Improve Your Lighting Skills, Part 2: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace
Improve Your Lighting Skills, Part 2: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

Hi everybody.. welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography right here on AdoramaTV. I’m Mark Wallace, and in this episode I’m going to give you an exercise that you can do at home to help you improve your lighting skills. Now this is a follow up to a video I did a few months ago in a little apartment I was renting in Croatia, where I illuminated a bowl of fruit, and so so many people watched that video, I think we had about a hundred and fifty thousand people that have watched it so far… so if you haven’t seen it… go watch that video. First so a lot of people said please do another one of these, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today. So the exercise is to improve your lighting skills and your understanding of how to shape light, not necessarily how to get a fantastic photo in the exercise itself. So you’re doing this so that you can hone your skills, so that when you have to create an amazing photo, you can do it, and so let me just show you the setup that I have here, because I’m in a very very small space. I invaded my friend’s house. My friend Keith and I borrowed a bunch of his stuff – we borrowed his camera and his flashes, and well everything really in this video is borrowed from Keith, and I’m in a small space intentionally because I want to make sure that you can duplicate this where you are. Now the stuff that I’m using, you don’t have to use. You can use any kind of speed lights or studio strobes or whatever you have on hand. It’s going to work just fine, the point to remember is to learn about how to shape light. All right now, let me just give you a quick tour of this space and then we’ll get to the exercise, because things are so small I am tethering my camera. So I’ve got a tether table here set up, and I am tethered to a 5d Mark III. So this camera is not going to change location or anything, it’s just set on a tripod, and then I’ve got a controller for my speed lights that I’ll be using. I’ll show you in just a second, but this has got a 70-200 mm lens, and it is right on axis with my bottle of wine. that’s just on a makeshift table, and some wood that I found laying around in Keith’s workshop, and then to each side of our bottle of wine we have some C stands with arms on them. those will come in to use a little bit later, so these can be just any kinds of stand you’ll see as we get into that, why I’m using those, and then on each side of the wine bottle I have speed lights. So I’ve got one on the left, and then I have one over here on the right. Now these are mounted vertically and the reason for that will become apparent a little bit later as we go through this. These are also set to slave mode, so I’ve got a wireless controller on the 5D Mk III and that’s going to make sure everything is good. Solet’s get to it now that we know about the space, hopefully you can recreate this in your own living room. Now remember you can use any kind of speed-lights or studio strobes or whatever you have. The goal here is remember to learn about shaping light, not necessarily to get a fantastic photo of a wine bottle although that’s a bonus. We really want to dive in, and learn about specular highlights and diffusion, and the things that we’re going to get into, so to start… what I’m going to do is just to take a photo with things set up the way they are. Now remember my camera is set to… my flashes are set to TTL mode… so they’re in auto exposure mode, and then the other thing I’ve done is… these flashes are to the side of the wine bottle and they’re just sort of pointing in front of the wine bottle, and I’ve also raised these arms up here, so they’re not going to block any of the light. Hopefully I don’t poke my eye out… and so the other thing I need to mention, is earlier I showed you that the speedlite are mounted vertically, the reason for that is we have a vertical bottle, and what I want to do is I want to have a vertical highlight. I want to light as much of that bottle, so if they were horizontal normal we’d only get a little strip of light across the bottle, I don’t want that, I want to illuminate the entire bottle, so I’ve changed those two vertical orientation, if you’re not familiar with the vertical orientation, horizontal orientation of speedlights. I’ve made a video about it, and I’ve included the description… in the description of this video, I’ve included a link to that video. There’s all kinds of things about zooming and orienting, and that kind of stuff with speed lights that you should know about if you’re new to them, go watch that video. All right so let’s take a photo, so I have tethered everything to my laptop. I wanna make sure I can wake up my little speed lights back there. Let’s take our very first photo this is a f/8, ISO 100, shutter of 160… blam. This is just right out of the camera, it’s horrible it’s really bad, so let’s look and see exactly what’s wrong with this photo. So the first thing you can see is we have a really dark streak in the front of our wine bottle right here, the highlights are blown out and then these specular highlights are just nasty. Specular highlights are the reflections of the lights illuminating our scene so anything that is bright that reflects in a shiny surface that’s called a specular highlight. Now