Using artificial light
Artificial light is similar to natural light in the way you use it, but differs in three ways. First, you can adjust the power of the light, second, you can change your distance from the light easily, and third, you can modify the quality of the light.
When using any type of artificial light source you can adjust power with a switch or dial. Most lights come with different levels that you set according to how much light you need. If you are lighting up a subject fairly close to you then you less power is needed, and vice versa.
Distance is adjusted easily with artificial lights since they are easy to move. Artificial lights are typically mounted on light stands that can then be moved around. We will talk more about how distance affects the quality of light on the subject in the next article.
The image above demonstrates a speedlight being used by mounting it on a light stand to get a better angle of light to the subject. If you use a speedlight as an on-camera flash, I highly recommend getting a stand. Mounting the flash on the top of your camera does not give you the best light quality or angle.
Light modifiers are important in order to get the best quality of light from any of the previously mentioned artificial light sources. There are many options: DIY difusers, softboxes , umbrellas. Most portrait photographers prefer a softbox and consider it the most flattering portrait light modifier. A soft box is a great modifier to start out with. However, you can always get something less expensive first, like umbrellas, and use reflectors and diffusion materials to soften the light further.
How you modify the light to create light and shadows is a matter of taste. Size, shape, density etc. of the light modifier all affect the light. How you manipulate the quality of light, in many cases, defines your style as a photographer.
The other factor that affects light you use all the time with natural light- angle of light to subject. You can use angles with artificial light the same way you use natural light.
Starting to work with artificial light
Set up your light on your stand and turn it on. A continuous light may have controls on the back to adjust the light output. A strobe light will have a modeling light, which is another bulb in the light, to show you what the light is doing at that angle. A speedlight requires trial and error to figure out your angle. This will get easier as you practice with these lights.
Metering your light
You can meter your light by purchasing a light meter. Light meters are great for reading light, but not completely necessary with digital cameras. For simple lighting set-ups the on-camera meter or histogram is great.
One of the challenges of using strobe/flash light is that your shutter speed is limited to something called the sync speed of your camera. The sync speed of your camera will be outlined in your camera manual. You cannot set your shutter speed to anything higher than the sync speed of your camera or you will lose part of your image due to the shutter closing before the light has covered the entire sensor.
Tushna Lehman is an acclaimed designer who has gone back to her first love, photography. Her studio, T-elle Photography has evolved into a successful lifestyle and portrait photography studio serving the greater Seattle area. She also offers boudoir photography to her clients.