Underlight As Accent, For Power and The Main Light for Photography

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Underlight photography

Underlighting, in which fill or accent light comes from
under the topic, is not widely used technique in the traditional
Portraits, even though it will have its place. for
Beauty and glamor of the work, there are many cases
when under light Extras will zip be a welcome addition
Your images.

There are a couple of details you should be aware of when lighting from below:

  • Underlight must be brighter than the main light; otherwise, it’s just fill light.
  • The underlight should never be the main light on a face unless you’re going for the “bad horror movie” look. Instead, let the light “kiss” the face in areas that are not overly important to the physicality of the model such as the edges of the mouth, nose, and forehead.
  • Watch all up-shadows. Angle your lights so shadows falling on the body are minimal, if they are there at all.
  • Follow the usual guidelines for main light placement. Make sure the nose shadow follows the line of the cheek in a graceful and attractive manner.

Underlight As Accent

There’s one significant problem with underlighting: because the light needs to be brighter than the key, you have to pay attention to how it affects the underside of your client’s throat, nose, and eye sockets. Further, underlight can throw a shadow up from your subject’s upper lip. You’ll have to look carefully and tweak the position of the light(s) or the pose of the subject to minimize these problems. Note that none of these problems are deal breakers. Upwardly directed light can be sexy and sultry just because it’s different and unexpected; you’ll just need to change the problems this light presents into assets that benefit your vision.

Just putting a light on the floor may not allow for enough light-to-subject distance to get the desired depth of light. In other words, the subject needs to be positioned so as to avoid rapid falloff of the light.

For my first set, I began by building a “stage” out of a sheet of 4×8-foot plywood that had been placed on three metal sawhorses, 30 inches above the floor. This is where the model would stand.

In front of the stage and on the floor, I set two strip lights in a wide V pattern, propping them up on sandbags to aim the light properly, about 2 feet from the left and right corners. A medium softbox was placed at camera right, over the strip light on the floor, and aimed at where the model would be standing. Additional lights included a beauty bowl with a grid and a strobe with a 20 degree grid set under the stage and aimed at the canvas background. See diagram 13A.

The two strip lights were powered to 1/3 stop over the key, as was the background light. The strength of each of the strip lights was metered at the model’s shoulders, allowing the light below the meter-mark to be brighter. The background light was metered at the hot spot.

 Underlight complicated setup

This was a complicated setup, but the result (image 13.1) was worth the effort. The light contoured the model differently than one would expect, while the height of the model (relative to the floor) allowed the light to do its job.

the background light

I had a minor flash of insight as my first set came to a close. While the model was in the changing room, I moved the two strip lights from the sandbags they’d been leaning on and clamped the edges of the softboxes to the sides of the stage itself. This meant that I’d lose a lot of the light’s power because it was now aimed straight up, but it also meant that the light, now coming from an angle perpendicular to the camera, would soften some of the effects of light placed almost directly below the subject. Also, the light would be more even at the bottom of the image because most of it was shooting straight up. This time, however, I metered the strip lights at her waist, producing a hard hit at her elbow while allowing a soft kiss of underlight on her face. You just gotta love it! See image 13.2.

soft kiss of underlight

Underlight For Power

For an extremely dynamic look, ring your subject from behind and below with strong, gridspots.

Using the same platform as in the previous example, I first set a large softbox slightly to camera right, about 5 feet from the model. This would be my main light.

To camera left, I placed a white bookend to bounce light back into the shadow side. The bookend was snugged up, closer to the model, to bounce a strong fill.

I set two strobes, fitted with 30 degree grids, on the floor and aimed them up to the model from each side. They were placed close to the platform to get a dramatic upward sweep and were powered 1 full stop over the main light to blow out detail and create perfectly white highlights over most of the area they would hit. An additional light, a beauty bowl with a 25 degree grid, was set on a boom above, but within 2 feet of the model, and powered to 1/3 stop over the main light as measured at the shoulder. Taking the meter reading from the shoulder meant the strength of the light on the top of her head would be stronger than +1/3. See diagram 13B.

top of her head would be stronger

The final image (13.3), with strong, upward sidelight, features impressively strong highlights. Shapeconforming light like this lends a feeling of aggression, a dynamic of strength, to the image that’s not achievable with softer light.

Underlight As The Main Light

The keys to good glass bead photography are focus, exposure, diffuse lighting, and in some special cases underlighting.  It is worth getting your camera’s manual out to find out how to put the camera in “spot focus” mode.  The normal focus mode of most digital cameras is some sort of average focus mode.  That means that the camera will try to look at an area and base the focus on an area of what it sees.  It’s better for close up photography to put the camera into spot focus mode, this will allow you to see exactly what the camera will  be focusing on. Getting the camera to focus properly on the beads entails some effort, but the results should be worth it. A final word on focus.  The above steps assume that you are using your camera’s auto focus feature.

