I Want Better Lighting
“If all the world’s a stage I want better lighting.” * I couldn’t agree more with this humorous play on Shakespeare’s words. Most of us look far better under the flattering qualities of soft, diffused, light, positioned at a pleasing angle—along with just the right amount of fill-light—than say, the glare of a harsh spotlight.
The same is true in photography. Lighting can make or break a photograph. I would even go so far as to say that the concept and composition of an image can be superb but if the lighting is suffering, the photograph will have missed the mark.
Case in Point
This example, from the Improving Color + Lighting portfolio gallery, shows that the original photograph was not terribly bad, but it lacked contrast and certainly lent itself to improvement to both the lighting and color balance. My approach to retouching the photo was to envision how I would have handled the lighting had I been the photographer on the shoot. The first step in lighting design is to decide which elements should be emphasized and which elements should be made subordinate.
In re-shaping the lighting, I considered the message of image. I wanted to draw the viewer into the experience of getting a massage—to create visually the feeling of being pampered.
I moved the emphasis away from the front of the massage table by darkening it, and brought emphasis to the hands of the masseuse and the granular texture of the scrub by lightening it. Now, the viewer’s eye is directed towards the most important elements in the image. In “re-lighting” the scene, I had to be sure the lighting looked natural and realistic for the environment. As in any retouching project, the corrections should be undetectable.
View Interactively to Really See the Difference
Visit the Color + Lighting portfolio gallery to view the image larger, and the Before/ After as an interactive rollover. (It’s the last image in the series.)
Pre or Post-Capture Lighting
There are umpteen reasons why a photograph may not have been properly lighted in the first place. The list includes but not limited to: locations with less than ideal available light, space constraints that make it impossible to set-up supplementary lighting, time constraints, setting up lighting would have disruptive the scene.
In addition, not all location photographers travel with studio lighting. Many photographers depend solely on available light and/or on-camera flash. In most shooting situations—and especially in editorial photography—capturing something is better than getting nothing. The underlying criteria for a photographer on any assignment is to bring back something the client can work with—as in the case of the spa image.
Room for Improvement
In most cases, lighting can be improved post-capture. With that said, if you are a photo editor, graphic designer, or art director, the take-away is to remember you do not have to compromise your quality standards if photographs selected for a given project have lighting issues. It is possible to move images to where they need to be for superb reproduction and to more effectively communicate the intended message.
If you are a photographer, the take-away is to know the initial capture is only the beginning of the process. Much can—and is often done—at the production stage to serve the design, message, and reproduction quality of the image.
Consider the Possibilities
Have photographs you would like me to review for possible lighting improvements? Visit the upload file page to submit images for a free, no obligation assessment.
Be sure to visit the Color + Lighting portfolio to see the complete gallery of chromatically rich and luminous Images.
© Martha DiMeo 2013
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The Original Shakespeare Quote
*“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” —William Shakespeare
Tags: lighting, photo editing, retouching