The Photographers Code

Photography Education From Grinke Creative

Seeing Light


I am a member of a networking group and part of what we do is give short presentations about our business. We do this so that other members of the group can have a better understanding of what it is that we do. The other day I sat down at my computer and started putting together my next presentation. As is typical, I began by opening my slide presentation program and putting in information. I started talking about how much a session cost, how long it would take, how many files you could get, and all that other left brain stuff that business owners find important. But something was nagging at me.

I wanted to show what I actually do, and that is work with light, light modifiers, and a camera to create portraits of people. So that is what I decided I was going to do. I was going to show the members of the group how I take my portraits and the results of the sessions. A little hard to do in a 4 minute presentation. So, I decided to create a few presentations that worked in sequence to show what I actually do.  The first presentation was about seeing the light.

As a professional photographer, it is my job to be able to walk into a situation and create portraits of a consistent level or quality. This means being able to quickly evaluate the situation and with the tools I have, create a portrait.

The first thing I look for is the light. Light is my most important tool. Yes, a camera capable of taking quality captures is important, but it does not do you much good if the lighting in the image does not work. The next thing I look at is how can I manipulate the light to create the lighting I want for my subject. Sometimes it exists in the room, sometimes I need to use reflectors and flashes.

For most of the demonstrations I took along a Canon 6D camera with a 24-105 lens and two reflectors and a portable flash. Since all the meetings were during the day, I was able to use window light as my primary light source. The reflectors were used to put light back into the shadow areas when necessary.

See the light 04
Poorly light

The first shot I took at each session was an example of bad lighting. Either a backlight situation where the subject came out silhouetted or a very harsh, top down sort of light that was not very attractive at all. I then use the same person in the same spot but moved them so that I could create lighting that was more flattering to the subject. Here are the before and afters of three of those sessions. Remember that each of these shots (both before and after), were done in less than three minutes.


See the light 02See the light 03See the light 01

Captured with iPhone 4s

One session was a great challenge. I was not expecting to do a presentation, but when asked, I agreed. There were no real windows in the place and all the lighting was overhead spots. My solution was to use the light coming from the presentation projector as it was reflected off the screen. There were a number of technical challenges here because of the colour  and the low intensity of the light, but it gave the type of side lighting that I was looking for. The ambient light was bright enough so I used that as fill. My only capture device was a a 3 generations old iPhone, so thats what I used. The limitations of the capture device leave something to be desired, especially when working in low light situations like this, but I also believe that it is better to leave with a less than perfect image than no image at all. I left that session with a usable image.

Being a professional photographer is about being able to get consistent results. To do that, you need to know your camera inside and out. You also need to know lighting. Without a solid foundation in lighting skills, you cannot get consistent results.

Learn to see the light.

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