these specular highlights are shaped in the same way that the lights are shaped, so we can see in our wine bottle here that on the shoulder of the bottle we have these two vertical lights, those are the speed lights. They’re really hard, and it’s also because that light is so small and.. and hard.. we’re getting all of this dust that’s showing up, and I think I got a fingerprint over here that’s showing up. We also see some stuff up here on the neck of the bottle. It’s just not very good, also the because we’re shooting at f/8 the fall-off isn’t very good, so on this table thing here that I’ve made, I really like to have that fall out of focus a little bit more, so.. let’s get to our second thing. The first thing I want to do with changing all this up is… I want to use this stuff right here, this is my diffusion material called translum.. there’s all kinds of different types of diffusion material, but I really love this stuff… So you can see that it is translucent, and it allows light to go through it, and then when light goes through it.. it scatters… now the thing with this stuff is, you can sort of fold it and shape it and do anything you want to. It.. it’s similar to the stuff that’s on the front of a softbox, that’s a little bit heavier duty than that, and so what I’m going to do is… I’m going to fold this over like that, and so it’s going to go through that two different times. So I’m just gonna drape this right on top of my little stands here, if I don’t kill myself, so let me get this done. Okay so now I have that diffusion material and those lights are going to shoot through that. The light is going to scatter… that’s what the fusion does, so let’s just once again, let’s go with our tethered laptop. I’ll make sure that my remote flashes are on, let’s take another photo and then look at this second photo and you will see that that changes things dramatically. So let’s compare these two.. side-by-side the before and the after image, and check it out see how the specular highlights, the reflections of the flashes has changed considerably. On the second photo you can see there’s these big wide swaths of light instead of these little dots, the other thing it does is it smooths out all that dust, and the fingerprints and all that stuff that was on there. Now we don’t really see that it has fixed that it’s sort of like shooting with a softbox with somebody that has a bad complexion, or problems with their skin. Having soft light really helps out, but we still have some issues here. Check this out, we have this little reflection right here. We’ve got another one right there what the heck is that? Well those are reflections of these light stands right here, so the lights coming in, bouncing off of those, into our wine bottle, and it’s showing up so we need to get rid of that. The other thing, if we look at the back of our table right here, you can see that I didn’t do a very good job of positioning my flash, and so that light is spilling onto the table. It should be diffused all the way across so let’s do the next thing. I’m going to turn these stands around and then we’ll take another shot, and then we’ll keep tuning things in all right… so I’ve turned that around really. We’re trying to eliminate those highlights on the bottle from the reflection of the stand. So once again let’s take a photo. I’m going to wake up my remote flashes, make sure they’re ready to go, and now we’ll take another picture. Blammo… let’s see the difference, we can zoom into our wine bottle now. Notice those two reflections, have disappeared because we put those behind… however I created yet another problem with my wine bottle, and that is if you look right here, you see that white line coming down this side, and there’s another white line coming down this side… Those are still reflections of those light stands, now they’re just on the back of the wine bottle instead of the front, and so to fix that, I’ve got a secret tip that is gaffers tape. So I’m just gonna put some black tape on those stands, and see if we can eliminate that tiny reflection. Tape has been applied, let’s take another photo and see how we did. So once again that’s all tethered in, so we can really control what we’re seeing, and now take a look right here on that at the top of this wine bottle where we have that really bright line, we’ve gotten rid of that reflection we’re dialing in and tuning what we are doing with our specular highlights. Now there’s one other thing I want to do and that is I want to see if I can soften this. This specular highlight right here by maybe making the the light a little bit wider, or spread it out a little bit more. So on the front of the speed light there’s a little attachment, you can pull out on most of them that is for wide-angle lenses it spreads things out and then the other thing that you can do is there’s a little white card that you can pop up, that allows you to bounce light. So I’m gonna take both of those, and put them on the speed lights, and see what happens to our photo. So let’s start right there… Okay, those have been popped out again, let’s take a photo, see what changes.. ha! Check that out.. by changing the spread of light that didn’t really help the bottle too much, but it changed the background pretty radically. Notice if we go back one, look at the difference in exposure there. So let’s check this out, and see exactly what’s happening, because I think what’s happening is, the