I’ve often told other photographers that they can learn a lot about lighting from watching TV. Pay attention to the color of the light and lighting patterns used on actors. In news magazine shows (60 Minutes, Dateline) they might cut-away to a shot of the interviewer and the subject. In this shot you can usually see the lights, flags and modifiers being used to light the person and often, the background.
I saw a great example on TV last night in one of those “The More You Know” PSAs on NBC. It featured Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Community) talking about saving electricity. When he turns off all the lights except for one light bulb he says you can look “dashing and mysterious”. This emphasizes the importance of shadows in portrait photography and how it can affect the mood of your image. I once heard a photographer ask, “when is it OK to have shadows in your pictures?”. The answer is: ALWAYS!
Another photography point emphasized by the PSA is what you can do with just one light…especially up close. A light bulb is a pretty harsh light source because it’s so small, but that can work for a male subject. When it’s up close, the rapid fall off creates dramatic shadows.
Click the image to see the video.
(Note: I had some trouble with the link sending me to the right video. If that happens, look under the video player for a list of videos in the “environment” category and navigate to the very last one.)