Thursday, February 1, 2007

It's not just the light, it's the darkness.

One of the trends in modern portraiture and wedding photography is "flat lighting" or "even lighting" ... lighting a subject and background with low contrast so that there is little or no shadowing. This is the type of lighting you often see in portraits done at Wal-Mart or a local shopping mall. Flat lighting is even starting to become popular for landscapes in travel magazines. Popular but lifeless.

Why do I say flat lighting is "lifeless?" Because, just like your parents taught you as a child, you can't have good without evil ... and you can't have light without darkness. Contrast is one if the key elements of photography (and virtually any art). When you have highlights contrasting with shadows you get detail, depth, dimension, and color saturation (if you're shooting in color). Similarly, contrast (as in the combination of positive and negative space) adds drama and emotion to an image.

When a photographer uses flat lighting they are sacrificing all of the the above. This might sound like art class 101, but it's important for photographers and their clients to keep this in mind.

One particular photographer who seems to understand the overwhelming importance of light and dark in his photos is Patrick Hoelck. Hoelck has made a name for himself in recent years by going against the trend of flat lighting and making darkness just as important to his images as light. His recent work ranging from publicity photos of Clint Eastwood to portraits of the cast of Battlestar Galactica has created quite a stir in Hollywood.

This is the type of photography that requires forethought on the part of the photographer and effort to compose both subjects and the position of light. This isn't something that can be accomplished just with the click of a mouse in Photoshop.

What are your experiences with contrast in images ... or with flat lighting? Feel free to post your comments.