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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the easier things is to check where the shadows are pointing – the main light is probably just opposite to it.
You can also check the background for shadows of the subject which will hint on where lights are coming from.
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.
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.
The last thing I check is the background light or other lights that are part of the photo but not directly hitting the subject.
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
I also use this technique when looking at still life or product shots.