Any casual glance at the shelves of a photography store or the how-to section of a library or book store will turn up a hundred different books eager to tell you about the rules for lighting photographs. They'll tell you about key, back, and fill (in theatre, it's called the McCandless method). They'll talk about hard light, soft light, diffusion, and reflection. They'll describe the perfect color temperatures, and how to white balance your camera like a pro.

And, if you're shooting a fashion show or a high-end product shot, you'll need to follow those rules. If you're just starting out, you'll want to learn those rules. Those rules exist for a reason.

But sometimes... the rules need to be broken.

I have a degree in technical theatre (scenic and lighting design). I've lost track of the number of shows I've lit. I know the rules for theatrical lighting. I've been shooting for 30 years. It's pretty easy to translate the theatrical rules over to photography. I know how light works, and I know how to use it. I'm not a professional photographer, though, and I don't claim to be the best. I'm just an avid hobbyist with a solid background and a desire to create.


In 2007, I got came back from a long hiatus and started shooting again—this time with a new digital camera. I had a new house and a walk-in attic to use as a studio. However, the space had a lot of limitations. For a while, I tried to force the rules to work in my space. I was stupid.

A randon event sent me back to my roots in lighting—roots that included dance. Lighting dance is very different than anything else. Dance doesn't care about faces; it cares about bodies. Dance lighting commonly has no key and no fill. It's all "back". Or, more commonly, side. The light is designed to show of the shape and movement of the body.


So, I pulled out a single halogen light, stuck it on the ceiling, and started shooting some very stark images. The ceiling in my attic studio is 7-feet at the peak. It's 18-inches at the sides. The 500w Fresnel that became my primary light source sits only 6 feet, six inches from the floor. It is a very challenging lighting setup, to say the least.

And yet... The results can be amazing.

The rules exist for a reason. It's important to know the rules. But there comes a point where you have to move past the rules. There comes a time when you need to take risks and find your own style.


What's *your* style?

Photo Credits

Models: Taylor Duffy (left) and Shana Martin (right)