light is bouncing off the front’s of those little cards, and into the background. So all I’m gonna do now is, I’m going to put down those little white cards, and see what that does. So putting down the one on the right. Putting down the one on the left or right left, I get those backwards, and now let’s go again and take a photo. Let’s see what that does to our background. it changes things, how crazy is that? So again let’s look at those before and after. Look at what that’s done to our background, all I did was I put that little white card down. That’s it, so we’re getting there, the next thing I want to do is… this is an eTTL mode. I want to have some control over my exposure so I can do some things with my post-production to get this exactly where I want it to be. The other thing that I’ve noticed here.. is on the table – we’re spilling light on the table I need to fix that so let’s fix the spill of light. Then let’s switch this to manual mode and dial everything in, exactly like we want it. So let me fix that spill on the background. The way I’m going to do that is…. I’m just going to go to each of these studio strobes… or these speed lights here, and see which one is spilling. So I’m going to fire this guy… I can clearly see that is spilling on that, so I’m going to move this just forward a little bit. So we’re not getting that light on there… there you go. Now let’s see if we’ve got that… exactly we want it, to see if we can fix the spill, again take a shot, and we’ve fixed that spill… so notice how that’s changed the table dramatically. So if we look at this, whoops… if you look at this one, compared to this one.. look at the table, see how we’ve changed that and also by feathering the light.. so I move those lights a little bit farther forward. We have changed how that light is falling on the table. It’s getting more and more pleasing as we go… so the last thing I want to do is flip everything into manual mode, and then crank open my aperture. So I’m at about f/2.8, and see if we can get some shallow depth of field to get us almost all the way there, so all I’m going to do is on my remote control here… take that off my camera, I’m going to go into my settings here, so I’ll change that from each TTL mode to manual mode ok.. then I’ve got my handy-dandy light meter and what I’m going to be doing with this guy… is I’m going to be metering it toward these side panels. So I’m going to trigger with this… so I’ll take a meter reading. There we go… and that meter is exactly at f/ 2.8… and so I got really lucky, that’s exactly where I want to be, so I’m going to change my camera to be exactly at f/2.8 as well, and then we’ll take one more photo, so in my tethered, in my Lightroom here, I can change that so I’m going to go to f/2.8, and then I will take another shot. Aha… now look at this, now we are almost there, let’s take a look at the very first photo we took, compared to the very last photo. We took and you can see the journey that we’ve made… it is crazy, so we went from a really hard ugly bottle, to a really nice soft beautiful looking bottle. Now the last thing we need to do is, just a touch of post-production. I’ll do that really fast, and speed it up. I’m just gonna add some vignettes and change some exposures really fast, and I’ll show you the final result! Well we clearly improved our bottle shot by shaping the light. Now there’s a lot more that we could do, there’s a lot more fine-tuning on our specular highlights that we could do. There’s some things on the front of the bottle. I’d like to fix… the shoulders aren’t exactly equal, and so if I had a lot more time, I would do that, but that’s the point of this video, you have the time, and the challenge is for you to do this exercise in your home studio or back yard, or wherever you can do this, and try some of these things. So remember… First… set everything up, and just full auto mode take a photo. Start adding diffusion… change where your lights are located, change how they’re diffused, and the angle of view of the flash itself. If it’s a wide or focused, see what happens raise and lower those lights. Make sure you tick really closely to see if there’s reflections that you can mask using some tape or some cloth.. something like that, and then once all of that’s done, flip over into manual mode if you haven’t already, and really start dialing in things, like exposure and depth of field, and then finally hop into Lightroom or Photoshop or whatever your preference is for editing photos, and then do some post-production and see where you get compare your first and last attempt, and see the difference, and then what will happen is, you’ll get some knowledge, you’ll get some experience and then when you have to go out and shoot something for a client or a friend, something that matters, you’ll know what you’re doing because you’ve done the exercise. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode of Exploring Photography. Don’t forget to subscribe to AdoramaTV. It’s absolutely free… also check me out on Instagram, I’m always posting behind the scenes photos, and videos of what I’m up to, and my travels around the route.. travels around the world… So don’t miss out on that, because there are extras sometimes I go live to help answer questions about videos and so check that out on Instagram There’s my Instagram right there… you’ve seen it the whole time. Thanks again for joining me and I will see you next time.

