hard to rich places indoors.
Dynamic Lighting Of Static Subjects
This is, in my mind, one of the best chapters to read if you are into still life photography – the same type of photography eBay sellers and product photographers often encounter. Ross is discussing techniques, setups, copywork. This chapter is a great way to refresh on the family of angles and some basic studio techniques.
The first essay here is a great resource. It is a huge list of questions or points to think about when lighting a subject or a scene. I found that it is a great exercise to try and decide on each of the point on this essay prior to a shoot. Then look at the final result and see if the lighting provided the results we were after. Another way of using this list is to review the series of items and force yourself to take a decision on each one. After some time, this becomes easier and faster, and give you a great way to develop a lighting eye.
The next discussions are about lighting using a lighting meter and controlling lighting temperature. I don’t use a light meter, and did not get convinced that I would like one. However if accuracy and reproducibility are on your priority list, this is a valuable chapter.
Hearing The Light
I like this chapter. Ross is sharing some of his thoughts on what’s important, what’s honest, what’s easy and how to listen to rocks.
Lights-On Lessons & Resources
Here you’ll find 12 exercises taking you through the basics. The setups are clearly explained and will help you realize in practice all the theory that you have just digested.
There is also a list of books and vids for further digging into lighting and photography.
Terms Of Enlightenment
This chapter rocks. It is the lighting equivalent of the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Going from A to Z you’ll find an easy illustrated dictionary for everything lighting.
Info: Matters Of Light & Depth @ Amazon – A great way to get acquainted with light. ISBN: 0966250400