A couple of words about tripods and product photography. Use one. As you get closer to an object any motion of the camera is greatly magnified.  Even a surgeon probably doesn’t  have hands steady enough to take a good product photo without using a tripod.  A sturdy tripod is essential for sharp images.

We mentioned above that the other key to some glass bead photography is the under lighting.  The Illuminated flat panel we chose to use for our underlighting, matches the 5000k daylight color of the ShortEZ lightset we used. Whatever lights you choose, it is critical that the color temperature of all your lighting matches. The illuminated flat panel is not necessary for most product photography, and will do little or nothing at all for most. However for translucent glass with the right degree of transparency, the underlighting can give you almost magical results, highlighting inner glass details that would otherwise go unnoticed.

This technique will work best if your model angles her head down, toward the underlight.

I began by setting my HiLite background behind where my model would be standing. In a bit of reverse engineering, I powered up the HiLite first, to a perfect f/16. This meant that my main light, a combination of two lights, would need to equal f/11 so the background would overexpose by 1 stop.

The HiLite is a very large softbox, lit by strobes that are inserted into its sides. It produces a very even light over its entire surface and is used to create a white background with light that wraps around the sides of a subject. You might also try using a large softbox, or perhaps something like an Octobank, to get a similar look. See image 13.4.

Camera large softbox

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After my target f-stop had been established, I set a 2×2-foot softbox on a short stand on the floor, aiming it up to my model’s face. The effect wasn’t particularly unattractive, but it did have a bit of a bad horror movie look to it. I metered for the correct f-stop, a –1/3 f-stop of f/10.Why f/10? As just one more affirmation of the fact that the effects of light are cumulative. I knew that when I added the next light, the combination of the two could easily be tweaked to f/11, the target aperture. See image 13.5.

effects of light are cumulative

Next, I set a light with an umbrella above where my camera would be. I’d turned off the underlight in order to correctly gauge the power of this light, which would act as general fill. Having the model look directly at the camera, and setting the light for a correct shadow, meant she could move to almost any position and still present a proper and attractive nose shadow. Prior to taking a meter reading, I moved a white bookend to camera right, next to the model, to open the shadows and mitigate the future effect of the underlight. This image (13.6) was made at the metered f-stop, f/8—1 full stop under the target.

By tweaking the power of the umbrella’s strobe, I got the exposure to a perfect f/11. Notice, if you will, that the exposure in image 13.7, while correct and showing detail in all white areas, lacks a certain “snap,” the little extra that would make the image noteworthy. If you look at the top of her head, you’ll probably agree with me that her hair, while holding detail, could look better with a little more life.

I moved an additional strobe and umbrella, mounted on a boom, mostly centered over the back of her head but favoring the right side. I made certain the light was far enough behind the model so as not to throw any additional light on her face, primarily across her nose. Without turning off the other lights, I balanced the new umbrella light to the target f-stop.

Complicated? It sounds like it, but the truth is it took about 15 minutes. When you master the effect (and I hope you do), you have at your disposal one more trick that will set your work apart from that of your competition. See image 13.8.

Note that even though there are lots of lights within this scenario, and each one throws something into the mix, the overall exposure is correct because the meter was calibrated to the camera. With that kind of control, you’ll never need to shoot RAW files to get results like this. See diagram 13C.

calibrated to the camera

Double Main Light And Underlight

I began by setting the two strip lights in their horizontal positions, one over the other and separated by about 3 feet. Each light was independently powered and adjusted until the output was the same, then remetered with both strobes firing. That measurement would be the working f-stop.

My model was posed about 3 feet from the lights. Having her this close meant that a couple of things would happen: the reflections of the lights would be large in her eyes and the lower light would not intrude into the shadow under her chin because her body would block it. I also set a beauty bowl and 25 degree grid on a boom arm over her head, to accent her hair and kick her out of the dark background. This light was powered equal to the other two lights, as measured at the middle of the back of her head, so the top would be only slightly brighter.

The first image (13.9), with all of the lights powered equally, was stunning. There was beautiful light from above, with underlight to fill in shadows under her brow and nose, as well as her hair.

the lights powered equally, was stunning

You can, of course, vary the power of the underlight for a more subtle effect. Image 13.10 was made with the underlight at 1/3 stop less than the upper light. The catchlights in the model’s eyes are still spectacular, as are the reflections on her lipstick, but her face is slightly more contoured than in the previous example.

stop less than the upper light

A wardrobe change to a lighter garment pointed out a potential problem that you may encounter, too. Because she’s so close to the lights, the underlight is stronger where her body gets closer to it. The lighter cloth and the position of her elbows meant a further reduction in power would be necessary to avoid blowing out any detail. I reduced the underlight by another 1/3 stop, now 2/3 stop less than the top light. In image 13.11, the catchlights and reflections are still terrific, and her face is more contoured, but the exposure in the bottom third of the frame is equal to the rest of the image.

the catchlights and reflections are still terrific, and her face is more contoured

Image 13.12 shows what the setup looked like from behind the model. The camera was positioned directly in front of her head.

setup looked like from behind the model

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