Anyone who has a minimum of familiarity with photography knows full well that being able to recognise and fully master various types of light allows you to achieve entirely different images using the same subject and lens. So much so that these can go from being considered, depending on the circumstance, lovely to look at and pleasing to the eye or unpleasant and insignificant.
Here are two physical parameters that the quality of the light depends on, and which it's necessary to know how to interpret in order to achieve the images we desire:
Incident light and reflected light
As regards the first parameter, first of all it is necessary to distinguish between incident light, that is, the type that strikes your subject, and indirect or reflected light, which instead reaches the scene after being modified by diffusion, reflection and filtering.
The example of a person's face photographed or filmed in strong summer sunshine and then on a cloudy autumn day is the most direct and easiest to understand, and it clarifies precisely what the difference is between the two types of light: in the first case, the image will have large areas of strong lighting contrasts, with sharp, dark shadows under the nose, the chin and the eyes, contrasting with much lighter areas that reflect a lot of light; in the second case, the face will instead be lit much more evenly.
Hard and Soft Lighting
Instead, what determines whether the light is incident or reflected is the distance and size of the light source.
When this is very small compared to its distance from the subject, incident light is produced, causing sharp, well-defined shadows (therefore three-dimensionality): this is the so-called hard lighting.
On the contrary, when the light source is large compared to its distance from the subject, the shadows it casts are softened and not clearly defined: in this case it's called soft lighting.
The sun, the natural light source par excellence, although huge, is located so far away from the Earth that we consider its rays as parallel and therefore generated by a point source. For this reason, its lighting is classed as hard.
The Earth's spinning and rotating movements, its atmosphere and the variability of weather conditions are, however, all factors that constantly intervene and change the quality of sunlight.
The influence of the first two manifests itself in the changing angles of the sun's rays with the optical axis of the lens, even if the position of the subject and the position you're shooting from do not change. To make this clear, try taking the exact same photo at 8.00 in the morning and at 8.00 in the evening; or at the same time but on July 15th and then on January 15th. And then compare the photos...
In order to find the angle of incidence that best suits your shooting requirements, it's clear that the quickest and most direct system is moving the camera rather than waiting for the change in seasons ... But, in any case, the most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that by increasing this angle (that is, going from an alligned or frontal light – a 0° angle of incidence – to the other extreme of against the light – 180°), an increasingly large area of the three-dimensional subject will be in shadow and, consequently, less and less of the subject will be directly illuminated.
Diffusion, instead, is caused by the atmosphere and the variability of the weather. A ray of light that passes through a translucent substance will clash with the particles contained in that substance and will be forced to "bounce" in every direction. Obviously, the higher the number of particles impeding the ray of light, the more this process will be increased.
The atmosphere of our planet in itself already diffuses light, but if we add to this conditions of heavy cloudiness (or heavy smog...), the end result will be the great diffusion of sunlight which, as it reaches every part, will not produce shadows on the subjects photographed and will therefore give rise to a feeling of "softness".
It's a little as if the entire sky above us acts as a huge light source.
When diving in greenish and milky water (the nightmare of every underwater cameraman/photographer!) do not let that this "horrible" environmental condition forces you to resurface without any good picture.
On the contrary, use it to your advantage!
How? I will tell you: if you have an underwater light source with enough power, go and find subjects which are in a strong backlight.
By properly illuminating them with your artificial light and from close range, you will get images with your subject sharp and well exposed but, at the same time, also wrapped in an ethereal and mysterious aura.
A very impressive visula effect!
Have you ever had to film where it is cold. But really cold, I mean...
And that is, below -15/-20 °C.
If it should happen, do not forget to put among each piece of your equipment also a small brush with soft bristles, to always keep at your fingertips.
In fact, in case something should fall on the glasses or on the metal parts of your photo/videocamera (such as snowflakes, gravel, or simply a lint), the biggest mistake you could make would be to try to remove it by blowing on.
The water vapor in your breath, reaching the chilly surfaces, would freeze instantly, with all the negative consequences you can imagine.
With the brush, instead, problem solved!
The report photographer or the filmmaker, especially if geographically and naturalistically orientated, must be able to deal with every kind of situation and should know how to respond technically (and creatively) to challenges. Seeing that his equipment often coincides with what can fit into a travelling bag, he will have at his disposal just a selected and limited lenses kit suitable for coping with the various needs that can occur during his work.
