One thing I always tell my students is this, “Light is Light.”
Having a very specific lighting style is certainly one of the ways to develop a visual signature, but I find that too often many photographers get stuck in a rut because they’re afraid to try lighting styles that they aren’t familiar with. Natural light photographers shun the flash, and strobists look down their nose at natural light shooters. Neither is wrong, but both are neglecting the important truth; light is light, and the rules that apply to light don’t change. Therefore, if you understand light and how it behaves, you can use and manipulate any light source to give you the results you want.
This lesson was reaffirmed to me when I was shooting in studio last weekend. We had a fantastic hair stylist who was creating some visually stunning styles on our models, and I had already tested my set up and determined the light setup that would highlight the detail in the hair styles. The flash was popping, I was getting some lovely shots, but I started to notice something as I checked the laptop screen between shots; the ambient light I saw on my model before I pressed the shutter button was more intriguing to me than the shots taken with my carefully placed and modified strobes.
I asked my assistants to turn off the strobes, took a test shot with the ambient light, and was immediately enchanted. There was unexpected shape and depth to the light than lent an almost otherworldly quality to the images, which enhanced the unique hairstyles beyond my expectations. I was so excited that I danced a jig. No, really, I did. There’s video proof.
As I was culling the images, I realized that I’d just experienced the fruits of learning to pay attention to light and not being afraid to take chances and use the light that worked best, rather than the light I assumed I’d need.
So, to my fellow photographers, I’d say this: don’t be afraid to try new things, because you never know what you’ll learn, not only about the way you see and use light, but also about what you might be missing.