Shed,ding Light on Lumens and Lux: Decoding the Mysteries of Photography and Video Lighting

Unraveling the Jargon: Lumens, Lux, and Luminance Explained

Understanding the way light behaves is crucial for every photographer or videographer out there. If you’ve ever had to deal with words such as ‘lumens’, ‘lux’ and ‘luminous flux’, you probably know what I’m talking about. Lighting is an unavoidable topic when it comes to taking good photographs. Let’s take a closer look at some of the terms commonly used in this field, that are often overlooked.

The Lumens Lowdown

Suppose you were driving on a journey, and you wanted to monitor the distance travelled, in kilometres. Lumens are the ‘kilometres’ of lighting – the basic measure of visible light produced by a light source. This is the figure we can use, when considering different light sources for different applications, and using this data alone will strongly guide us towards better lighting, and to getting a better shot. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Godox SL-60W or your go-to studio light: how much light you’re getting from your light source is an absolute essential.

Lux: The Light Measurement Maestro

While lumens determines simply the total amount of visible light produced, lux rounds off that understanding with another dimension: how that light is distributed over an area. Videographers and photographers who shoot in comfort with a light that does not burn the subject to a crisp, while also avoiding a shadowy haze, will appreciate lux, rescued from the toils of the mechanics at work. At 1 meter, for example, the Aputure Amaran P60X can create 5,070 lux, ensuring those shots are expertly lit, and images have depth and drama.

Tackling the Inverse Square Law and Other Mathematical Mysteries

The search for ideal illumination doesn’t end with knowledge of lumens and lux, for now the shadowy star of the light-and-darkness plot comes into its own. The inverse square law, the equation that links the distance from your light source to the amount of light you need to shine in order to keep your reading level at a certain level, is now an actor on the stage. For every doubling of the distance from your light source, four times the amount of light (by the inverse square) will be necessary to shine in order to keep your reading level the same. Thus light and distance intertwine in a fascinating relationship. Add in the focusing ‘beam angle’ of the light, and you begin to see yourself as a magus of light and shadow who can rewrite the script of the visual narrative to make the ordinary appear dramatic.

The BEAM Angle: Shaping Your Story

The beam angle acts as a brush, focusing a limited amount of light where it is most needed; a wide beam washes a wide scene in light; a narrower beam highlights the subject, whose emotions and features are picked out in detail. Reflector dishes and barn doors can place and shape the light to heighten the drama, creating a feast for the eye.

Beyond Brightness: The Art of Light Manipulation

It’s a world of lumens and lux, of shaped beam angles and scenery-illuminated sculpts. Playing with all the trimmings of light, not just the brightest torch, is the difference between being able, say, to recognise the face of friend or foe in the dark, and being able to separate friend from foe with light. Mastering all three – lumens, lux and the extremely efficient beam angles – opens up the full possibilities of photography and video.

Reflecting on Lumens and Lux

We encountered lumens and lux, beam angles, colour fidelity and colour temperatures; the basic vocabulary of illumination, allowing recorded scenes to be artfully sculpted with focus, feeling and dimension. Shedding the mystique of lighting reduces photography and video to techniques, which is where the fun begins, because once you know how light behaves you start to see everything differently. You start to understand the possibilities. You start to realise how everything can be made to glow.

Understanding BEAM in Photography and Video Lighting

The choice of word ‘beam’ comes up regularly when talking about photography and video lighting, especially in the context of beam angles or how that beam affects a scene. The beam angle can be particularly important, especially with respect to how light is projected from a source – whether it is spread soft and wide or focused at a point. Once an artist feels fully in control to shape and manipulate that beam, a light source can be more than just a luminary point in space, but a focal and versatile tool used to help curate the mood, atmosphere and visual impact of a scene. When we start to explore the different possibilities of light, controlling that beam is a core aspect of the craft.

Jun 14, 2024
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