However he must show ability in every photographic genre using what he has available in that moment.
Knowing exactly how the same scene will react if captured by a lens with an ultra wide-angle rather than a short telephoto , this provides photographer with a whole range of expressive options from which he can select the best one.
However, those who think that the telephoto lenses are used to film far positioned objects while the wide angle lenses are suitable for filming the nearer ones, they have no idea what it means to take a picture.
Having available in only one instrument a focal length range that can go from 17 to 40 mm, or from 24 to 70 , or from 28 to 300 , is definitely a great comfort. This advantage, however, does not exempt the report photographer to be fully aware that, acting on the ring or on the zoom button , it will change both the prospective and the extension of the Depth of Field (PdC, see the dedicated post). Only this awareness will allow him to choose the best perspective and focal length.
The wide-angle lenses are the ones with the shorter focal length (in mm).
They reduce the distance between the nodal point of lens (the outer lens) and the focal plane (the digital sensor or film), when the focus is set to infinity.
If referring to the standard frame format Leica 35 mm, their upper limit would technically be represented by the length of 43 mm (see the next section on "normal lenses") but are conventionally considered wide-angle lenses the ones that come up to 35 mm.
These lenses have very high field angles (from about 60 ° up to 180 ° of the Fish -eye) and therefore they allow the fixing of very large frame parts, they will be just as greater as the focal length employed will be shorter.
Their main characteristic is to accentuate the perspective effects, enhancing the elements upfront and making the ones which are right behind them smaller and farther.
However, they have several problems of perspective distortion, starting from the disturbing effect of the falling lines.
Under 24 mm we enter the sub-category of the ultra- wide angle lenses.
The lenses called "normal" are the class of lenses that have a focal length range that go from 40 to 70 mm. As most experts know, the real normal lenses are the 50 mm ones because they faithfully reproduce the perspective of the human eye (hence the attribute of "normality") .
It seems to be an approximation because, technically, the same prospect of that of the human vision seen at the same focal length coincides with the length of the diagonal of the frame, and because in the standard format of 35 mm the diagonal of the frame (24x36mm) is 43 mm , the true "normal " should have a focal distance of that length.
Actually, only this objective deserves the title of " normal" !
However, the main characteristic of this class of lenses is to reproduce the elements of the scene while maintaining, between them, the same proportions and the same relative distances that appear to the naked eye.
But, given the great proliferation of sensors of different sizes, it is important to remember that a 50 mm will be "normal" only if used on Full- Frame machine (FF-sensor size corresponding to the traditional 35 mm film). It will become a medium -telephoto when coupled with an APS-sized 16.7 x 30.2 mm. In order to have a normal with this type of sensor lens of 40 mm must be used. The reference is always to consider the diagonal of the sensor.
Above 70 mm we are in the telephoto category. They represent the optics with the greater focal length and the angle of reduced view.
Contrary to the wide-angle, they photograph only part of the scene, to fill the frame with just one or a few elements, thanks to their ability to "approximate" what is far away. Prospectively they represent the inverse of the wide angles, compressing the various prospective plans and reducing the relative distance between them.
From 70 mm to 150 mm the lenses are called medium-telephoto lenses and they are considered the most suitable for portraits. When bigger than 300 mm they are called ultra-telephoto lenses and they are the most used in the photographic hunting... and by paparazzi!
If there is a thing I thought I would never realize in my life it certainly is a wedding video...
But never say never!
The occasion to contradict my certainty has been provided by two friends of mine, Fabio and Francesca, who, having fixed the date of their wedding, decided to turn to me to get the video of their best day.
Actually I did not think twice before enthusiastically accepting their proposal because, to be honest, it was not exactly a wedding like any other one...
And it is not not just because Fabio and Francesca decided to get married underwater (as many people do all over the world nowadays) that I accepted their offer with no hesitation: the fact is this wedding was meant to be (and it has been) a depth record wedding. At 60 metres below the sea surface!!! How could I miss such a great opportunity?!
Although this production certainly did not have any business purpose, actually from the technical point of view has requested a very meticulous management of the operations and the support of many other professional figures. First of all of the underwater ones.
