Lighting Literacy

There’s a distinct divide between the art and craft of photography.

There used to be a notable photography school in Santa Barbara called Brooks. It was a powerhouse that turned out graduates with unrivaled technical knowledge.

They taught lighting using schematics drawn on graph paper and executed in controlled studios using mannequins.

I wouldn’t have lasted a week there. To reduce lighting to a straight-jacketed repeatable craft is the antithesis of the medium.

I’ve always been fascinated by musicians who are self-taught. Same for those who can’t or won’t deal with sheet music. My next-door neighbor who is retired from the symphony can make a compelling case for music literacy if one wants to hear a perfect rendition of a Haydn cycle.

Virtuosity isn’t about replicating what’s on a page or a diagram.

This portrait in Hell’s Kitchen had no rim light, no high key, no strip box, and not even a single gobo.

I just found the right placement for the subject and then lit her in a way that made the craft serve the art.

About the author: I am Stephen Kennedy, an experienced photographer with more than 2500 completed sessions in all 50 US states.

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