16 Feb 2013

Introduction to lighting in photography - a workshop scenario

Today I had opportunity to organize and conduct a workshop about photography for the students of the Polish school in the Hague. It was a second workshop given for more or less the same group as the first one.
Since it was a continuation of main topic, which is "Basics of photography" I took the chance to explain the basics of lighting and some techniques used to play with light.
The workshop was divided in three parts: theoretical introduction, practical session, constructive critique and selection of the best photos.
While preparing the workshop I was thinking about a theme of the practical session; it should be interesting for the children, but on the other hand it should give the possibility of learning new aspects of photography. I decided to choose a "Profile photo" as a main topic of the workshop. Main motivation was driven by several aspects:
1. Taking a profile photo of a school mate is fun both for a photographer and a model being photographed
2. Seeing how the light falls on a face of a model is very inspirational and instructive
3. Taking a photo of a school mate implies working in pairs which gives everyone an opportunity to play both roles (a photographer and a model) and keep the session interactive.

Before the session some theoretical background was given in a form of a computer presentation and some simple experiments with a photo camera.
First of all several examples of the same scene lit by different light sources was presented. Just to show how powerful the light manipulation can be.
Then the dynamic range limitations of a digital camera were explained. The exercise was simple yet convincing. I let one of the students sit by the window (lit by the diffuse daylight), facing the rest of the class. I asked the rest to look at the student and describe what they see. They could recognize facial details of the student but also the details in the background (i.e. the view outside window). Then I took the picture of the scene, from the same viewpoint as the class. And yes, while the model was properly lit, background was heavily overexposed. After exposing for the background, I got the subject dark (every photographer knows it, but it was not obvious for most of the children).
One technical note here: to make quick illustrations I have used Lightroom in tethered mode, so the photos that I took were immediately visible on the screen.
The message at the end of exercise was twofold: first, it showed that even very good cameras cannot render the whole dynamic range as good as a combination of our brain and eyes. Second, it is possible to tweak camera settings (or manipulate light) to overcome the limitations.
Then an explanation of aperture, shutter and ISO was given. To simplify things I have made a schematic picture of a camera (showing lens, aperture, shutter, sensor) and explained how the light travels through the camera. Then I have shown effects of both settings by taking some images with varying shutter speeds and apertures.
Next I have introduced the term of exposure and explained that most of the cameras have the options to influence it even simpler than manipulating the aperture and/or shutter speed.
Then I have explained depth of field and how the aperture influences it.
After this introduction students were asked to look at their cameras and discover how to set the aperture or shutter speed (or exposure in general) in their cameras. When needed I helped them to find the settings.
Finally I have shown my own approach of taking a portrait photo. I emphasized the role of proper composition, role of light to make the subject the most dominant element of a photo. Finally I have shown how to use simple light modifiers like a reflector.

Thereafter students started to shoot the photos. Some of them went outside the class looking for the proper location. Apparently they had a lot of fun.

During the critique part we have looked together at the taken photos. I let the students talk about their photos and explain why they like the photo (and why not). I have also encouraged them to think about what they would do different in case they didn't like the photos.
At the end everyone was able to select at least one photo that was accepted by the photographed model as the profile photo.

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