*Keep calm and take pictures. Covid Creatives Collective, Project 1 – one light

Hey!  How is everyone?  I’m going a little stir crazy and tired of reading/viewing stupid articles from various forms of media needing us to continue to read and watch the same, slightly warmed over pieces of information.  I get that it’s serious, and perhaps more than we’re giving credit to, but I’m gonna find ways to play with my camera as a break from it all.  Interested in some ideas and collaborations?

Well, as I’m sure most all of us are, I’m totally exhausted by the Corona virus and it’s toilet paper hoarding frenzy.  Seriously, please stop being insane and accept that a couple months supply of toilet paper will be fine.  Some of us actually need toilet paper, so please, I’m days away from taking a lot more showers.  I’m fine without hand sanitizer, that crap dries my hands out something fierce anyway.  Mrs Squeeze and I have two kids, which I’m sure if you’ve been following along at all over the last decade or so, you’re well aware of as they often pop up as photographic subjects for reviews and such.  I mention this, because we’ve all of a sudden become stay at home teachers/parents/fulltime grad student (the Mrs)/fulltime employee (yours truly) and we’re, as everyone else seems to be, juggling how to do all of that on such short notice.  We have at least 6 weeks (currently) where the kids will be at home/out of school, which has changed our daily routine to say the least.  I will be using this next month and a half (at least) to start really teaching my kids about photography as one of our “home school” blocks daily, so I’ll keep everyone abreast about how that goes as well.

Things feel different, certainly, and if trying to digest this rapid change in one large bite, I find that I get stressed and overwhelmed, so I’m actively looking for ways to bring some more normalcy back while finding routes to incorporate things I enjoy doing.  So, here’s to hoping this is the first of a few new entries where we can provide a bit of inspiration for one another.  C’mon in and I’ll share how I’m thinking of tackling some isolated “at home” time with some easy to do photo projects that require nothing more than a phone cam and a lamp, but can easily translate to more “advanced” photo equipment if you’d like…

First things first.  I know many of us are grasping the seriousness and severity of the situation, but as I keep seeing and hearing about, many younger folks, perhaps because they’re not in the highest risk categories, are trying to keep much of their daily routines alive.  We get that you feel invincible.  Good for you.  We need to shut down for a little while though, period.  Binge watch a show, or find a great movie, find a cool recipe to try to cook with a friend or significant other instead of going out to a bar, or party.  Please, seriously.  Stemming the rapid spread of this is job 1 right now.  I know how this affects small business (and large business) as well as hitting the service industry really, really hard.  If we can keep this from ramping up and overwhelming the medical services globally though, this effect will be much more temporary, and in the long run, will be far easier to recover from.  Think of your parents, and grandparents.  A few weeks can turn into months if we don’t stomp on this now, and over that kind of time frame, many, many businesses will never recover.  So, order out instead of dining in, and if you can float it, tip as you would otherwise to help support servers.  Buy gift certificates to your favorite coffee shop or restaurant to help them, and give you a free date night out after this is all over without having to expose yourself and others.  It sucks, but it will get a lot worse if we don’t take it seriously now.  

Our grandparents generation was called upon to go to war (if you’re roughly my age), many of whom gave their lives.  We, as a generation by contrast are being called upon to hang out at home for a few weeks so let’s not go crazy.  We have the internet and Netflix, so surely we can deal.  The unknown can be scary, but with time, we’ll get a better grasp and a vast majority of us will be just fine.  We can do this for the greater good, and in the mean time, maybe we can come up with some fun ways to occupy said time.  Alright, rant over.

I’ll start with photo project ideas that you can do alone, or with family, kids, pets, friends around to keep exercising those creative muscles.  As we move forward I’ll aim to share how it’s going with teaching my kiddos to play with cameras as well.

PROJECT 1 – One Light

One of my favorite things to do when bored (photographically), is to play with light.  There is so much you can do with any type of light (flashlight, lamp, high end studio strobe, candle etc).  The idea here is to try to light a person, scene, subject with just one singular light.  Turn off all other light source around and have a go.  Here are a few ideas:

Rembrandt Portrait

Many years ago, I wrote a post on utilizing Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro shading techniques in his painting, by replicating them using light, photographically.

