The One Light Wonder

Janice Dickinson for Orbit Gum/Maxim Mag Advertorial
Photo by Emily Shur

Summer Bishil for Bust Magazine
Photo by Emily Shur

I have been wanting to post about lighting for a while so I will conveniently use these two new images of mine to illustrate my points.  When I first starting shooting, I would overcompensate for my technical insecurities by over-lighting everything.  I would bring a million lights to every shoot and light every square inch of the frame.  I would never take in the situation and decide the best lighting for that particular time and place.  That didn’t matter.  I just wanted it to be bright…bright bright bright!!  Oh, and can you make that edge light a half stop brighter while you’re at it?

Let me jump in here real quick and say that lighting, along with everything regarding the look of your photography, is a matter of personal preference.  I am in no way saying that I am right, and someone who likes their work to be heavily lit is wrong.  I’m just writing about some things I’ve learned along the way that helped me develop MY aesthetic.  

The two images above were both lit with one light.  They were both shot on film and lightly retouched (ok, who are we kidding…Janice was a little more than lightly retouched).  The image of Janice Dickinson was shot in Malibu, and the Summer Bishil was shot in my house.  The Janice shoot had a pretty decent budget, while the Summer shoot had none whatsoever.  Although you might have a truck full of lighting and grip, which is what we had in Malibu, the shot might just call for one well placed light.  I have learned throughout the years that shaping light, picking the right source of light, and balancing lighting ratios are waaaaay more important than having a ton of heads on set at your disposal.  My advice for someone starting out and learning about light would be to limit yourself to three lights maximum in any one picture.  See if you can make it work with one light.  Learn about filling in your light with cards instead of just throwing another head in the mix.  Learn about negative fill.  Learn about different light modifiers and see how they change the quality of your one lonely light.  That one light will be your best friend.

5 comments to The One Light Wonder

  • anna

    i kind of miss seeing janis’s boobs hanging out of that suit…. maybe you should post the unretouched one

  • mtat

    emily, your picture of janis i kinda creepin' me out. it's so beautifully unnatural – like a clip from the brady bunch that was shot in b&w and then colorized, but with all the wrong color. lovely.


  • mtat

    that’s supposed to be is and not i. i’m not illiterate. and i’m definitely not insecure. really. i am. i have a really good explanation. see…

    awwww, what does it matter? you probably would never believe it…

  • kyle Stubbs

    I second seeing the unretouched Janis shot.

  • nina

    peep! I miss you AND your blogging. I want a post!
    See you next weel.