61 thoughts on “Improve Your Lighting Skills, Part 2: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. Karam Rajpal says:

    Really impressed by your videos sir,
    Your videos are really helping me a lot with my photography

  2. Puneri Dhol-Tasha says:

    nice tutorial

  3. Karma Rayshar says:

    Very nice

  4. bash says:

    Videos as good as from Gavin !

  5. SENAN cebiyev says:

    Thank you.

  6. Luciane Zumba says:

    Love this, thanks!

  7. Lawrence Biddle says:

    i was always told that to get the best from photographing bottles and glasses is to mostly light from behind. This emphases the bottle and the product.

  8. Lysander Spooner says:

    Being watching Mark since the Snap Factory days in Phoenix. Great to see a new one…

  9. James Harris says:

    I've used those white kitchen trash bags for diffusion. Since I then use them for trash in the kitchen afterwards they cost nothing. And I always have a supply of clean ones on hand.

  10. Cochise Hart says:

    Mark is awesome. Keep up the great vids!

  11. Enrique says:

    Nice tutorial, thank you for sharing.

  12. Jakob Dering says:

    I am really curious how product photographers did all those setup tweaks in the analog age without being able to see the result in real time?

  13. smick says:

    It just shows how small adjustments can make a big difference.

  14. Awaz Anjing says:

    Mark Wallace rocks…

  15. Mike James says:

    Thank you, Mark. It's all in the details! I appreciate the effort you took to point out the small things, and the "why". Nice one!

  16. MEHUL LAMA says:

    Short place , great work

  17. Lars Büchel says:

    it was the best I have seen within the last weeks. Really great! Really good stuff for learning and thinking at first

  18. Anoni Mo says:

    Top video for beginners. Really well done

  19. Anoni Mo says:

    Best point is how to develop different details of the process to get a proper final result. I guess a beginner would like to know also your editing.

  20. Garry Murphy says:

    Great video Mark, really helpful and inspirational 👍👍

  21. Jack Reckitt says:

    Great video. Studio work is great fun especially during Winter. But gear is interesting as well. Adorama needs to do shows on gear, like what is "Translume" that was mentioned.

  22. Bob McClenahan says:

    I found this particularly interesting because I shoot a lot of wine bottles:

  23. Noealz - Anime Photography says:

    liking these lighting videos since most people don't realize that lighting is more important than the camera

  24. Jose A. Justiniano says:

    How you can use the computer to trigger the shutter?

  25. skinnyphuqer says:

    These are good, Mark. Thanks.

  26. NiniannE says:

    that bottle slightly tilted, is bothering me so much…

  27. JB says:

    Man, I wish I saw this yesterday. I was literally just doing this at home a day ago. Welp, time to try again.

  28. Didimio Rios says:

    Greetings from Puerto Rico, great tutorial, thanks!

  29. Jenny GW says:

    Good to see you back, Mark.

  30. Ifedolapo GC Media says:

    i just love your energy, drive and attention to details plus you are an awesome teacher.

  31. Juan Rios says:

    This is really awesome!!

    You could make a video like this, but with the lights from above?

