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7 tips – learn reading pictures the right way!

All of you guys know that problem:

You’re seeing lots of beautiful pictures in magazines or advertisements and you think:
“Wow, I have to try out that look and that lighting in my next shoot!”
Well, and then you realize, that you don’t have any idea on how to rebuild this setup and what equipment is used to achieve this light…
Do I need ocatboxes, softboxes, more direct or indirect lighting? Is this guy using any color gels? How exaclty does everything behind the camera look and how’s the “light design” of this image?

– If you’re wondering about all of that just like most photographers do, you’ve absoluteley come to the right place!

“Reading pictures the right way”:
Today we show you how to get from the finished image to you the light setup behind it:

(this is a live-video that we streamed on Facebook a while ago. Unfortunately, it’s only available in German, but the text down there teaches you all of it in English as well :)

Here we have prepared some tips for you to help you find out the lights and equipment behind your mysterious photo ;)

Ask yourself, what lights you see and what types of light sources are able to display that light. Often you can see reflections or glance / gloss / shininess in the eyes or on the skin of the model. In our video, Johannes is quickly able to recognize, which light formers are used and explains, how he sees that.
We recommend to use set.a.light 3D, because you could just swap light sources and drag them around without having to do all of the strenuous work in your studio. What colors do you see and where do they come from? Maybe there are some color gels involved. To have a look at the question, whether the light is harsh/hard or soft, might lead you on to use the right equipment. Recognizing that and being able to tell, at what distance and in which direction light sources should be set up, can be pretty hard, but is also the main task here.

Whilst analyzing the picture, you should also keep an eye on the angle of the light and its reflections, just like the shadows. With that, you can easily read the image the right way and determine the position of your lighting gear.

A quick overview of our tips:

  1. Trying around is key – this works best with set.a.loight 3D!
    – That’s available here.
  2. Where was the position of the photographer and which optical system was used?
    – Does the photographer work with a zoom or a wide-angle lens? How much of the actual room do you see, where is the photographer positioned?
  3. Look out for glance and reflections in eyes or on the skin. Is the light hard or soft?
    – The light, reflections and shadows allow to draw conclusions about the light shapers that were used. Choose the right equipment – set.a.light can help you to test that out.
  4. From where does the light hit the model?
    – Try to reconstruct the angle. You’re mostly able to see that the size and the spread of the shadow. Now you can tell the light’s position in the room and get closer and closer to it by experimenting around.
  5. Watch out for pose, make-up and hair of the model.
    – Quiet often, a lighting only works, if the model is positioned in the featured pose. In a real Rembrandt-lighting for example the model nearly has no options to really pose differently. Other setups might be far less critical about that.
  6. Think about that: That picture has been post-edited and photoshopped.
    – Your set hasn’t! The picture will surely look different “out-of-cam”. In nearly every post-editing process, contrasts are made to appear stronger, and you mostly won’t be able to reconstruct that in your studio. The stronger an image was manipulated, the harder it gets to divide between real lighting and manipulation.
  7. Look at images in pricy or precious magazines. Good photos are a great source of inspiration :)
    The pictures that you’re looking at / up to should always be better than the work you do. That helps you get better and better. Think abaout the VOGUE for example…The more good pictures you look at, the more you’re going to train your eye. At some point, you’re able to analyze the lighting just with a quick look…

Practice makes perfect.
Nobody is born as master. In Germany we always say: “No master has fallen from the sky yet…”

More live-videos like that can be seen on Facebook and YouTube. To train your eyes on how to spot the lighting for certain pictures is one of the most important things for a photographer – so make sure to practice that a lot!

Have fun trying it and playing around :)

This setup comes from Heiko Kanzler, who shares his experiences about reconstructing it HERE.

This post is also available in: German

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