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Chapter 7. The Recipe for Light > A Visual Comparison of Lighting Setups

A Visual Comparison of Lighting Setups

Generally, light is more widely distributed when a light source is larger, and the reflections of that light source—seen on the subject as highlights—are larger as well. The shape of the light source also influences the shape of the highlights. For example, a rectangular soft box will create rectangular highlights on a flat glass or metal object like a beer stein or knife, while a round reflector creates more rounded highlights. The difference is not as pronounced on spherical objects, such as fruit.

The following tables illustrate the impact that a variety of reflectors, umbrellas, soft boxes, and mirrors have on the highlights, shadows, contrast, and detail of the same food subject. You can clearly see the exposure range of each light source in the photos that follow. They are documented by incident light meter readings, which show the numerical difference in exposure between the highlights and shadows. It is important to understand what these numbers represent. When the difference between two readings is great, less detail is captured because there is a large degree of contrast between the highlights and shadows. In addition, the shadows become darker and have less detail. The edges do become sharper. For example, when the difference in exposure between the highlights and shadows is three f-stops, the photograph has more contrast and less detail in the shadows than if the difference between the highlights and shadows is one f-stop.


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