Skip to main content

photo & video

Understanding Light

Lesson 3 of 34

Position of Light

Mark Wallace

Understanding Light

Mark Wallace

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

3. Position of Light

Lesson Info

Position of Light

Hi, I wanted to show this picture really quickly, because the Creative Live banner has had this image posted for months and I wanted to show exactly how it was created. This is actually a behind the scenes picture of me making this photo and there are three lights in this photo and we're gonna learn about how to do that. Th light behind me looks small but it's actually six feet wide. It's a six foot wide by four foot tall soft box. It's really, really large and I'm actually standing in front of it. And the light is going around my body and hitting the front of this model. The second light, this big, square soft box right here, this is what is getting a highlight on the model's shoulder and her hair. But that photo originally, was sort of dead. Didn't have much flare to it, and so what I decided to do- that third light, the really small, round light there, that light isn't falling on the model at all. It's shining straight into the lens of the camera. And so it's just there to create so...

me lens flare, something that you would normally avoid; for this shot I wanted to add it. And so I have a before and after shot, here. So, the shot on the left, is the shot of just the two soft boxes. And you can see it's just sort of flat and flavorless. There's not much going on. But by adding that one light shooting into the lens, we added this lens flare, and it just gave it that little extra punch of what needed to happen. So, sometimes I'll use a light and I'm just shining it straight into the lens. Like, it was J.J. Abrams, right? That's the guy that does that all the time. So, that's how that was lit. So, I didn't wanna pass up, after seeing this shot for so long, that we have this stuff- Okay, we're gonna do a demo and we're gonna have Alexis come back out, and really what we're gonna do, we have about 15 minutes, a little bit less. And what I wanna do is, we're going to talk about color and light, cause we have a little bit of time to do this. And if you'll have a seat right there. We're gonna shoot this with natural light, and we're gonna need to kill this light right here so we can make this work. And the reason we're using constant lighting, by the way, instead of strobes right now, is I want us to think about how the light looks and how we can shape it without being caught up in- "How are you triggering that? And what sync speed? And how are you metering it?" And all that kinda stuff that we're gonna get to. We just wanna look at light, just light. So forget about all that other stuff, metering and all those types of things. I'm sorry, here it goes. Ahhh, take it. Okay. So, yeah, this is gonna be pretty crazy. So what we're using here- and we're gonna have you look straight forward this way, cool. What I'm gonna do here is I'm going to build this- in fact, I'm gonna use even a smaller light. I'm gonna hand you these, here you go. I'm gonna use even a smaller light, cause I want this light to be even punchier, even punchier. Yeah, can you plug that in for me? I'm sorry to do this to you. These lights are very, very bright; very bright. Okay. Do you want me to see if we can find you the fusion panel? No, we're gonna use the soft box in a second, yeah. Okay, so this is very, very punchy light. And I'm gonna move it to the side so we have nice contrast. Here we go. And later we're gonna learn that this is called closed loop lighting, There we go. I'm gonna feather that just a bit. Okay, yeah cool! Okay. Is your hair on fire yet? No? I'm blind. ♪ My hair is on fire! ♪ Alright, so we're gonna shoot this tethered, and let's make sure we're all good to go. Is this all good? Yeah, alright. So, we're gonna do a portrait here, and I am shooting this with an aperture value of 2.8, I'm just using my built in meter, and- the lens cap is on I saw. And we're gonna zoom this in. There we go. See how good the camera does, alright. So, here's the image that we're gonna see. I'm gonna have you hold this. Got it. Thank you. And here's the image that came up. Watch what happens when we convert this, so this is color, this color temperature, we will need to just fix that in a little bit. But all I'm gonna do with this image is I'm gonna take it from color to black and white. In fact, I'm gonna create a virtual copy, really fast, so we can do that. So, I'm gonna go here, convert this to black and white. I'll increase the contrast just a bit. Alright, so let's look at these two images side by side, and what you'll see is that this image, in black and white, looks pretty good, right? And so, the color image, bleh! We don't really like that, it just feels- it's really orange, it's not so good. But as soon as we make that go to black and white, it's so much better and this monitor over here is not too contrasty, so the blacks aren't (inaudible). So much I need to teach you about, and I'm like- "Oh, we have to talk about the black point cause that's not set right." But the quick demo is converting that to black and white can save our bacon when we do that. Now what we're gonna do is we're going to take this similar setup, so John, let's get that soft box back on here. We're gonna do almost the same lighting, but what we're going to do is we're going to use a small soft box on here. And what this soft box is doing, by the way, is the light is coming through here, and it's hitting a couple of diffusion panels, and so it travels through this, when it hits this, there are a couple things that are happening. It's gonna spread the light all over the place. It also takes the light from a small light source to a much larger light source, so our effective size gets larger. And then, also because this has walls to it, it's keeping light from spilling all over the place. And we're gonna later learn the difference between an umbrella and a soft box, and one of the big differences is these walls and how we can control the light. And so that gives us nice directional light. Okay, so I'm gonna throw this in here, and also, the thing that I'm doing