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A Trick to Finding Good Available Light

Steve 21 , May 06, 2005; 12:19 a.m.

Ever wander about a location, trying to find good available light? When I first started, I made a lot of mistakes in not taking into account various factors (such as giant walls of pine), and I just found a new tool that can make finding good light even easier: a marble.

Just hold a fist in front of you (like holding a telescope), tuck the marble just under your forefinger, and there you have it - the same lighting an eye would get.

And since you know you want the catchlights to be up at 1 to 2 o'clock, or up high at 12 o'clock, simply turn about until you see the catchlights you want.

The neat thing is that the curves and wrinkles of your hand show you the amount of contrast and backlight.

Here's an example, using window light. In the first the window is back and to the left - no catchlights. But by moving back, the catchlights appear. And then I saw I wanted them higher up on the curve of the marble, and so I sat down, with the window up to my side like a softbox. A nice sweet spot, with few wrinkles.

Thought I'd toss that out there to anyone using available light. Plus, I'd like to hear how you go about it yourselves.

Window Light Example


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Steve 21 , May 06, 2005; 01:45 a.m.

Didn't know my hand was that big. Anyway, I should've posted an outdoors shot 'cause we all know where to sit someone for window light.

Like yesterday I was on a road bordered on both sides by trees - when I faced one way, the top curve of the marble lit up with the evening sky. When I turned about, the marble again lit up, with the low sun bright in thin clouds. A much harder catchlight and contrast. Turning back, I could see the same light gave a good rim-lit effect on my hand.

That's what I meant to show - a trick for beginners to gain experience in finding the best light.

Sheldon Nalos , May 06, 2005; 01:52 a.m.

Very cool! I'll have to start using that trick.

It's almost creepy - the marble almost seems to be looking at me.

Sorry.... It's late....

Ellis Vener , May 06, 2005; 09:55 a.m.

Neat trick indeed! Thanks!

Marshall Goff , May 06, 2005; 11:15 a.m.

I like it.

Melisa Mckolay , May 06, 2005; 01:33 p.m.

That's awesome! Thanks for sharing.

Steve 21 , May 08, 2005; 02:58 a.m.

Thanks for the thanks, and Sheldon, that's not only funny, but from now on I'm going to bend out my thumb like a nose. Heck, it'll amuse kids, and afterwords I can always give them the marble.

Joe Demb , Jul 12, 2008; 06:11 p.m.

I never thought of the marble for checking the eye highlight. Bravo! I always used my fist just this way during my career to find where to place my subject's hair light. I would walk to a place where the sun was coming through the trees over the subjects shoulder, hold my fist at head height & move it until I got the back light, left, right, or center on my fist. Then just move the subject's head to where my fist was. Voila! Correctly placed highlight first time. It's actually faster to do it than to type it.

Michelle Scott , Jan 03, 2012; 01:36 a.m.

I agree with Joe Demb on both counts.
Never thought of using a marble, but it's brilliant.
And I was taught in school to use my fist to decide where to place a hair light.

BTW I love the photo with the two marbles lol

Matt Laur , Apr 15, 2012; 08:48 a.m.

This thread is another of PN's fabled buried treasures, come to light. Terrific.

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