If using natural light was the answer for a professional photographer, you wouldn’t find me lugging around 30 kilogrammes of lighting equipment on the London Underground travelling to photo-shoots.
As a trick of the trade, the truth is that lighting makes the biggest difference between an amateur’s photographs versus a professional’s. The difference is far greater than the make of camera body or lens. If I was asked to put a number on it, I’d say great pictures are about 80% the result of a professional lighting rig, and the rest is down to the camera, lens and the photographer’s experience and talent.
Don’t get me wrong. Good cameras and lenses are important. If you’ve read previous Bytes, you’ll know my love of Leica equipment borders on the obsessional. But without my portable (ahem!) Elinchrom lighting rig, the images would inevitably disappoint clients. The light it produces wraps completely around the subject’s face, creating softer, kinder images. In some ways the effects are counter-intuitive. You’d think that extra light would reveal more of a subject’s flaws in skin tone. But it has the opposite effect. The light actually conceals and flatters, and that’s why it’s worth the half hour it takes me set up my lights ahead of a shoot.
More than this, lights create a sense of occasion, a bit of a wow factor if you will. At a corporate photo-shoot, the CEO or director, on seeing the lighting set up, suddenly gives the session their full focus and attention. Just as importantly, it also leads to an efficient use of their time, because I know I can have the shots I need in a few minutes rather than clicking away at the shutter for much longer in the hope of the right shot.
Professional lighting also produces repeatable images that not only look super soft, but also have consistent colour tones in every shot. Natural light, in contrast, will vary as the sun goes in and out and the contrast will change from very low on cloudy days to far too high on a sunny day. My lighting rig ensures a soft envelope of light every single time, no matter what time of day or what sort of room is used for shooting. And the reason this matters is that we end up with pleasingly uniform images that are ideal for company websites, marketing literature or social media avatars.
And there are benefits for me too, because lugging so much lighting kit back and forth means I am spared having to join a gym to stay fit.