Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dramatic Lighting

Hey guys,

Been a while since Chuck or I posted and with the summer coming to an end and vacation season ending, I'll be around a bit more.

A quote I really like from Joe McNally goes: "John Loengard, the picture editor at Life, always used to tell me, 'If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.'" It's a pretty basic concept but a little more difficult than it sounds (to do well). He's referring to getting away from flat lighting (lighting EVERYTHING on your subject). Sometimes, flat lighting is inevitable and sometimes, it's right for the shot but for this post, we're going to focus on using small bits of light that help our subjects stand out. It's pretty easy to find (easier with natural light than in the studio) and will often require high iso and slow shutter speeds. Once you find the light and lock in exposure, it's a matter of finding an interesting composition and waiting for the right moment. Here's an example:

The room was dark and lit only by the laptop that my wife and son were sharing. I framed it symmetrically which matched the simple light source. ISO 3200 1/50 f/1.6


In this shot, most of the window light is blocked by the blinds. Henry has opened up a small portion to look out from which allows more light to hit him. The falloff is quick, as is most window light but the small pool (of light) allowed through helps his eyes to stand out. ISO 1600 1/400 f/2.8


This was shot at an alligator exhibit at our city zoo. The room they're standing in is dark and the only light allowed in comes through the windows. As mentioned above, window light has some wonderful falloff and I used it to backlight my boys. I find this to be much more interesting than if the room they were standing in was well lit. ISO 200 1/125 f/2.2


The room was dark and as Henry brushed his teeth, he was illuminated only by the tv. ISO 1600 1/40 f/1.4


Unlike Joe McNally, I didn't light these. I used available light but used it to my advantage. Rather than fake it in photoshop, I found light that had natural falloff and a little drama. It's simple to do once you spot it. Good composition and timing will get you the rest of the way there.

Thanks for visiting, guys. Please keep sharing our site with others if you find it helpful.



  1. Nice post Daniel, thanks. Great images.

  2. Gorgeous use of available light. So intimate.

  3. Gustavo Osmar Santos
    Estuvo Aquí...wonderfull.

  4. I want to thank you guys for this site. Each time i stop by i'm blown away by the photos and the impact that they have on me. Your site has inspired me to not just take a photo but instead capture a moment. Big difference.
    As a father of two, I'm working towards this for my girls and myself. I'll keep reading and learning so please keep posting.

  5. I love these pics, and really appreciate your explanations.

  6. Brilliiant shots, I definitly think that a really important step forward I made in my photography was to not be afraid of shadows . It can make for some of the most striking imagery as you've proved here. Great website