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Shedding Light on Lighting

Updated: Oct 11, 2020

As a photography perfectionist, one of my biggest pet peeves is lighting. Why? Because I can have the best styling in the world, but if the photo is too dark, or too shadowed, or too bright that the details are blown out, it’s completely unusable. Too often, when looking at delivered products from pseudo-professional photographers, I’m seeing uneven lighting, harsh shadows, harsh lighting, glare, under or over-exposed images, or just unflattering layouts of dishes.

It’s always frustrating knowing that there are other professionals who just aren’t using their tools to their best advantage. I don’t mean for this to be a bash-session on the “competition,” but I want customers to think about not only the service they are booking, but also the quality they should expect in return for their hard-earned money. A white object does not need to have the corner of the item blown out or blending into a light background. A dark object doesn’t need to be consumed with shadow. Lighting can be complimentary and also even, providing both contrast and highlighting the most important parts of a product.

Not only is this important with food and product photography, but also portraits. A corporate headshot should have contrast and evoke emotion. It should not look flat, even for female photos. You should expect, as a male, side lighting with a kicker or reflector on the opposite side, possibly even a light over your opposing shoulder to separate you from the background. You should, as a female, expect a bit softer lighting, often presenting in the form of what we call in the industry as a clam-shell (a light above you directly over the camera, and either a reflector or another flash almost in your lap. These are the most complimentary lighting situations for a headshot, and will give you a great quality photo. Often times, I see men with their entire face lit evenly, their suits blending into the background, and no contrast whatsoever. I see women with lighting designed to show off a harsh jaw-line of a male form, or with harsh light that is not complimentary to the make-up so carefully applied just pre-photo shoot.

Lighting is very important in photography, as are a number of other elements. Composition, post-photo processing, and image correction can also make or break a photo, and are topics I will get into soon. Second to lighting, blemish and color correction for portraits, and out-of-place items left in food photos are my next pet peeves. Stay tuned to hear more about what to expect with these.

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