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Learn How to Light.

  • Lighting 103: Greg's Assignment
    Abstract: The best way to get a better understanding of light and color is to just do it.



    In the last part of our conversation with Greg Heisler, he gave what I think is a very good piece of advice about light and color:

    "I think what you have to do to be able to see it, is to shoot it. And then shoot it.

    Like, shoot it the clean way, with white light. Then the next way is to shoot it with a warm and a cool. And so you see that. And then muddy up the light a little bit, and then see it that way."

    So that's exactly what we're gonna do. Read more »

  • Lighting 103: Greg's Assignment: Results


    Reporting in from our last assignment, in which you were asked to shoot a portrait in three different ways: clean white light, warm/cool light, and warm/cool light with the shadows muddied up with a little green. I did this one along with you—twice—and learned a lot in the process.

    Which brings up a valuable point. You can read about this stuff all you want. But until you actually get off your ass and do it, you're not going to learn it.

    In other words, learning to use color in your lighting is just like anything else. Read more »

  • Lighting 103: Greg Heisler on Light and Color
    Abstract: Chromatically complex light adds much more realism to your lit photos.



    Today’s Lighting 103 post features excerpts from a bar conversation with Greg Heisler. It's just as if we cornered him at a conference (which I did) and he agreed to have a drink and talk color (which he did).

    This is roadmap stuff. It's above and beyond the specific info he includes with each of the assignments in his book, 50 Portraits, the companion text to L103.Read more »

  • Jinbei Studio Flash Units Recalled for Electrocution Risk
    The Swiss government last month issued a recall for ten models of Jinbei studio flash units. While the recall notice has made the rounds on message boards, I am frankly surprised that photo media outlets have not picked this up. Read more »

  • Lighting 103: Use Gels to Tune Your Home's Lighting
    Abstract: You can use your knowledge of color temperature and gels to improve the quality of light in your home.



    So far, everything we have done has centered on gelling a single light to create a single desired color shift. But before we make the jump into using multiple colors and light sources, one quick hack for your home's lighting that will help you to improve the quality of light in compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

    Like the gawdawful green-tinged lamp above, for example. Read more »

  • Lighting 103: Using Gels to Shift the Ambient
    Abstract: By combining a white balance shift in your camera with a complementary gelling of your flash, you can easily and efficiently alter the ambient color temperature of an entire environment.



    In addition to controlling the color of light from your flash, gels can also allow you to alter the color of the ambient areas of your frame. The portrait above, done for the Baltimore Sun, is a good example. I made it as a storm approached, and the light was gray and pretty neutral.

    The light was okay, but not great. I really wanted was a stronger color environment for the photo. And I also wanted the subject to pop more. So instead of daylight white balance, I shot it on incandescent (tungsten) white balance. This shifted the expected light source from 5600k to 3200k. In essence, the camera was expecting to shoot under tungsten lights. Read more »

  • Lighting 103: Prerequisites and Supplies
    Abstract: Here's what you'll need—and what you need to know—before starting Lighting 103.



    Lighting 103 is about color. We'll be weaning ourselves from the stock, unnatural white light that comes out of your bare speedlights. At a minimum, you'll be working with two flashes. We'll be blending colors in highlight and shadows, so you really won't be able to get through it with just a single speedlight.

    A basic, value two-light kit will suffice. But FYI, we'll also be stretching into more lights in some examples. You can get good advice on a two-light—or perhaps add-a-light to your current bag—here, in Lighting 102.

    Speaking of that, it stands to reason that you should also be familiar with the concepts in Lighting 101 and 102 before starting Lighting 103. So if you need to catch up (or brush up) you should start here.


    You're Gonna Need Some Gels

    My recommendation is that speedlight users start out with small-sized packets of the most useful gels. You can graduate to larger sheets later if necessary. Rosco (the world's leading gel manufacturer) makes three kits that will prove very useful. They are all between $20 and $25 in the speedlight size.

    They also sell the kits in 12" x 12" size. These are more economical per square inch, but they are often harder to find. If needed, you can also buy individual gels in 20"x24" sheets, or even giant rolls. But for speedlight users, the little kits will suffice.

    The links below are US-based. If you need to find a Rosco dealer in another country, you can do so here.


    Three Useful Kits



    The first and most universal kit I recommend is the Rosco Strobist Collection v2 Flash Pack. It's named after this site because I helped to choose the colors that are included.

    And no, before you ask, I don't get a cut. I actually worked with Rosco after this site's readership almost single-handedly mooched the company's sample swatch program out of existence. So they named the kit after the site. That's the extent of the arrangement.

    This kit has all the most useful gels, in multiple copies, in a little box case with thick rubber bands for mounting. There are even a few neutral density gels that can knock your speedlight output down to about 1/512 power when needed. Whichever way you go, I recommend this as the most useful kit for most of you.