is I'm gonna try to keep this as a vertical soft box instead of horizontal. So some soft boxes are not square and they can be horizontal or vertical and you can get different looks based on how you position that. So we're gonna blind Lex again, bam! Awesome, okay, raise this up just a bit. Bring it in nice and close, it's pretty cool. Alright, let's have this camera really fast. Got it? Thank you. Yeah we're gonna go in here and I'm gonna set my white balance really fast, just so I have that. There we go, okay. Lex is gonna look beautiful as she always does. There we go, have that. Thank you. And this here, it looks like our metering was just a little off, there we go. Alright, so now let's take a look at soft light versus hard light, side by side. So you see that soft light, in color, looks much better than the hard light. So, if we- we'll convert this soft light to black and white as well. So we'll take this guy, we're gonna create a virtual copy just so you can see that. Then I'm going to do the exact same conversion, really fast. Sync settings? Yeah, synchronize everything. And now look at the difference between- the soft light and the hard light, for contrast. So for black and white, the punchy light will generally look better. I would do some other things with that hard light to position it a little bit better. But you can see the difference. That hard light gives us higher contrast, a much more pleasing black and white image, than the soft light. So that's the difference. Okay, any questions on that? There was a question that came in from Miss Jen Cohen who said, "Can you speak about the shadow her lips are creating on the right side of her face? And do you edit that out or keep it?" Let's see if we can figure out which shadow she's talking about. So, you guys can help me vote. So, do you know if it's the color or black and white image that she's talking about? We can ask her. Miss Jen can you tell us if it's color or black and white, that you're asking about? Yeah, and which shadow? Is it the shadow- this shadow here? Or is it- I don't know which shadow she's talking about. Okay, the color, she said color. On the color, okay, let me actually bring up the color image so we can see that. Okay, oh, yeah! So it's this shadow right here. Yes. Would you edit that out or would you leave that there? No, I wouldn't edit that out. And what I would do is I would change the position of my light so that that is less noticeable. That's what I would do. And on this, for whatever reason, it looks- it's weird. Cause that shadow, it looks almost like a birthmark or a growth or something which Lex does not have. (laughs) So, yeah, so let's have you look straight forward. So what I would do, and let's have this camera be the camera is if I'm seeing some kind of problem there, what I can do- and this is the issue with side light, is if you bring something to the side, it augments any kind of shape on the face, any kind of- the lip shadows, whatever. If I bring this more on axis, and what I would probably do with this, is bring it on axis, and I would actually stick my camera up underneath that, and then we can minimize any kind of shadows being cast by lips. And so, yeah, I would do something like that. So, that's how I'd fix that. Just change the position of light. And that's, you know what I was talking about earlier, you know, Lex has got great skin, but let's pretend that she didn't, we would not want a light from the side because if we did, we would have a big issue. The other thing I could do, is I could light from the other side, a light from this side. And then you'll notice that she has different shadows on that other side of her face because- she has a crooked smile, and so, that creates- people have different facial structures. I'm gonna talk about your face just for a second. So I've worked with Alexis a lot. Okay, we've worked together for a long time. One of the things that's a little bit different on- and every person has this, so I'm not just picking on Lex, every person has this. But, we'll see, this cheekbone on Lex is a little bit higher and broader than this cheekbone. They are not the same size. And everybody has something like that. If you try this, just take any portrait you have of somebody looking straight forward, go into Photoshop, slice it down the middle, and put the rights together and the lefts together and you will be shocked at how asymmetrical people's faces are. They're very, very asymmetrical and that's what makes us unique. If you have someone that has a really, really symmetrical face, they're usually movie stars. But Lex has a pretty darn symmetrical face, but yeah, even with a beautiful face like this, you still have differences in cheekbones and stuff. And you take a picture of yourself and you'll see, Cause you think your face is the same on both sides, it is not. So my girlfriends and I did that, Mark, and it was scary. It is scary! Yeah. It was like the America's Most Wanted on one side, and then- and also, one side of your face is very feminine and the other side is masculine. So you look more like a man in one, and you look more like a woman in the other. It's true. It's very weird. And we were doing a demo for a product for, it seemed like forever, for a long time, and we would have to travel and do these trade shows and stuff, and the shots had to be on profile. We had to do these profile shots over and over. And so we actually were in the studio, and we did a bunch of test shots from both sides of her face to figure out which side looked better based on the light so, am I okay to tell everybody that? Sure, it's too late now! (Mark laughs) Too late now! But yeah, so the moral of the story is, when you're doing portrait photography, and if you're lighting from one side and you see some shadows that are problematic, more of the solutions is just move the light to the other side of their face. And a lot of times, it just solves that problem. It's very, very interesting. Okay, or just do- we're gonna learn something called butterfly lighting. You can get away with anything with butterfly lighting. So, it sort of- you'll see it. Mark that brings up a great question from Simone in NYC, if you're getting hot spots on