  32. Joaquim Gonsalves says:

    Literally popped up in my feed hours before doing a product shoot for beauty products. Thank you for the trick about vertical lighting.

  33. Craig M says:

    Many thumbs up for all the shot differences from bad to best. Well done and more better than Part 1…

  34. gechaves2 says:

    very good tutorial. thanks a lot !!!!

  35. Bruce Smith says:

    Great video series, Mark. As a fellow globetrotter, what do you recommend for minimalist flash gear to take along?

  36. Jason says:

    Top content 👍🏻👍🏻thanks

  37. Humberto Abed says:

    Hey Mark!! Great video!! Some years ago I was hired to photograph a super expensive wine collection. They were almost 500 bottles (3 days of work). I had almost the same set up as you (two westcott rapid box instead) and it was crazy. All bottles had different shapes so I had to move things around for every single one. So I went all digital menaning after some bottles I just kept everything the same and removed the highlights in PS.

    Photographing bottles is very difficult, so thank you for this video.


  38. Jim Penn says:

    Thanks Mark for an excellent demonstration.

  39. O8M4B says:

    Thanks Mark for motivating & inspiring us in last minutes of this video

  40. AlergicToSnow says:

    This great. Learned a few things


    my grandpa said black stands work just fine…he passed away before the digital era
    my grandpa was a wise photographer like my grandpa

  42. blonko86 says:

    Thanks Mark! I fairly new to photography and these videos gave me the confidence to use some lighting!

  43. J C Lovera says:

    Sorry to tell you that your first video has 155k views, but it was so good that I saw it TWICE, so in fact those are only 154999 people that watched it.
    But dont worry. I only liked it once. 😉👍

  44. Kevin T. says:

    I've been involved with photography for better than 30 years now and you still find a way to make things interesting. You're a master Mark – I appreciate your style, knowledge and experience so much. Thanks!

  45. Pál Németh says:

    Thanks Mark!

  46. botvidsson says:

    This is really interesting

  47. Stephen Reed says:

    Superb Mark! Thanks 👍

  48. Kuldeep Negi says:

    awesome tutorial by an awesome teacher… who can dislike this video?

  49. Violet Henning says:

    Very nice video and shaping of light. Dont you use flags to shape the flash?

  50. Peter Liu says:

    Hey Mark! How did you go from F8 to F2.8 without the exposure on the bottle changing dramatically? If I did a 3 stop aperture adjustment on my camera, it would become overexposed– can you please explain?? 🙁

  51. ironsienna says:

    Canon??? Where is your Leica?

  52. jans says:

    Great video Mark…got to love the magic of tape lol. (As we say: what ever works). Keep it up 👍

  53. Herman Surkis says:

    I don't need to know all this stuff about light and controlling light. I am a natural/available light shooter. (: (:

  54. Divi Photos says:

    Cool video

  55. Alvin Lipscomb says:

    Very impressive Lighting skill how-to video.
    @Mark Wallace, I know how skilled you are so how hard was it to purposely set this up with so many mistakes so you could tweak every little issue you had?
    I know you been on Youtube from the very beginning, What that shows how great of a teacher of photography you are.
    There were a few things I couldn't wrap my head around many years ago. I tried reading how-to books and videos nothing worked for me until you did the videos about that subject. (lightbulb) All I can say is Awesome teacher!  
    Thank you.

  56. Jim Mauch says:

    Could you make a ‘Lighting Skills Part 3’ to instruct us on how to work with household DIY flags, reflectors, and diffusers to modify light. We would find it very helpful.

  57. Basant Arora says:

    Highly educative video for beginners . Hats off

  58. Edward Kilner says:

    I enjoyed this. I would prefer more scripted dialog. Fewer but more targeted statements would make your points more strongly, I think.

  59. Birtan Cimen says:

    You really dont know what are you doing there.

  60. A K says:

    knowing light angles is the art of experienced photographer ..thumbs up

  61. Afzal Majeed says:

    Great vid Mark. One Question what would one do if he/she is unlucky and the metering is not 2.8

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