This is how I light some of my street portraits using the two point lighting technique that I learned way back in the 1980s while I was training at the BBC. The two point light principle is simplicity itself with the subject being lit from two opposing directions with the light sources are 180 degrees apart. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that but there are a few things I’d like to share with you.
It doesn’t matter what you use as a light source. I regularly find natural light to act as one or both of the sources and if the sun is out I always make use of it either directly or reflected off a window. Point of note: Reflected sunlight can be tolerated by a model or client without the need for sunglasses or squinting.
Shooting with filtered light was a fad, a craze that has passed for now. It is used occasionally in commercial shooting too and I’ll share a bridal collection I shot with mixed colour lighting at some point soon. When you study these pictures for the lighting clues remember that the light is 180 degree opposed. The camera position is irrelevant relative to the lighting angle. Two of the three shots above have the camera immediately below the light and the shot below has the camera at 90 degrees to the light. Get the light and subject directions right and you can shoot from anywhere.
What is really important is the direction of light relative to the subject. You will notice that the key light in all these pictures is ‘straight down the nose’. It’s a phrase I use to describe my lighting angles and principally it means that if the subjects nose was really long like Pinocchio’s it would touch the lighting stand. So I have only gone for eye contact when I am under the light.
Two point lighting is the most versatile lighting design for shooting fashion or beauty on the street. Having a back light elevates the pictures to a more polished state. Take a look at any CSI tv show or 24 etc and freeze frame as you go. You will see two point lighting on just about every scene if not every shot.
Flash and the unexpected mirrorless camera advantage. I use the Fujifilm X-Pro1 for nearly all my work these days and I use the Fujifilm X100 for all the rest. I still have my Nikon system with the trilogy of f/2.8 pro zooms and my Canon system with a fabulous set of prime lenses including the Zeiss 21mm but they stay at the studio largely gathering dust these days. A modern mirrorless camera is all I need and want to use. When I shoot flash and want to work the lens wide open I put a x32 ND filter on the lens and open it up. Instead of shooting in bright conditions using ISO 200, 1/125th second and f/16, I can shoot at ISO 200, 1/125th second at f/2.8 with the ND filter. The electronic viewfinder compensates straight away and I have a fully bright viewfinder, fast accurate focussing and perfect exposures. With an SLR the process is a bit of a faff. I can’t use ND filters because I can’t see the shot through the viewfinder. So I use high speed sync. This works fine occasionally but it needs a degree in tech and fiddling to get right. Even with the most expensive systems out there I suffer from errors usually caused by me I have to say. With an ND filter on a mirrorless camera I don’t have to think.
ND (neutral density) comparison chart
1 stop = ND 0.3 or *2ND
2 stops= ND 0.6 or *4ND
3 stops = ND 0.9 or *8ND
4 stops = ND 1.2 or *16ND
5 stops = ND 1.5 or *32ND
10 stops = ND 3 or *1024ND – (Lee big stopper, B&W f-pro 110, Tiffen ND3 etc)
If you would like to join me on a workshop or at a seminar in the US please email Blaise at my studio to register your interest. I’ll be at a cattle ranch in Oklahoma and a boutique hotel in Chicago. Where else should I be heading in 2014? Let Blaise know your thoughts.