As a follow up from the last blog.  I thought I would get some pictures to illustrate different types of lighting.  I will be looking at indoor lighting because it is easiest to illustrate each of the points.

I want to thank my daughter in-law, Joy, for being a good sport and letting me take some ugly pictures of her.  I want to point out also, that she is fair skinned with freckles that are more noticeable, because she is getting lots of sun that is also drying out her skin.  But she is a wonderful young lady that my wife and I are pleased to have her in our family.

The first picture is a direct flash that is mounted on the camera.  This leaves a rather flat picture and an ugly shadow in the back ground.

On Camera Flash -8796

This next picture is a bare flash with no modifiers on it and at about 45° angle from the camera.  This picture looks considerably better.  Still a little flat, but better.  Significant shadows are seen under Joy’s chin and from her nose.  But, it does show the curves of her face better.  Joy’s hair over her left shoulder isn’t showing like I would like.  But the ugly background shadow is gone and her face has more dimension.

Off Camera Direct Flash-8799
Off camera direct flash

This picture is using a soft box about 26″ in diameter.  It is pretty close to her, maybe 3 feet or so.  A soft box located at a close distance will provide a more soft light.  This picture shows more curves on the face and the hair on her shoulder is very smooth and silky.

Off Camera Close Soft Box-8802
Off Camera Soft Box about 3′

The next shot has the soft box moved away about 3 more feet.  The height was about the same, so it came in and highlighted the eyes a bit more.  I also think the angle was a bit more straight on Joy’s face.  We have a better catch light in her eyes.  The shadow under her chin is smaller due to the shallower lighting angle.  But, the shadow line is a bit harder since the flash is further away and it is closer to a point source.  However, it is still much softer than the unmodified flash shots.  You will also notice that the background is also a little lighter now.  This is also a result of the flash being further from the subject.

Off Camera Far Soft Box-8804

This shot is now with the soft box directly above the camera.  It still renders very nicely, but you will notice that the nose shadow goes almost straight down and her chin shadow is more symmetrical as well.  The background has darkened some since the flash is now closer to Joy again.  This type of lighting can help remove skin imperfections, but in my opinion works best with a slim face and high cheek bones.

Off Camera Above Soft Box-8809

This shot was with the soft box pointed away from her.  This helped make the background darker.  If you look carefully, you can see that the catch light in Joy’s eyes is more like a cat’s eye.  A very vertical light.  This is because she was only seeing a small portion of the soft box.

Off Camera Edge Soft Box-8816

For all of the other shots, I had the curtains on a window to Joy’s left closed.  I then opened when I was done and used the light from the window as a fill light.  The light set up was like the third shot, except the soft box was a little lower which allowed better catch lights in the eyes.


Of course there are an unlimited number of ways to light the scene.  Somebody might ask about bouncing a flash off the ceiling.  The ceiling can act as a giant soft box, but the angle is many times coming too straight down.  There are inexpensive flash modifiers that will reflect some of the light directly at the subject when the flash is pointed at ceiling which can help.  Also, bright windows can provide great soft light as well.

While we were in vacation, we came across an interesting situation, that a non-photographer probably wouldn’t even notice.

We were in Santa Cruz, California walking near the beach.  The first thing that I noticed when getting out of the car, a photographer with 2 soft boxes and a couple cameras heading toward the ocean.

Young Surfers in Santa Cruz, California

We then stopped to watch some surfers for a while.  Once we got past the surfers I noticed a photographer taking pictures of a dancer.  She was striking various poses that aren’t normally held in dance, but they make a good photograph.  This photographer was using natural light without flash.

Then as we moved on we watched another photographer that was getting a picture that to me looked like either an engagement picture or a set the date type of picture.  The hard part about this was that they had a small dog with them that they obviously wanted in the picture.  But, every time the photographer crouched to get the proper angle, the dog would go running to the photographer.  This photographer was using an on camera flash, but holding it away from the camera with his free arm.

surf Museum-08274
Young Surfers in Santa Cruz, California

I apologize for not getting pictures of these photographers, but at the time, it didn’t occur to me that this would turn into a blog post.

The question that many people might ask, which method is better?

Using the soft boxes creates as the name implies, a soft diffused light, with very gradual shadows.  This is the type of lighting that is usually used in a studio or indoors.  It is bulky and this photographer had several people with him carrying equipment.  They were on the beach for a considerable time, but we didn’t see them, so I assume they were below us hidden by the cliffs that we were standing on.  It is difficult or impossible to overpower the sun with soft boxes, so it makes perfect sense that they were taking pictures in the shade of the cliffs.  When we did see them come up from the beach, they started taking pictures in a shady area a ways from the beach.  The pictures that they took on the beach probably resulted in some very nice soft faces with a fairly contrasty background.  The pictures in the shady area probably allowed the photographer to make his subjects considerably better illuminated with a darker but blurred and non-distracting background.

The dancer pictures without flash most likely resulted in a nice environmental portrait showing cliffs, and/or breaking waves and the dancer.  Contrast in the bright, although evening, sun may have been more harsh than some would like.  But, for photographs of sport, gymnastics, and dance can effectively use this higher contrast.

The pictures of the couple and their dog where the photographer was holding a flash at arms length from the camera probably came out nice.  The extra flash probably softened the photo some.  But, if you want to have a picture of a couple walking on the beach, you really don’t have any other option (soft boxes just don’t work in full sun, until almost sunset).  Holding it arms length would have a more softening effect than mounting the flash on camera.

So which is better?  It depends upon what you want for an effect.  The photographer with the soft boxes should have been able to create some nice pictures in the shade of the trees near the beach.  The other two photographers probably created some nice pictures with beautiful ocean and cliffs in the background.  Adding the flash should have softened the couples pictures a bit, which would be a nice improvement.