Lighting Teardown – Computer in Black Room

Lighting Teardown – Computer in Black Room

A question I posed to Facebook users back in October – How many lights were used in the photograph above? Extra bonus points for taking a stab at light modifiers used on said number of lights.

I created this photo strictly as a visual aid for an article I wrote back in October as well (click here for that post). Taking the little side project further, I was curious to see if anyone following me on Facebook would get close to the light setup used to make the photo. I would have to say Justin was the closest guess, as he went into some pretty good detail on lighting position.

Reproduction of the “real” world is a funny thing in the photo and video field. I guess we have commercial photography and the movie industry to thank for our completely unrealistic view on reality nowadays. What I mean by that, is that artificially lighting most setups as if it were 100% replicating a natural occurrence flat-out looks bad in a final photograph. Walking around in real life, we see things, accept them as beautiful, and we appreciate them and go on with life. However… when it comes to looking at a photograph that was done well, in respect to holding true to artificially re-creating only natural forms of light found in the world, we get REALLY picky. “Oh, I don’t like how that person’s head isn’t edged-out by backlighting and cannot be made-out from the background, ” or “the shadows are not filled-in enough for me.” We don’t know what “natural” even looks like anymore. It’s true, and a comment on the Facebook photo proves it, with a user guessing that only light from the computer screen is lighting this entire photo (not their fault, this is the general public’s view of light and what they are exposed to with every photo and video professional produced). And with today’s overstimulating, commercialized, uber marketing online world, we demand to see the “real world” in a not-so-real situation with perfect beauty lighting on faces, proper rim lighting, and fans blowing a models hair back… now that’s REAL life (I kid)! Every once in a while, we photographers can get away with a “natural” lighting approach, and get away with a people pleasing photo, but not often. We usually have to cleverly light it to ensure all of the visuals in a composition are well-lit for proper attention and detail.

The same holds true with the photo above, the concept of a stressed-out photographer editing for hours on-end in a dark room. If only the computer screen alone was illuminating the subject (the natural light source) this would be a HORRIBLE photograph, and I mean bad. It is what we are portraying (just the computer screen lighting the room), but all of the little things you see in the photos would not only be hard to see, they’d be invisible. I’m talking the camera and memory cards (objects establishing a photographer), the table, and even the majority of the head and arms of the subject… they’d all be black and not recognizable. Without an added “unnatural” lighting approach to this seemingly “natural” photograph, you’d flat-out say this is the worst photo ever of a person sitting in front of their computer. I’d show you an example, but I knew going-in that it would be a waste of time, so my setup from the get-go was executing an unnatural approach for a pleasing look. Your eyes process the idea – girl working on computer. Your mind completely disregards what it took to properly light the remaining elements of the photograph, but your mind just accepts that it can see all of these details which are required to fully form the idea of what you are looking at. Without the added lighting your mind wouldn’t really know what you are looking at, and it would then pickup something is wrong, “hey, what’s going on in this photo, I just see a faint face and that’s it.” But with the unnatural lighting, your mind maintains an unaware state, “hey, a photographer working on a computer.” It’s interesting, right? Of course, I’m speaking for the public in general, as other photographers who observe light know right away that this is a completely unnatural pattern of light (hopefully the reason they are photographers).

So, let’s get to the answer shall we? There are 5 flash lighting units in this photograph.

  1. Light 1 – High and right of camera, with 10 degree grid, lighting camera and memory cards.
  2. Light 2 – Camera left, striking right edge of subject, 20 degree grid dish, edging out subject’s right arm, hair, and right edge of table.
  3. Light 3 – Center of camera behind subject, 30 degree grid dish, lighting back of hair and table.
  4. Light 4 – Camera right, 20 degree grid dish, striking left edge of subject and table.
  5. Light 5 – Hot shoe flash sitting on laptop keyboard, pointed at screen, white piece of paper taped to screen for bounce, lighting front of subject.

This photograph is also a good example of light control. In order to keep the room black, grids were needed on all of the lights, narrowing the spill of light around the room. All lights are what we’d consider “hard” lighting, with no modifiers to soften the light, all with standard reflector dishes and grid inserts. Without narrow grids to focus the light, the entire room would be visible (this was shot in my kitchen), and light would be bouncing off of every wall in the room. Any fool can setup a light and pop it off, a smarter fool can control it to serve a specific look and feel.

More to come on all things photography…