Analyzing Light – How to Breakdown The Lighting Of A Photo

Sep 3, 2014

Laya Gerlock

Laya Gerlock is a Portrait and Product photographer based in the Philippines. His passion is teaching and sharing his knowledge in Photograpy and has been doing this for 6 years. You can follow his work on his web page, follow him on Flickr and if you happen to come by Cubao, Quezon City (To Manila, Philippines) he gives a great workshop!

Analyzing Light – How to Breakdown The Lighting Of A Photo

Sep 3, 2014

Laya Gerlock

Laya Gerlock is a Portrait and Product photographer based in the Philippines. His passion is teaching and sharing his knowledge in Photograpy and has been doing this for 6 years. You can follow his work on his web page, follow him on Flickr and if you happen to come by Cubao, Quezon City (To Manila, Philippines) he gives a great workshop!

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Ever since I started photography I had a thing  for lighting. Nowadays, every time I see a picture, I can’t help it but to analyze and breakdown how it was lit. In this article I will share my analyzing process, step by step.

DSC_2003_1
I believe understanding light can make a huge improvement to any photographer’s work, and practicing light-analysis is definitely one of the better ways to do it. When was just starting out, analyzing light on Flickr photos I love was a huge learning experience for me.

There are plenty of way (or tricks) to analyze light, this is how I do it, feel free to share yours too.

The first thing I do is break down the lighting into 4 hint-groups: Catchlights, Shadows, Highlights, and Background lights.

Catchlights

The first thing I look at when looking at a photo are the catchlights. This is probably the easiest/fastest way to see light. Look for a gleam of reflected light in the eye. You can almost always tell the position of the light is when looking at catchlights and sometimes you can also tell what light was used.

catch light (1)

catch light (4)
Looking at catchlights can also hint if the photographer used one light, two lights or more. Or if they used a fill light.

catch light (3)

catch light (2)
In this shot, you can see that the mainlight was a beauty dish above the subject and he used a fill light(illustration board) below the subject

Shadows

There are times where the catchlight are too small / retouched  / totally absent, so the next things to look for are shadows under the nose and chin and other parts of the body.

shadows (1)

shadows (4)

One of the easier things is to check where the shadows are pointing – the main light is probably just opposite to it.

shadows (6)

shadows (5)

You can also check the background for shadows of the subject which will hint on where lights are coming from.

shadow (1)

shadow
In this photo, the photographer is using only one light.

Highlights

With the highlights I break it down into three parts, the first is I check is the key light. I do this by looking at the highlights in the front of the face and parts of the body.

highlights (1)

highlights (2)
From the highlights in the face and shoulder of the subject we can see that the mainlight is coming from above the subject

Kickerlights – the next thing I look out for in a photo is the kicker light which is normally the highlight parts in the side of the subject.

kicker (1)

kicker (2)
Hairlight – One thing to also look out for is the hairlight

hairlight

hairlight (2)
Besides the kicker light, photographers also put a separate light for the hair light

Background light

The last thing I check is the background light or other lights that are part of the photo but not directly hitting the subject.

breakdown

breakdown (1)
A blue gel was used for the background light. Also notice the spot effect on background, so the light had a snoot or a diffuser to make the light gradient.

You don’t always see the background light. Look at this phot for examples. The background is completly washed because of lights pointing at the back

white bg

white bg (1)
Some lights are strategically placed for effect those may not even show on the subject. Try and look for those as well.

background (1)

background
For the mainlight, a softbox was used left of the camera, you can see this by looking at the catchlights and shadows in the nose of the subject. A kicker light was placed at the back right of the subject and a red gel was pointing at the background.

I also use this technique when looking at still life or product shots.

still life (1)

still life

 

Food Photography Laya Gerlock (6)

food

 

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Laya Gerlock

Laya Gerlock

Laya Gerlock is a Portrait and Product photographer based in the Philippines. His passion is teaching and sharing his knowledge in Photograpy and has been doing this for 6 years. You can follow his work on his web page, follow him on Flickr and if you happen to come by Cubao, Quezon City (To Manila, Philippines) he gives a great workshop!

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10 responses to “Analyzing Light – How to Breakdown The Lighting Of A Photo”

  1. happywanderer Avatar
    happywanderer

    Great article! Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. LSG Avatar
      LSG

      cheers!

  2. Fernando De Jesús Morales Avatar
    Fernando De Jesús Morales

    José Luis Hernández

  3. Coach Rollie Avatar
    Coach Rollie

    The more I learn about photography, the more I realize how important lighting is and how important it is to experiment. Great article! I’ve recently been experimenting with gels and flashes to make backgrounds more interesting.

  4. ijak Avatar
    ijak

    Very nice article. I specifically enjoyed the annotated images. They will help many young photographers. I shared the link with my Facebook photography group. Thank you!

    1. LSG Avatar
      LSG

      Go ahead! :) and thank you! :)

  5. Simon Ade Avatar
    Simon Ade

    Great article – exactly what I needed. Also trying to get into using light (got 2 speedlights now) and it really is an art with lots of technical trappings. :) Thanks again

  6. ricardo Avatar
    ricardo

    Well done!

  7. Gonzalo Broto Avatar
    Gonzalo Broto

    Very good explanation: concise, detailed and with varied examples, thank you!

  8. Florin Filimon Avatar
    Florin Filimon

    congratulations