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Book Review: Light – Science and Magic – Introduction to Photographic Lighting Third edition by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua

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Any time you have a book that makes it to the third edition, you have a winner. It means that people bought it enough times and over a long enough period that the authors had to update it to keep up with current technologies. Light: Science and Magic is that kind of book. If you are a photographer, you work with light. You owe it to your self to become a master of light.

No matter the type of camera that you have, no matter how smart it may be, it is still up to you to take control of the moment, and using your eyes and your brain, capture the scene. Light: Science and Magic is not your typical how to do it book — this is an how to understand book. You will learn how to predict the size of light, types of reflection, and how to work the angles that you are provided with.

This book breaks down into ten chapters. Chapter one, called “How to Learn Lighting”, introduces you to the tone of the book; that Light: Science and Magic is a discussion, not a lecture. That is, everyone has their own opinions about art, beauty and aesthetics and the goal of this book is not to change them, but rather to give you a set of tools to achieve your visions. As is noted in the book, “Shakespeare’s tool was the Elizabethan English language, not a quill pen.” To that end, your tool is light, not a camera. If you want to take better pictures, you must learn to use light. In this chapter, the authors discuss equipment, principles and in general, how the book works.

Chapter two, “Light: The Raw Material of Photography,” explores what is light and how photographers describe light. You will learn about brightness, contrast, absorption and reflection. You will see how the subject affects their lighting and how direct and diffuse transmission of light works.

Chapter three, “The Management of Reflection and the Family of Angles,” is all about the reflection of light and the fact that photographic lighting is about light management. You will be shown how the types of reflection affect a photo, how to work with the family of angles and what the “Inverse Square Law” is and how it impacts your lighting.

Chapter four, “Surface Appearances,” shows you how different surfaces react to different kinds of lighting and how you can deal with the effects. Chapter five, “Revealing Shape and Contour,” explains how you can use the shapes and curves of the object that you are photographing to their best advantage. By interpreting the visual clues that our brains need to have to interpret depth, we are better able to capture the essence of the object.

Chapter six, “Metal,” explores the perceived difficulties of photographing metal. In essence, once you learn the keys of this art, you will find that photographing metal becomes quite easy because it is very predictable.

Chapter Seven, “The Case of the Disappearing Glass,” is all about how to handle the fact that glass is transparent. Unlike metal, glass generally does not reflect the light, it lets the light pass through, and when it does reflect, the reflections are tiny and sharp. Chapter eight, “An Arsenal of Lights,” will give you the information that you need to light any kind of subject. The authors begin with the basic set-up and move through all aspects of lighting.

Chapter nine, “The Extremes,” focuses on what you need to know when you situation is out of your hands and you just have to deal with it. They talk about over/under- exposures, the “bad camera,” white-on-white scenes, black-on-black, curves, and over-manipulation.

Chapter 10, the last chapter “Traveling Light,” examines what you need when traveling on location. Here they talk about strobes, color matching, bounce flash, and how to improve the quality of location light.

There truly is a lot to like about Light: Science and Magic. First, it is the most complete reference to lighting that I have seen. Second, the authors, while assuming that you know little about lighting, present the topic in a non-demeaning manner, and advance the topic very quickly. You learn about light from a technical perspective, building layer upon layer until you can master the techniques. Finally, the quality of the book exceptional, with full color pictures that describe the techniques and enhance the experience.

If you are a photographer of any type, especially one who does studio work, this is a must-have reference. The added bonus is that the topics learned from this book will never go out of date.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.