Anyone with a little experience on SCUBA tanks and regulators knows very well that spending half an hour at a depth of 60 metres represents a quite long and challenging bottom time (this kind of dive is outside of recreational diving while definitely is a technical dive) but, at the same time, it is a very short time for shooting a well done wedding video.
It's one of those situation in which the "first take" absolutely need to be right...
The use of the rebreather – and I was among those divers who dived by this machine – certainly made things a little easier compared to traditional scuba diving system, but the fact remain that such a particular and demanding underwater production puts the underwater cameraman and his support team over against a series of problems and constraints that it is certainly worth investigating. Because they have a strong educational value, even for those who handle a videocamera only on dry land.
The first constraint the filmmaker must to face in this case is the absolute impossibility to go up and down, both for the protagonists of the viseo and himself.
Who already has a SCUBA diving license will consider it an obvious banality; but in case of such a deep dive – and this is not so known – even those slight "ups and downs", so frequent in recreational diving, are not allowed.
In videographic terms it means a filmmaker will never have the opportunity to repeat twice the same scene during the descent and ascent phases; and not only for having a better one, but also to get the classical shots and countershots to be use in the editing.
Yet, in my video "Deep wedding", shots and reverse shots are present, in particular in the initial phase of descent of the bride toward the sed bottom...
Don't think badly: I'm not the one who does not practise what he preaches. Especially because I care about my life!
Those shots and reverse shots, in the strict definition, are 'fake' because they do not film the same scene from opposite angles, but are (more or less) immediately following situations and therefore only "similar" since they are separated by a temporal break.
The difficulty completely lies in filming them in such a way that, once edited, they give the viewer that feeling of continuity and fluidity of the action which, actually, does not exist...!
To do this, the only possible way is having a very clear idea on the sequence of the scenes that will be shot during the dive, because - and I am going to say another banality that is, however, much less silly than it may seem - the ability to communicate underwater with the actors is reduced almost to zero.
Try to think how difficult it can be to record a scene without having the chance to tell your actors even only to move just a little more to the right or a little more to the left...
Obviously not everything can be planned "out of the water" before of the dive according to a detailed script. Do not forget that in technical dives, safety protocols always prevail over any other thing and therefore even the small, inevitable snags that arise during the dive invariably entail momentary stops of the shots and the modification of ...the script.
So, what can the underwater cameraman do? Simply he must build many small ways of escape. That is to say he must record a series of "wildcard" scenes which allow, during assembly, to get in and out the various framings of the movie at any time, providing the viewer with a series of cuts that are consistent with the story. A kind of aces in the hole you can pull off in moments of impasse. The descent rope, for example, is always equal to itself, at any depth, and once recorded in one or two sequences will prove to be a trusted friend you can rely on in the editing, several times. Like so the scenes with the air bubbles rising up to the surface or with the team divers' faces during the dive are valuable.
In fact, in such a situation, you can not forget to film the individual participants at the underwater wedding absolutely, because afterwards each of them will be able to solve a problem during the editing.
It is obvious that the filmmaker's attention will be focused on the couple, but I think it is interesting to highlight that in the case of this video "only" 50% of the whole footage has Fabio and Francesca as main subjects.
Paradoxically, in fact, just because I wanted to make a video of their wedding that was both engaging and exciting, I did not spend the whole dive with the lens pointing exclusively on them, without ever straying. If I had acted in this way the final result would have been the "classic", amateur, underwater video full of sequences as much long as boring, interrupted by inconsistent and confusing cuts.
Instead, already having a very precise idea of directing in my mind, a little more than 20 minutes of total footage (very few...) have made possible to achieve all in all a decent product (professionally speaking) and able to convey the excitement of such an extraordinary wedding.
I would like to reserve one last technical remark to the great professionalism of the divers who attended the event. It is known that one of the most dangerous enemies of the underwater cameramen and photographers is the suspension: well, being with 9 divers located at the depth of 60 meters on a sandy bottom for about half an hour and not find ourselves immersed in the "fog" is a remarkable achievement, without which I would not have been able to carry out the images of this video.
Long live the the newlyweds!
For further information on the deep wedding and dive technical data please click here
P.S. As Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Peter Jackson ... I added my little cameo at 04'07 ". ;)