Esther Beaton


Building up your lighting

A good environmental portrait can be created by systematically building up the different lighting sources.

While on the subject of lighting, here are a couple more examples of adding colour. Using coloured flashes is one way to overcome a drab scene – and when you’re indoors, in a clinical environment, it’s always a drab scene.

I like to think of it as building my scene, a bit like adding layers of colours to a blank canvas.

Most laboratories are cluttered and have fluorescent or other unattractive light sources.
After the background lighting is good, I start to work on the lighting for the subject. Here it still needs to be a bit brighter and warmer.

With the first research lab, I started by taking a quick reference photo to check the exisiting lighting. Then I found a tank of pretty green water which had a suitable background. Although it was untidy, the background said “research”. The background really needed something to clean it up so I added a blue flash to it. I then added the second flash, aimed at the subject’s face, and left it with a natural colour balance.

For the second lab, I duplicated the technique. I just wanted some colour on the background and blue is a good science-y colour. Since the test tray in the subject’s hand was really important to the story, I hit it with a little torch I always keep in my gadget bag. Thank God for LEDs because – hallelujah  – they are daylight balanced!

A different lab, also with cluttered background and unattractive lighting.
Adding blue lighting to the background complements the subject and makes her stand out more.

I come across a lot of newbie photographers who are genuinely afraid of “lighting”. Believe me, with modern speedlights and cameras, it’s so much easier than the old days. I’m thinking of teaching some lighting workshops. Any expressions of interest? 

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