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Learning the light: ask right questions.

What is the best and fastest way to learn photography (and not only photography)?

  • The first way is to watch how the task gets done by a pro and then to try to reproduce something similar yourself.
  • The second (by efficiency and speed) way is to invent your own way to do the shoot, trying different techniques and gear until the desired result is achieved.

Will you agree or is this only me learning like this?

Lets talk about the first way: when you go to a workshop or masterclass to see how the master does his magic:-)Lighting setup, using color gels in product photography

I attended a workshop only once and hosted just a few of them, but it was enough to see how much people are wasting their valuable time (and money) with a photographer they are trying to learn from.

I am talking about questions we ask. Usually we try to ask questions to increase informational value of the master-class or workshop, right?

I so often hear something like this:

What aperture and/or shutter speed is used for the shot? What is the ratio between the light sources? Etc, etc.

People asking for numbers and drawing lighting diagrams in hope they can use them later. (I’ve seen set of lighting diagrams for sale… what a joke!)

Now tell me this: why to ask about exposure settings, if those are applicable only to that particular shot (or even particular camera angle)? A ratio between the lights? If you see the outcome of each shot, there will be a visible difference between the lights, this will give you an idea where is more powerful light. Why do you need the exact f-stop number, if it only works for that particular shot?

The main idea, IMO, is to learn how a photographer uses the lighting. Technique itself is not as important, as you will eventually create your own. Understanding what each light and light modifier is doing to the scene and how each one is affecting the picture is the most important thing to know.
Such knowledge is gained with a lot of experience and time, and this is what you better learn from a master.

Wedding, event or portrait photographer has to know many other things besides the lighting (sometimes those things are even more important than lighting). Things like how to talk and entertain the model,etc
However, in product and food photography, how good you are with the lights determines how good you are as a photographer.

My advise to you: instead of “what“, ask “why“:

Why do you use this light source there? Why with such and not such reflector? What about diffuser panels? Will they work better?

Sometimes it turns out that the photographer uses this particular light modifier simply because this is what he has, but any other will work as well.

Or opposite: there is a very specific reason to use that particular modifier, and replacing it with another will change the image dramatically. Knowing this will give you a much better idea on how the lighting have been built. When you know and “feel” the light, lighting setup will pop-up in your brain within seconds after you see the product you are going to photograph.

Gear is another thing to ask about: tech specifications of the shoot will help you to get the right gear without spending much time researching what gear will fit best each application.

This advice applies to any kind of photography, but most of all to product and food photography.

Enjoy;-)

~Alex

6 responses on "Learning the light: ask right questions."

  1. You know I really like that you’re emphasizing the why though. Far and away, the best resources I’ve found on, well anything really, always explain the why. Which is why I’m particularly fond of your blog.

  2. To an extent I agree but I also disagree to an extent as well. For those who are new to photography, knowing the “why” is often very challenging without the proper baseline knowledge which more often then not, starts with the “how.” This isn’t always the case of course but everyone is different and some just learn better this way. For instance, I get asked from time to time how to blur the background only to find out they’re still shooting on auto and have no idea how set the aperature much less why the aperature is set wide open. Once a good foundation is set, it’s much easier to buildup a good understanding from there.

    • Ruben,
      Agree about the foundation. For me, the technical aspect of photography was not a question 20+ years ago, when I was playing with father’s SLR. But you are right, there are different people who has to know how first;-)

  3. Thanks for posting! Great info! I’ll keep this in mind the next time I attend a seminar. Thanks!

  4. Totally agree with you Alex.. It disappoints me when I get emails from people asking what are the best settings for them to use when shooting a wedding. I give them the same answer everytime: “Use the settings that work for that particular shot!” :D

  5. Great post… its Eye opener for many of amateur photographer like me

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