Lighting Sets The Mood

Without light there is nothing, A blank void, black hole image. Even with those exotic sensors. (Well except for that new Canon with the 1.5 million ISO) So naturally it is critical for us as photographers to have light. But we need to be picky. Any light will not work for all photographs. It has to be matched to the purpose of the image, your vision.

This is where the snapshot type image is left behind. Not that a snapshot is bad, it has its place, it lets you step into the moment that was as it was.

The real power of photography lies in conveying an emotion, a mood; the depth of the moment. Other devices support the creation of this, but it is the mood of the light that empowers it.

When you consider the message of your image you should consider so many things about the light.

What direction is it coming from? Backlight creates silhouettes, mystery, sometimes energy; like a singer on stage being rimmed in it. Cross light creates texture, reveals age. This light often delivers a gritty dramatic look. It is full of character.  Overhead light creates deep dangerous shadows. It hides faces. Light from below can feel like a theatrical stage light, or from directly below become ghoulish.

What is the quality of the light? Soft light is romantic and forgiving. It wraps around, opening up shadows. Harsh light is medical, mean, blunt light.  It creates graphic shadow lines. It can wash out color even create exaggerated texture. You can make it visible with dust or smoke in the air.

What is the color of the light? This is a language of it’s own. In movies you can see the color palette change, like music, to describe the villains and heroes. You can vary the palette range of color, making it tinted blue or green or rosy. A soft sunset color delights the eye, triggering happy memories. It can change within the image. The yellow glow of a campfire or lamp contrasts with the blue of the cold place outside the ring of safety.

A great example is the movie Unbreakable staring Bruce Willis a the hero and Samuel Jackson the villain. When each character was on screen the whole color palette shifted to “their “ color theme. By the end of the movie the color palletes were saturated, revealing their hero/villain status.

Hollywood has refined the use of color palettes; here is an example of that.

Then what is the saturation of your color? It can be dripping with deep vibrant hues of every item in the image. It can drift towards a tinted color range with only the boldest color reaching in muted fashion to the viewer’s eyes. It can be gone completely, robbing the viewer of any color to support or hide the story in the image.

Then for the very insightful, you can mix the color message to refine and deepen the mood, to tell a richer story.

As photographers our language is really light, selecting her properties carefully rather than accidently. You become lazy if you don’t stop to consider then control all these critical elements of your light.  As you begin to craft how that blank, black rectangle will be filled with light, carefully and with intent, select the qualities of the light you need to create the mood that tells the story.

Mark Laurie map, spa, FellowPPOC
Mark is a photographer, instructor and writer. His 35 yr old Calgary based studio specializes in photographing women. Mark has had his own TV show, written 3 books plus 4 limited edition books. His Revealing Venus experience workshops run out of Italy.