the skin, is it better to move the light or control your settings in the camera? Alright, hot spots on the skin are not gonna be affected by settings in the camera. You're not gonna get rid of hot spots on skin by changing exposure- you're just gonna get wacky exposures. Cause if you get a highlight here, and it's all glowy, I don't know what you could possibly do in the camera to make that go away except for maybe underexposing and then everything is gonna be underexposed and that won't work. So, there are two things that you can do. One, is you can change the light modifier, so, I'm sorry, I'm frying you. I'm realizing I'm gonna make you all sweaty. I guess we can turn this light back on, too. So yeah, you can change your light modifier and in product photography, to minimize specular highlights, to minimize glare, there's a technique called double or triple diffusion. And so normally, what happpens is when you're lighting something that's very very shiny, they'll have a translucent panel, translucent sheet of something on a frame, called a diffusion panel, and that will be over the shiny product. And then there sometimes is another translucent sheet, and then behind that there's usually a huge soft box. And to get specular highlights to go away, the key is to get the biggest possible light source, the most diffused possible. And what that does is it- instead of having a very, very small specular highlight, like the dot in the eye, or a really shiny thing on a piece of chrome, what you get is that reflection because the source of light is getting larger and larger, it spreads out over the entire surface, and essentially disappears. So, on a person, if they have glowing heads, like me, it's nicer to have larger light sources. Or, and the best solution for this, hands down, get a makeup artist. And a makeup artist is gonna do the right thing to treat the skin, to minimize that. For years, I used to have this person who would come out and put powder on my head, and then I finally am like, "I'm old, forget it. Just let me be shiny." But yeah, treating the skin is the way to go. And in a pinch, here's a little theater trick for you, if you have somebody that has greasy skin and they're really shiny, go into the public restroom and get the toilet seat cover, and that will remove the oil from somebody's face. And so, I've seen a lot of photo shoots, and this is- I used to work in theater, and actors would just travel with toilet seat covers because it's the same stuff that you get, I don't know what it's called but there's some stuff that you can get to take- Clay pads. Yeah, clay pads? [Woman in Audience] Blotting papers. Yeah, there's like these blotting papers, but you can just get toilet seat covers, it's the same thing and it's a lot cheaper. Free. Yeah, or free. It works, and so, blot with toilet seat cover things. And it's really funny cause the first time you see somebody doing that you're like, "What are they doing?" But, I don't know, it works. And I wanna know who the first person was that figured that one out. (audience laughs) Hmm... Anyway, I don't know what the thought process was. What other questions do we have? Alright, well we have so many great questions coming in, I just wanna let everyone know that we have so much content to get to in the next three days, so if we're not getting to your question right away, I am sure it will be covered, so just hang in there. I had another question that came in from Miss Jen Cohen who said, "Are the rules for shapes of shadows and highlights on faces? I often see a nice cheek triangle in fashion photography. Is that a style or a rule to generally follow?" It is a rule, it's called Rembrandt lighting, or closed loop lighting. We're gonna do that today, we're gonna learn about closed loop, open loop, butterfly, all these different types of lighting styles. And it doesn't just come from portrait photography, it actually came from art and the Dutch painters. So look at Rembrandt and those guys and you'll see all of these different styles of lighting. It's called Rembrandt light because Rembrandt used to paint in this really small room and he had this small window that was really high and it would just cast these shadows and it cast a little triangle of light and so, because of his paintings, we get this thing. So yeah, there are definitely rules to different styles of lighting and shadows and how we handle all that. And we're gonna learn all that. And there's same rules and styles for scenic photography and product photography and art and all that kind of stuff but since I'm a portrait photographer, we're gonna talk about that. Before I forget, specific to scenic photography, and that is, don't forget about the position of light for scenic photography. So if you're shooting the Grand Tetons, let's say, or Mount Everest, or Mount Rainier, or any of those types of things, the time of day, the season... is going to make or break your photo. So we can't change the position of the sun, right, we can't do that, we can't move it around, but what we can do, is we can shoot our photos based on where we want the position of the sun to be at a certain time. So, we're gonna learn about the Golden Hour, but if you wanna have a really nice, high contrast, black and white images, you need to have a day when it's not overcast. You're gonna need to shoot at the time of day when the sun is low in the sky so it's very directional and casts large shadows. And you're gonna want to shoot at the time of the year that the sun is at the right place in the sky. And so, a lot of the amazing scenic photographers, they actually plan where they're shooting based on the position of the sun during that time of year. And so, you might have somebody that's like, "I'm gonna shoot the Tetons, but the light is not gonna be right until March, and at six am," or something like that. We're gonna talk more about scenic photography and the position of the sun and (inaudible) and all that kinda stuff, later. But I just have to remind everybody that position of light in scenic photography is just as important as position of light in a studio, but we have to react to it, we can't make it.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers. 

