Understanding Light Falloff

Understanding Light Falloff

If you read my blogs it won’t come as a surprise that I’m particularly interested in off-camera flash, especially for lifestyle portraits.

I have been experimenting with Speedlight’s over the last few years, which has dramatically improved my photography and my understanding of light and lighting, but I am far from being an expert and continue to hit hurdles in relation to lighting. Understanding light, natural or artificial is integral to photography and can make a huge impact on an image.

Many aspects of photography take time to learn and improve and in my opinion, lighting is perhaps the most challenging to master. However, by practicing, one gains experience and you are the able to start to learn what you did not know.

The importance of understanding light falloff can have immense practical implications for photographers, but when you start out on your flash lighting journey, Inverse Square Law examples (Distance = 2. Inverse = 1/2. Squared = 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4) for me was more of hindrance than a learning point and I just did not understand what I was reading.

In this article I will be sharing the important principle of light – Light fall-off, in a visual way that I hope will make the basic principles of Inverse Square Law easier to grasp.

One of the best ways to begin to understand Inverse Square Law and how it works is to take some images with your flash against a wall. The two images below were taken with a Godox TT350 flash, zoom head set at 24mm and the same TT350 flash, with the zoom head set at 105mm. You can see clearly the difference in both light falloff and spread (angle of the light)



Whenever we use a light source to illuminate an object, that object is being hit with multiple “rays” of light. Some of those rays are hitting the object in the place which is nearest to the light source, and some of the rays are hitting the subject where is furthest from the light source.

The light that falls on the closer side to the light source will be brighter then the light hitting the furthest side. This is because the light will scatter more when it makes its long journey to the far side. (This is not true for focused beams and laser, but this thumb rule can be applied to most studio lights and strobes).

In portraiture, when you are taking a portrait using only a key light (i.e. a single light). Your subject will be more lit where the light is close and darker where the light is far.

Example Of Godox AD200 Bare Bulb with Normal & Wide Reflector



What Effects Light Falloff?

The distance of light from the subject
the closest the light source is to the subject, the stronger light falloff you’ll get.

The Size Of Light:
The larger the light source the more diffused the light it produces and the less light falloff you will experience. For example, a large softbox will produce less light falloff then a small softbox; a bare flash will produce more light falloff then a flash shot through an umbrella.

The further one takes the light source from the object being lit, the less light fall of one can expect.

How far should you place the light source? That depends on your lighting vision, but here are some considerations:

The furthest the light the less light falloff and less drama.

If you increase the distance of the light source from your subject the light is getting “smaller” and harsher. The effect will be more noticeable if you are using a smaller softbox.

Experiment with the light falloff, you’ll be surprised how effective and useful it can be in photography.

The Lighting Of Road To Perdition

The Lighting Of Road To Perdition

I decided to write a blog about the film Road To Perdition due to its beautiful cinematography which made me curious about how it was crafted which I will cover later.

Although set in the 1930’s era of Chicago, unlike most mob films, Road To Perdition has a distinctly different feel to the majority of films that have been produced over the years that tell the stories of prohibition, bootlegging.

The film visually conveys some of the best lighting and composition I have seen and the work and skill that has gone into the framing and lighting is a work of art. Much of the work in relation to the lighting may go unnoticed by many viewers, but to me it’s like a moving Hopper painting and the resemblance is both obvious and uncanny with the camera focusing upon people in pools of light and shadow which provide a visual key to the emotional meaning to a scene or character.

Despite a list of very well known actors, Mendes (the director) wanted to keep the audience at a distance from Tom Hanks’ character for the first part of the film, this was achieved through clever lighting and composition, the director of photography Conrad Hall, ASC, and Director Sam Mendes

The film has very carefully crafted compositions, it’s meticulously cut, and it’s paced very gently and slowly, all of which is good for the way the story unfolds. OriginallyRoad to Perdition was to be shot entirely on location in Chicago and the nearby town of Pullman to create an authentic Midwestern look. The Illinois State Film Commission provided the filmmakers with the Armoury, the largest location mainstay in Chicago and large enough to hold a football field, so the facility offered the filmmakers considerable flexibility. The interiors of the Sullivan house and the Rooney mansion were among the sets also built at the Armoury. What I learned about the Lighting Of Road To Perdition

“We had four or five trailer loads of lighting and equipment,” says gaffer Stern, “and although production would probably say it was really big, I’d say we had just enough.

It took six miles of 4/0 cable, which fed four 24 x 12K racks, to light the Armoury. The cable also fed two 48 x 4K racks — enough to illuminate an average suburban neighborhood. Some 20Ks were also used to create sidelight. Every light fixture was run through the ETC. Wall outlets on the set were practical and were also patched into the dimmer controls. The stage was kept rigged at all times because whenever exterior filming during the Chicago winter proved too harsh, the production headed indoors for coverage.

The backings — black for night scenes and white for day were lit with a mix of 10K Fresnel’s and 5K Skypans; there were about 60 Skypans and 30 Fresnel’s in use at all times. All of the lights were patched into a dimmer board using an ETC rack system. The small Fresnel instruments were usually aimed directly at white parts of the ceiling to create a soft bounce fill.

If you have not watched this film, here is a brief outline: Road to Perdition is American crime film directed by Sam Mendes. The screenplay was adapted by David Selfformthe graphic novel of the same name, by Max Allan Collins. The film stars Tom HanksPaul NewmanJude Law, and Daniel Craig. The plot takes place in 1931, during the Great Depression, following a mob enforcer and his son as they seek vengeance against a mobster who murdered the rest of their family.

The scenery and settings for this movie help to create quite a unique atmosphere and the wide shots, long angles that are used help to make this film stand out as being above average. Beyond just the cinematography, the acting by the cast also stands out.

Road To Perdition is an extremely beautiful film and I now find myself watching it time and again, looking at the lighting and composition and it’s teaching me a great deal.




Snaizholme Red Squirrels

Snaizholme Red Squirrels

Snaizholme Red Squirrels

A century ago reds squirrels were common in woods and plantations throughout the UK, but with the spread of squirrel pox their numbers have declined significantly over the years. There are now around 160,000 red squirrels left in the UK, populations can be found in Scotland, the Lake District, Northumberland and the Yorkshire Dales.

As I live in Yorkshire, fortunately the Snaizholme Red Squirrel Nature Reserve is not too far to get too and the reserve provides some great opportunities to watch and photograph the reds. I can also take advantage in visiting at different times of the year.

The red squirrel’s recovery in the Dales took off when the late Hugh Kemp and his wife Jane encouraged a small colony around their farm, Mirk Pot, 1,200ft up in a remote offshoot of Wensleydale called Snaizeholme. The National Park Authority and local landowners have funded the viewing area, which can be found in a woodland clearing and has a feeder to attract wildlife and if you are patient, you will seem them running around the viewing area.

Snaizeholme is in the Widdale area, the reserve is located in a remote area and provides an ideal habitat for Red squirrels with a coniferous woodland. One of the issues in photographing the reds is the light, the light within the reserve changes considerably depending on the time of year and time of day.

I have mainly used a 70mm-200mm f/2.8 for the images displayed here, but if you want to capture the reds in the air or on the feeders, you will need more reach, minimum 400mm. Like most wildlife photography, you have to be patient and look for potential locations to frame shots, but if you are persistent you will be rewarded.

You can find full details of the Red Squirrel Trail at Snaizleholme by picking up a copy of “Go Nuts For Red Squirrels” leaflet from the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes or download it 

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