    The choice of additional kits depends on what you are most likely to be shooting. For those who photograph fashion/glamour/beauty, consider the Rosco Beauty Flash Pack (seen above in speedlight size) as a second gel kit.

    As we'll soon see, the first thing we often learn when working with gels is to warm our key light. And that usually means choosing a more generic warming gel, such as a Rosco 08 or 1/4 CTO (both included in the Strobist gel pack) to accomplish that.

    The R08 and 1/4 CTOs are fine, and distinctly different. But compared to the choices in the Rosco Beauty Kit, they are a blunt tool. The beauty kit includes a selection of subtly different hues designed for enhancing skin tones. Generally, this involves a varying amount of red and/or amber intensity, to allow you to choose a subtly altered key that brings out the best in your given subject's skin. (Think of it as Photoshop that works in 3D.)

    One annoying thing about this kit (especially) and the others (less so) is that the gels are not individually labelled. With these subtly different gels, that can be a problem if you are looking for a consistent solution. Fortunately, they put the gels in the boxes in the order that they are listed on the outside and guide cards. So you can label them with a Sharpie, and henceforth know what you are pulling out of the box.




    A third option I will recommend is Rosco's CalColor® Flash Pack. With a CalColor® kit, you can make most any color gel you need.

    Fun fact: this gel kit is actually patented. That's because the kit is a system of primary and secondary colors, calibrated to different strengths. With it, you can explore colors that go beyond your typical CTOs and CTBs. (I'm presently indulging my cyan phase...)

    Combined with a Strobist gel pack, the CalColor® pack gives you access to the whole spectrum of pure and combined colors. And remember, you don't necessarily have to use them alone. You can push that cyan a little more towards blue by adding, say, a 10 Blue gel to a 20 Cyan gel.

    Put into Photoshop terms, the CalColor® kit is literally like a Hue and Saturation function for each individual light in your scene.


    L103's Companion Text

    Of all of the photographers in my "Inspiration" folder in my browser, the one with probably the very best observational and practical color chops is Gregory Heisler. I'm lucky enough to count him as a friend, and we will be hearing from him later in L103.

    To that end, I would strongly suggest that you pick up his book, 50 Portraits. Not only is it a fantastic book with many layers of information that will help any photographer's portraiture, we'll also be sending you there for parallel reading suggestions throughout the course.

    Most long-time readers of this site probably already own this book. If you do not have it, let me put it this way: for a people shooter, it's probably the best $32 you'll ever spend. The pictures are amazing. The text is better.

    Not only will Greg be an occasional voice throughout L103, but we'll also be getting some diversity of experience from theatre: Photographer/lighting designer Lucas Krech will be dropping in for a little bit of different perspective.


    One Last Thing

    Lighting 103 lessons will be posting live throughout 2017. If you want to follow live, you should defintely be signed up for email updates. (They are infrequent, and I do not sell or spam.)

    Since Strobist changed in 2014 from a 2x/weekly blog to a more knowledge-base footing, many new additions and updates are not mentioned on the front page. Email subscribers will receive links to the new lessons as they publish.

    Next: Lighting 103: Introduction

  • Lighting 103: Using Gelled Flash to Correct Ambient Light
    Abstract: You can alter your camera's white balance and gel your flash to "correct" nearly any ambient light color shift. But should you?


    Read more »

  • Lighting 103: When Not to Gel Your Flash
    Abstract: Don't bother gelling a scene that is completely lit by a single flash. But if a second light is involved—even ambient light—it's always better to control color at the source.



    PIctured above is Midwest Camera President Moishe Appelbaum. He wandered into a lighting class I was teaching at Midwest last fall, so we pulled him aside and shot him. He's lit by a single LP180 speedlight, fired through a white bed sheet.

    (Pro tip: A speedlight fired through a bed sheet will rival the light of the most expensive octabanks in the world—in quality if not in quantity. It all comes down to square inches in the light source. And a bed sheet has a crap ton of square inches.)

    After our previous lesson, you might think that this photo is an ideal candidate for a warming gel: caucasian skin, warm background, warm-colored clothing. Why not unify this with a little added warmth?Read more »

  • Lighting 103: At Least Use a Warming Gel on Your Key Light
    Abstract: Warming your flash will greatly improve skin tones. Which warming gel you use depends on your subject, the lighting environment, your camera's color palette and personal preference.



    I still remember the day I was introduced to warming gels. It was nearly 30 years ago. I was assisting photographer Chris Usher in 1988 on a shoot in Washington for Businessweek. As he was setting up his light he asked me to hand him his gels, absentmindedly muttering, "Always gotta warm the key light..."

    And I'm thinking, "Wait, what?"Read more »