The success of every photographer — artistically and professionally — is based on a strong understanding of how light works. Join photographer Mark Wallace for a three-day course that will demystify the fundamentals of lighting and give you the concrete skills you need to get a powerful image using the right lighting every time you shoot.

Mark will cover everything you need to know about hard, soft, directional, and diffused light. You’ll learn about reading natural light and manipulating it with tools like reflectors and diffusion panels. Mark will also guide you through working with light in a studio environment. You’ll explore using basic studio lights to manipulate and shape light and working with strobes and speedlights. You’ll also learn about shooting on-location and how to balance shape, and color ambient light and light from a flash.

By the end of this course, you’ll be equipped with a whole new understanding of light that will help you to shoot more efficiently, capture consistently well-lit images, and reach new creative heights as a photographer.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Presentation 1

Presentation 2

Presentation 3

Zone Lighting Basic Setup

Gear List

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Claudia Ochsner

This is an excellent course. I recommend this course to every photographer, of any level who want to put money into lighting stuff. Mark Wallace has a gift to teach and to truly enlighten his audience about complex issues in photography. The money for this course is well spent, the time is more valuable than hanging around in forums and ask questions to others who don't have a clue as well. The products used ( partly promoted ) are very "American" - I have to say that as Swiss. Because you know there are two other brands which could compete at the top level of studio lights as well. Just kidding - But seriously - many thanks to Mark, John, Lex ( Gosh - you are so beautiful ) , CL and their team to help me to reach out for a new level in my photography. I am now going to push my boundaries, well knowing that understanding light is science, but for sure not rocket science.

Rose-Marie Gallagher

This was an outstanding course! Mark presented TONS of quality information, starting at the very basic concepts and working up from there. He is interesting to listen to and very understandable. Great examples that expand the learning. Highly recommended! Thanks for bringing Mark's class to CL...I hope there will be more.

a Creativelive Student

This is probably the first Creative Live course I have purchased that I've watched in its entirety. Every single solitary video. I feel so strongly about Mark's teaching ability that this is also the very time I have written a review. I first came across Mark Wallace on Adorama TV. Interesting and so knowledgeable. So I explored and found other tutorials by Mark on Pocket Wizard. So when Creative Live offered this three day course - I bought it without hesitation. Mark makes the difficult - easy to comprehend and the un-understandable - understandable. I have learned so much from him and I haven't even met the guy! There are so many questions I'd like to ask - that doesn't mean that the videos were lacking in any respect. Rather, time constraints prevented Mark from covering topics he wanted to cover. I am definitely going to purchase the original Mark Wallace Creative Live course on Speedlights. I am also voting for a course: "28 days with Mark Wallace," so that we can tap into his genius with Lighting. How about it Creative Live? Bravo Mark - a very successful course. I am looking forward to the next one.