Light is knowledge
I spent a good portion of my career as a photojournalist mastering the lighting of assignments without knowing the locations lighting constraints or time I would be allotted to produce a professional photograph for publication. Daily newspapers provided considerably more stress than magazine deadlines, sometimes scheduling conflicts and unrealistic expectations can add pressure to complete assignments on-time regardless of the publication dates.
The ability to quickly scan your surroundings and literally ‘see the light’, or absence of , and adapt is a necessary and vital tool when time constraints work against you. A good photojournalist has a large repertoire of mental lighting set-ups available in their arsenal to fit each assignment and situation they may be confronted with. This also implies that you ‘learned from your mistakes’ and recognize scenarios that do not work.The best approach is to keep it simple, in relation to the time you are given, so you can spend as much time shooting the subject as possible if time is not on your side. This may be flash on or off camera when time dictates or two lights adding more creative set-ups when time allows. Once a few images are captured you can then afford the luxury of tweaking or adding lighting and using what time is left to build on the images you already have. Life is not always fair to photographers needs but your results are expected to be professional none the less so every second counts.
The old adage less is more works in most situations. The less time you spend setting-up the more time you have to shoot and using less lighting allows a more natural feel. Lighting can portray mood and texture to a photograph depending on angle and intensity of each source. A subtle shadow can say a lot about a photo. Everyone will eventually develop a style of their own. I look and feel that is their signature, recognizable as a style not the lack of.
Every interior I have had to shoot required a slightly different or radically new approach. No two rooms are exactly the same. To apply one standard set-up to every interior would be like putting ketchup on everything until finally a plate of French fries was placed in front of you. Approach everything with a blank lighting canvas with past experience and lights as your palette. If forced to speed paint or time create a masterpiece you can adjust your style to the situation.
Natural or ambient light is the first source of light I try to utilize in most photos either as a main, fill or backlight. Unlike daylight, ambient light can be mixed lighting , daylight, tungsten or fluorescent. A sturdy tripod will allow you to use both natural daylight and ambient mixed light without sacrificing either depth of field or low ISO. A tripod is an essential part of my approach when lighting. Always try to balance the room with one light source or mixed lighting that compliments one another. Todays environmentally friendly CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) do not compliment mixed lighting and should be changed to standard tungsten when photographing.
Food photography lighting should be minimal with attention paid to both texture and detail. Generally I will use one main light source and a reflector for fill. A good tip is to use an identical empty plate to compose and light your photo. When the chef brings the plated dish switch the plates and shoot.
Whatever the subject, portrait, architectual or food the best advice is to remember that great photographs are a combination of light sources and fill or highlights and shadows. That lighting angles and intensity create the mood, textures and dimension in photography. That in a perfect world every photo would get as much time as it required and you would never feel rushed. Until that day keep your flashes charged, softboxes handy and a tripod on the floor.