The “inverse square law” has nothing to do with photography

Why has the «inverse square law» has nothing to do with photography?

Actually, it has everything to do indeed, but it is often (always?) misquoted.

The inverse square law is a law of physics that tells, basically, that the intensity of light decreases in proportion of the distance, squared, between a point-like light source and the subject being illuminated.

In photography, this law is often misquoted: you will find this explanation in tutorials involving light modifiers (widely used in studio photography: softboxes, beauty dishes, reflectors…) or flash photography more in general, always with the following intended meaning: the light gets dimmer if the distance increases. Of course, this statement would be perfectly true! Howeverread

Studio light scheme for portraits with fog

Fog (“smoke”) is unreliable because dosing it is difficult. You may find your perfect f-stops and light power settings, but the variability introduced by a fog machine will force you to try and try again.

Of course, fog must be lit, or it won’t show up in photography. I’m presenting here a lighting scheme that I found working for the kind of fog effect I wanted.

I started modifying the scheme that I used here:

  • I closed the lens (Fujinon XF35/1.4) aperture to f/16 to focus as much fog as possible
  • I increased the power of the beauty dish, and I moved it off center to align it with the model’s line of sight
  • As a result of the reduced lens aperture, the relative power of the softboxes was quite low albeit set at 5.0 (the maximum on my units)
  • I did not use any light source for the background.

lighting-diagram-1470782979

This is the result, after some photo-editing. I’m the model and the photographer :-)

Concept: pollution, polluted air. I'm blowing away smoke.
Concept: pollution, polluted air. I’m blowing away smoke.


Four light sources (and one reflector) for portraits that pop

I am taking advantage of the new large gridded softbbox and I have slightly complicated the light scheme that I have described here. The simple yet effective modifications are:

  • Added a flashgun, placed on the floor, between the subject and the backdrop, pointing at the latter, aiming high. This was trigged by a simple photocell shoe.
  • Added a silver circular reflector, angled 45 degrees, between the camera and the subject, to reflect back some of the light coming from the softboxes
  • Raised (up) and angled (down) a little the two gridded Rotalux.
  • Removed the white diffusing cloth from the beauty dish.

You can see the effects of the changes in the bright halo around the subject and in a stronger rim light, especially around the hair.

How to light a muscular man

How to light a muscular man, in order to emphasise his muscle? For this purpose I kind of like the following scheme:

lighting-diagram-1470260409

I used Elinchrom material, as usual: three D-Lite RX 2 units equipped with:

  • one beauty dish, with the white diffuser cloth that I stole from the Rotaluxes;
  • two 90×110 Rotaluxes equipped with their Rotagrids, internal baffle diffusers and white reflectors.

With the camera set at ISO 200 (always optimistic on a Fujifilm X-T1) and the XF35/1.4 lens at about f/5, I kept the power at 4.0 and 1.0 respectively for the flashes going through the soft boxes and the beauty dish (the soft boxes absorb plenty of light with their three diffusing layers).

This is the result:

Muscular man, studio portrait, barechested

Advantages of the scheme

  • Able to emphasise really well any muscular build
  • The light is still soft and so suitable to further contrast-enhancing post-processing
  • Powering down the soft boxes, the effect can be tuned down to a barely visible rim light, while keeping the subject beautifully illuminated by a beauty dish.

Disadvantages of the scheme

The disadvantages of the scheme are linked to the large size of the two soft boxes equipped with grids:

  • very high cost of the material
  • low portability (only suited to studio)

Bicycle as a solution to a photographer’s block

When I was an undergraduate student in Pisa, I cycled daily for my urban commute from home to the University. I found it pleasant and relatively safe. I used my mountain bike frequently and with enjoyment, but always in urban contexts. Basically, wherever I could have a stroll, I cycled instead. The bike was a simple commuting tool for short urban distances.

Today, several years later, I see problems that I did not before. On urban roads, I feel tense, and scared by motorists, towards whom I become extremely aggressive. Motorists’ manners got worse and I became much more sensitive to their unruly presence — much more! I cannot but avoid urban roads altogether.

As a result, I have changed my cycling habits, shifting from the town to the countryside that, fortunately, surrounds my home near Pisa. Now I end up visiting country roads that I would not tread otherwise and seeing spots that I can photograph with my omnipresent iPhone 5, really small and really good.

I must almost thank, then, people’s unruliness at the wheel, that pushed me towards unbeaten tracks, if I could capture the following simple yet satisfying scenes! This, at least, is my humble attempt to seeing the good within the bad.

In a way the bicycle can unexpectedly become a simple solution for a «photographer’s block» of sort because even without travelling (far away) you may end up in streets and roads just adjacent the ones you would walk, or you may find it easy to stop and take a picture (whereas with the car perhaps you would not).

Since my bike is so gorgeous, including it in the frame comes natural. Public drinking fountain near the ancient aqueduct of Asciano
Since my bike is so gorgeous, including it in the frame comes natural. Public drinking fountain near the ancient aqueduct of Asciano
This strip of land, like all the other pictures on this page, lies somewhere between Ghezzano, Asciano, Colignola and Mezzana. However, the iPhone is not best for rendering a noise-free blue sky (large areas of blue hues, even with plenty of light, are photographically tricky), so I added some «grain» with Snapseed
This strip of land, like all the other pictures on this page, lies somewhere between Ghezzano, Asciano, Colignola and Mezzana. However, the iPhone is not best for rendering a noise-free blue sky (large areas of blue hues, even with plenty of light, are photographically tricky), so I added some «grain» with Snapseed
Riding a bike needs not be a solitary thing
Riding a bike needs not be a solitary thing
Would have I found this bit of heaven without my bike? I believe not. The like striking those flowers stroke me too
Would have I found this bit of heaven without my bike? I believe not. The like striking those flowers stroke me too
This is the aqueduct, from a vantage point that you can reach by foot or by bike — not by car
This is the aqueduct, from a vantage point that you can reach by foot or by bike — not by car
This is my bike, just parked near vines decorated by a small rosebush
This is my bike, just parked near vines decorated by a small rosebush
A cultivated field between Asciano, Ghezzano, Colignola and Mezzana, all within San Giuliano Terme
A cultivated field between Asciano, Ghezzano, Colignola and Mezzana, all within San Giuliano Terme

Close-up (detail) vs Long Shot (panorama) in Travel Photography

You can usually characterise and recognise famous travel locations by means of one or more landmarks (natural, historic, architectural…) that are generally well captured by a “long shot.” In fact a panorama, an aerial photograph or a very wide shot can very well work as an establishing shot that identifies the place at the beginning of a travel article. Yet, for as much famous and beautiful a place can be, the list of establishing shots for a given place is finite and known (if it wasn’t known, you couldn’t use it to identify the place!) and therefore boring.read

Asymmetrical three-lights setup for Medium Shots

Most of the times, I like symmetrical lighting without rim. Recently I wanted to experiment with an asymmetrical lighting with rim for a medium shot portrait:

A large gridded soft box (90x110 Elichrom) as a main light, a small gridded beauty dish (Elinchrom) as a rim, a gridded reflector pointed at the white wall behind the camera, camera left, as a fill
A large gridded soft box (90×110 Elichrom) as a main light, a small gridded beauty dish (Elinchrom) as a rim, a gridded reflector pointed at the white wall behind the camera, camera left, as a fill

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