My name is Andrea Belluso and I used to define myself as a fashion and beauty photographer.
To be great at lighting in photography is much e¬asier than you might think. I see most photographers making things way too complicated and spending way too much time thinking through their lighting and trying to achieve the perfect picture.
All this eventually leads to frustration, irritated clients, and eventually considering photography a job like any other. In order for you to maintain fun and pleasure in your photography and being as excited with every single picture you take as you were when you took your first picture, it is vital to have the element of freedom and adventure with every single shot.
So, how do you do that? Simple, it’s all in your approach to lighting.
Lighting is not a technical thing, it is a way of creating feelings, emotions, and moods. The technique and technical equipment are just there to help us. Just like brushes and paint are not what creates how a painting makes you feel, they are simply tools that used in one way or another will change your mood once you look at the painting.
So here are 6 tips on getting better at lighting and having more fun and ease with it.
1: Get to know the properties of every single Light Shaping Tool!
If you really get familiar with each Light Shaping Tool available, you will eventually know them not by their names, but by the character of light of every single one of them. Just like your friends or your family, when you think of them, do you think first of their names or is it how they make you feel that makes you think of them?
In order to get to know all the modifiers, take test pictures with all of them maintaining the same distance between the light, the subject and the background. I would recommend keeping a distance of 2 meters between the three elements with each shot.
You might think that it is extremely expensive to buy each Light Shaping Tool there is, and it is expensive! But there are many other ways, like, for instance renting them just for a day or even borrowing them from friends and colleagues.
2: Get to know them better
Once you know all modifiers with their basic characteristics, start going deeper in getting to know them by moving each one in different directions. First attempt to bring it closer and see how it looks, then further away. Witness how the light changes for each one and take pictures with every change you make with the light. It’s a good idea to create a notebook with annotations of how each modifier makes you feel with all the steps above, both with technical comments, such as “the shadows became darker and the edge of the shadows became sharper” and also describing eventual emotions that may arise, such as “this light made me sad” or “this light reminds me of a hot summer day”. This will start to take you away from the technical thinking and more into getting to know what comes up for you with each different light.
3: STOP THINKING!
This is crucial! Once you start thinking of what light you should use and how, before and during taking a picture, you start going in your head and cutting off how the light makes you feel at the moment of taking the picture, and how it will eventually affect those that look at that picture. Remember what I said before, light is a way of creating feeling, emotions and mood, so you have to create that mood by linking it to a certain light modifier that created that feeling when you got to learn to know it. Think of food for instance! When you taste something, don’t you automatically know if it needs more salt? But it is not the name of salt that came to mind at first, and neither are the chemical properties of salt, it was just the taste. Different lights create different tastes for your eyes that translate into emotions.
So choose the light for the picture you are about to take, not by thinking of what they are called or what light spread they have, or even of what the difference of power generated by one modifier or another is, but simply by searching in your “emotions bank” that you created when you got to know each one of them, and that search is almost instantaneous.
4: Don’t get stuck into using just one modifier!
Just using one setup will create boredom and routine eventually, and that is when photography starts becoming a way of paying your bills and not a source of pleasure, creativity and fun. If you are really dedicated to your passion, you will want to have that passion for a very long time and the only way of doing that is by creating change and never treating two pictures in the same way. Each picture is unique, just as you are unique and you cannot be compared to anyone else in the whole world.
If you have this approach to lighting, you will look at every person or product you shoot as a new adventure in your life as a photographer and you will treat them individually. There is no recipe for “the perfect light for a portrait” or “the ideal light for a fashion shot. What there is is the light that puts a smile on your face and a sense of wanting to take that shot right away, that is the perfect light for just that shot!
This will not only make you create a unique approach to every picture you take but it will always create the variety in your work to keep you excited at every single shoot.
5: Don’t create your “style”!
In spite of what everyone else will tell you, creating your so-called style is no more than containing you in a well-defined box. It is exactly the opposite of being creative. By creating your style you would need to do the opposite of everything I have told you so far. In other words, you would just have to try to find the light that works for you and that would maybe get you your first clients, or maybe even your (temporary) success. Sticking to that would because you would have decided that just that is your “identity” as a photographer.
The minute your “lucky style” goes out of fashion, you are out with it and if that doesn’t come first, then getting totally bored with what you are doing certainly will. Finding your style and defining yourself are the route to the end of your joy and fun as a photographer and it will totally kill your creativity.
The definition of creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness, in other words, always creating something new all the time.
Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, and yet I see many photographers doing just that, using the same light over and over again and expecting to be happier, earn more money, have more fun and so on. So instead of exploring light and having fun with it, they will keep buying into new techniques, they will go to workshops or seminars where they are told exactly how to take the perfect picture (of course according to whoever is holding that class) and they will talk about technique instead of talking of the mood and feelings in the pictures or, even better, just creating the pictures that are fun for them.
6: Get out of your comfort zone!
Getting out of the comfort zone is closely related to what I just wrote, and it is also being willing to use a light that you might be scared of instead of just asking yourself if maybe that is exactly the light that is needed for that particular shot. I used to hate hard light. In actual fact, what I was saying was that I did not know hard light and what could be created with it, so when I began my journey of exploring light, exactly with the process I have been describing to you here, I began that adventure with hard light, to find out what it was that was generating such strong resistance in me.
Today I adore hard light! I also adore soft light, as well as diffused light, focused light, natural-looking light, and dramatic light. I simply adore LIGHT and the ease and freedom it gives me to create anything I truly desire to create with my pictures.
I began my education on light after five or six years of not taking a single picture. That break in my photography began during a period when I was working every single day, and for very good money! But I was bored, so I did lots of other things instead. When I started shooting again I realized what created my boredom, and it was having defined my look and style and also using the same light for everything because it was part of my so-called style.
I know that a lot of this might not make much sense to you, because it goes against what you have learned so far and it is pretty much the opposite of what most will tell you. The thing is that I am not into teaching you anything because I believe you already know what you desire to create. I believe you know what makes you happy when you take a picture. I simply desire to empower you by telling you to do what feels good to you, especially if it goes against all the rules of lighting. Do so in total freedom, without thinking, and do it as spontaneous as you would be in driving a car without thinking what gear you would put it in.
And to get to be that spontaneous with your choice of lighting, the only real thing that is necessary is to truly know the behavior of every light shaping tool so you have the freedom of choice when creating your shots and to get as creative as you can be. All of that is part of a process. It’s part of a journey with no end and its part of a great adventure called your life as a photographer.
Learn More And Join In!
I am extremely passionate about this and I would love to share more of this with you and of all the other elements that generate joy, fun, and diversity in being a creative. I want to find out your boundaries and show you what’s possible with not only lighting but every facet of your creative endeavor.
I would also love you to get to meet some of the most creative, fun and well-educated friend, family, and colleagues I know. I would love you to join me at the Creative Experience in Dubai together with my amazing friends Bella Kotak and Pratik Naik and my colleagues (and family) of House of Belluso, Amanda and Viktor, to also give you endless tips and tricks on retouching, business, personal growth, and much more!
To find out more about it please check out our upcoming 3 or 5-day event in Dubai on March 27th. You can use discount code HOBCREATIVITY to get a discounted price of €660 for the 3-day event or €2450 for the 5-day event.