DO IT YOURSELF: Digital Lighting
Basic Portrait Lighting for Digital Camera Users

Most people who buy a digital camera are disappointed when they try to take photos of family and friends with their new camera. Just because they have bought a digital camera the rules of lighting havenāt changed and lessons learned by many in the past with film cameras still largely apply. The main problem in both cases is that the cameras have built-in flash units which are too close to the lens, and this is even worse with the ultra-small cameras now on the market.

Before getting into specific pointers on how to improve your photos, letās talk just a bit about the nature of light. A basic understanding of how light works will help you to understand how to improve your photos and equip you with the theoretical knowledge that you can use to come up with your own ideas to make your photos better.

Light is really magical stuff. It is the basis of our universe and the clock to which our universe is set. Remember that the speed of light seems tied to everything else in the universe, and that the basic unit of light, the photon, is pure energy. This pure light energy always travels in a straight line unless something interrupts or deflects it. The fact that it reflects back from our photo subject in a straight line to our camera lens is what allows us to make photographs. But this straight line travel also works against us when we try to make great photos. See the photo captions for more about this.

The intensity of light as it comes from a source, letās say the flash on our digital camera, falls off rapidly as it travels out into our scene. It obeys what physicists call the inverse square law, but you donāt need to worry too much about the technical aspects of this. You just need to know that a subject which is four feet from your camera will receive four times as much light as something which is eight feet away (twice as far away), and 16 times as much light as something which is 12 feet away (three times as far away). The practical aspect of this is that your portrait subject four feet from the camera may be perfectly exposed by the built-in flash, but the background will not receive sufficient light and will look dark and dingy. Getting your subject closer to the background can help minimize this effect.



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