It’s pretty easy, and can be done with any type of light.  To alter effect, try diffusing the light source.  If you don’t own fancy softboxes, try by putting a white sheet, or even piece of printer paper in front of your light as long as your light source won’t ignite it.  Alternately, you can bounce the light off of a white wall or ceiling.  Depending on the pure power of the light you’re diffusing, you may need to adjust your exposure as you eat said light by way of bouncing or diffusing it, but it’s a great way to play with, and better understand the quality of light, direction and intensity.  A quick way to increase the power of a light source, any light source, is get it closer to your subject.  Move your light closer, or your subject closer to the light source.  Simply put, the closer it is, the more powerful it is.  Technically put, when the distance is halved, the power goes up by a factor of 4x (read more about the inverse square law HERE).  So, there ya go.

The basic concept is to place your light source above, and pointed down toward your subject at roughly a 30-45 degree angle between the perpendicular axis that the subject is on, and the axis your camera is on (see below).  This will produce the telltale “inverted light triangle” on your subject’s opposite cheek, created by the shadow thrown by their nose, below their far eye.

(this diagram has the light on the opposite side to where the light in the example image above is, but the concept and principle are the same)


Low Key Portrait


Using the same light source, and even subject if you’d like, move your light further away and more on perpendicular axis (to subject’s side).  Try removing any diffusion material if any was being used.  By increasing the distance between the source of light and your subject, you will create a harder light source, meaning your light falloff (from highlight to shadow) will be more harsh, and pronounced.  Removing any softening, diffusion material will further punctuate that hardness.  Move the light around and experiment.

Low key lighting is light used in such a way as to accentuate shadow traditionally using a hard light source, and purposely underexposing a majority, if not all of your scene.  It’s a dramatic use of light and can be used to imbue darker, potentially more sinister feelings or emotions within your subject.  

For the shot above, I used the modeling light turned down to a quarter power on one of my AB800 strobes (just a normal 60w bulb) directly to camera right from the subject.  Camera was set to ISO 400, for an exposure at f/1.4 and 1/80 second.  This was very little light and would be less than the standard light on a cell phone would produce, so you can do this with very little power.


Another fun one, and one I’d outlined back when my kids were really young HERE.  This requires more light as you need to blow out the background, and the use of Photoshop (or GIMP!) but if wanting a slightly more laborious project, it can be cool.  Works for people, flowers, or anything with an interesting silhouette.

Still Life

If you’re finding it hard to nail down a breathing subject, find something, anything, around the house that is of visual interest.  All the lighting techniques are the exact same.  Play with the angle, the distance and the quality of the light source.  Keep an eye on reflection (angle of incidence) and specular highlights while moving the light source around your subject, just as you would with a human, or pet.

Pet Portrait!

Speaking of pets, what better opportunity will you have than being stuck at home with a furry, scaly feathered or fishy companion?  It may require treats, but who knows, maybe it becomes a calling and you become a famous and wealthy pet photographer.

I’ll admit, the above portrait of our dog, Chewbarka VonPuppypants, utilized two lights (one to extremely overexpose the background, a white sheet, and one through a soft box to light the dog) so I’m a dirty liar on this one.  Could absolutely just find a nice background to shoot with just one light if desired though.

We’ll conclude there for this week.  Seeing as I’d imagine many of us will have a bit of time on the internet, why don’t we try to resurrect some online forum conversation.  Find your favorite forum and propose projects or ideas.  Share results and if you’d like, I’ll jump back on Flickr (swing by the TRP group HERE) and we can try to jumpstart that dead horse!  It’s an easy (and free) way to share the fruits of our photographic labor, and commune.  What else are we going to be doing with all our spare time?

For those who might like a refresher on better controlling your exposures manually, head over to the Freebie Photography 101 page HERE to work through some of the exercises via the exposure trifecta!

If you have questions about how I did anything here, or in general on how to do something photographically, fire away in the comments or via the contact form and I’d be happy to help!

Finally, if you’d like to receive alerts when new articles drop, you can subscribe via email at the top right of this page if using a standard browser, or below if you’re viewing this on a mobile device.

I hope everyone is doing well, and would like to think we’re all globally capable of working together to limit this stupid, horrible virus.  If you’re able, and comfortable, offer to grocery shop for an older neighbor, friend or family member.  Find ways to continue to support local small businesses, or mom and pop shops online, whether that be through gift certificates, take out, online shopping or pre-buying a membership to a gym or yoga studio if you’re into that kind of thing.  If we need to stay home, perhaps we can find ways to enjoy it, learn and interact with each other from afar.

Stay well, be good for and to each other, and talk soon!

Happy shooting,



3 thoughts on “*Keep calm and take pictures. Covid Creatives Collective, Project 1 – one light

  1. Staggering article-as not out of the ordinary. I will be searching for additional from you. Low key photography is unquestionably a medium that should be investigated further. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

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