Stories By Light | Lighting Setups That Set You Apart with Karen Bagley
A huge part of what we do as photographers is nothing more than capturing different subjects by means of all sorts of unique light sources. Manipulating light by means of different modifiers, playing with shadows, using ambient light, off-camera flash, strobes, constant light, gels. Even painting with light is another unique story through light… Truly, the options are endless and how we go about telling our own unique stories by ways of unique light is just what we need to set ourselves apart from the rest. But just because the options are endless, it DOES NOT mean it has to be complicated. If you know me, you know that 90 percent of my sessions are done with ONE light and ONE light only. However, when I have a particular vision that requires unique lighting setups, I make it “happen, captain” but they are still simple setups—setups that tell a new story and add a new view to what you are photographing, again leading the way to stand out from the crowd.
We all know photography comes down to how we use our light. How we can master using what we have and learning to control it, and more importantly, knowing how to produce what is in our head with the light we have available to us. I started as many do, using natural light, then moved to speedlights, then an Einstein strobe, and eventually Profoto strobes. I am also an underwater photographer and when I first started in that field, I made my own “off camera” constant lights from PVC pipe, plexiglass, a hot glue gun, rubber cap and LED flashlights from Lowe’s. The first few years of my career as a photographer were genuinely playing with light, and that’s what I did. You can’t truly understand the power of light until you learn, aka “PLAY” with all forms.
For the sake of this particular article though, let’s focus on ways that we can use very simple setups to create unique stories with light. One of my favorite dramatic, yet SUPER simple setups is split light. Split light, just like it sounds, is where your light source is only lighting half of your subject. Depending on the modifier, it will alter how harsh the light is, how much light “bleeds” or will cast off of your subject. As an example, you can see my black and white maternity image with mama in the white gown. Here I used a 4-foot strip box directly in front of my subject and the light cast allowed parts of her gown to be highlighted behind her. Many shy away from harsher lighting, but it’s a unique view to embrace even in a field that is typically photographed in a softer light. In fact, I encourage flipping the script and using this light when people least expect to see it. And it’s easy to execute!