Learning light

I recently visited my old alma mater Sacramento City Photo department. About a year ago they completed a new facility that’s completely different from what I knew when I took photo classes decades ago.

Instructor Paul Estabrook (who himself is also a graduate of the program) gave me the 5-cent tour. There was a large gallery space and computer lab and nearly half of the new space was dedicated to studio photography with 2 large, well-equipped studios.

If you’re a photo student looking toward a career in the field I suggest taking at least an introductory course in studio lighting, even if you’re not interested in that field.

Learning the theories and practices will help you learn how light works, both in and out of the studio. It will help you recognize good quality light and how to correct problems when they occur.

I recently watched a live-streaming event on Facebook from the Nikon booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas Convention Center. It featured veteran photographer Joe McNally giving a quick off-camera lighting demonstration. While he’s a lighting master he does the bulk of his work on location, not in a studio. It was amazing to watch the ease at which he breezed through different lighting solutions to overcome the poor lighting in the convention hall.

During his presentation McNally said something interesting. The ultimate goal of photography, whether in the studio or in the field, isn’t about the technique, it’s about communicating what’s important in a photo. Through properly and effectively lighting your subject you can convey that importance to the viewer.

A lot of photographers eschew flash photography and/or studio lights. They make claims that it looks harsh or artificial and that they prefer the natural-looking ambient light, but that’s because they often don’t understand how to use flash properly. If one takes the time to learn the skills it can help to make you a more complete photographer.

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