The construction of a skylight is a subject that nearly every photographer has to consider at some period of his life, and nearly everyone has to face conditions that are different from all others. There was never a light put into a building but that could be criticised by some other operator. Most of us have our pet ideas and, of course, think we know more of such matters than any other person in existence, and yet some of the other fellows seem to be doing equally as good work as we are.
It matters not what style light one may have, it will have some good and some bad qualities, and what we should endeavor to do, is to bring into play the good qualities, as far as possible, and leave out the bad, where it is possible. This can only be done by studying the light closely and experimenting under it, so as to get all of the changes of which it is capable. There are times when a light will work better than at other times, or at least better results may be obtained with less trouble than at other times. The operator should make it his duty to know these changes in his light.
The most popular lights used are the single and double slant lights, and different styles of these lights are to be found in almost every town on the globe. But after all, what we are laboring for are effects, and if the correct effects are obtained, what matter it what style light was used? The main thing for an operator to know is what he is after, and when this knoweldge is acquired, he will find a way to put it in practice.
In this book I expect to state the experience of twenty years' actual practice under almost every style light imaginable, and the manner in which some of these lights gave the best results. I am well aware that there are operators (and I have no doubt they are proficient, too,) that would work these lights differently, but as I cannot speak for them, I shall confine myself to an expression of my own views, gained after constant work, since the day of my taking up this line of work.
I shall make use of drawings and measurements, so that any one may easily understand which light will best suit his purpose. There are numbers of operators who are at a loss to know just what style and size light to place in some particular room they may have in view. It is for just such cases as these that these directions are intended, and we will hope that they will successfully meet their mission.
The First style light that we will consider will be a double slant light, with the top light 8 x 10 feet in size, and the side light 6x8 feet. If we have a room of narrow dimensions, say not over 15 feet wide, this would be the light we should put into such a room. The side light should commence four feet from the floor, and run up six feet, and there join the skylight, which should continue on up at an angle of 45 degrees to a height of ten feet. Both the side and top light should be of heavy ground glass. For curtains I would use opaque curtains of a green color. Have a set of four curtains on the top of the light down to the side light. On the side light have another set of the same number, running on rollers from the bottom up to the top light. In addition to these there should be a set of diffusing curtains made of some white goods, such as "drilling," running across the top and side light. These curtains can be arranged so as to run on rings, over wires, so that they may be easily pushed about at will. They should not be one long curtain stretching all the way across the light, but should be divided in the center, so that the direct light may be let in at any point.
In addition to the curtains, a head screen will likely be found necessary for this light, as it is probable that a light of these dimensions will work somewhat strong, and full of contrast. These head screens are useful in many ways, and may be had of any stock dealer, at a nominal cost. They are usually made of cheese cloth and are so made that they work in a base somewhat similar to a headrest, enabling the operator to raise them to a height of several feet.
I recommend this light for this size room for the reason that one can seat the subject closer to it, and this will be necessary in so narrow a room.
For a room of twenty feet wide, I would prefer a light similar to the sketch submitted in this article. It is a single slant light of ground glass, commencing five feet from the floor and extending up fifteen feet, at an angle of 45 degrees. It should be twelve feet wide. Such a light will be easily handled. It has been my experience that the more slants added to a light, the more reflections we have to contend with. This light should be curtained in the same way that the double slant should, and the head screen will likely prove of benefit under it. There have been some who have objected to the single slant light, claiming that they were not as good for groups as the double slant. I think the trouble was due to their having a room of such narrow dimensions that they had to work too close to the light, or it may be the angle of the light was too high. A 45 degree light has always given me good results, where it was placed in a room of not less than twenty feet.
There are some so situated that they have to put in a light from the top of the building altogether. This style light is very unsatisfactory, for the reason that it is almost impossible to get a lighting on a bust picture without heavy shadows under the eyes, nose and chin. However, if nothing better can be done, in my opinion a light ten feet wide and twelve feet high will be amply large for a room of twenty feet wide or over. In working such a light the operator will have to work well away from the light, at least twelve feet from the lower end of the light, so as to allow the light to strike well under the nose.
The heaviest ground glass should be used in the construction of this light, and curtained the same as the foregoing lights. Here the head screen will have to be used in nearly all cases.
Another very popular light with some operators, and one that is just coming to the front, is the straight slant, and which is all side light, being set in the side of the house at a 90 degree angle. This style light I think good, and easy to handle on bust work, and very good also for single figures. But it is somewhat more difficult to secure groups under it. However, where judgment is used, some very creditable work may be obtained by its use. In working this light, the subject should be facing a trifle more toward the light than for any of the preceding lights, and the lower opaque curtains should be raised to such a height as to force the light to fall on the subject at an angle of 45 degrees. In lighting a face this idea should be followed at all times, it matters not at what angle the light may set in the room. Have this light curtained the same as the preceding lights, but in this case, a side screen should be used in place of the head screen.
There are those, however, that can put in a light to suit themselves. If all things can be arranged, I would suggest that the operating room be about thirty feet wide and fifty long. In this room I would put either a single or double slant light. If a double slant is preferred, have it begin four feet from the floor for the side light and extend up six feet, and there join the top light and then run up on a 45-degree angle for fifteen feet. Have both side and top light fifteen feet wide. Use five curtains running on rollers from the top down to the side light, and five from the bottom up to the top. Also have the diffusing curtains as described previously. There will hardly be any need of a head screen with such a light, as it has breadth enough to give softness. Any effect in lighting may be obtained with perfect ease and the operator will never feel cramped for room as is often the case with a smaller room and light.
If a single slant light is preferred, (and it will be found equally as good), have it of heavy ground glass, (in fact all lights should be of ground glass) and sixteen feet square, beginning four feet from the floor and extending up the sixteen feet in height.
Have it curtained the same as for the preceding double slant light, and work it very much the same.
1. All lights should be of ground glass.
2. One set of curtains should be perfectly opaque, the other merely to diffuse or soften the light.
3. The operating room should be papered with some dark, non-reflecting paper. A dark green makes a pleasant color.
4. Study the plans given here for putting in a light and see if some one of them will not fit your case.
6. Remember, the stronger your light works, or the more contrast it gives, the more you will have to diffuse your light. Use the white curtains or the head screen for this purpose.
7. If your light is about to baffle you, try to assist matters by modifying your developer.
8. Regardless of what your light may be, work to get the light falling on your subject at an angle of 45 degrees, and you will be all right.
9. If one side of your subject's face is too white and the other too dark, your light is stronger than the top; soften it down.
10. If heavy shadows appear under the eyes, nose and chin, your top light is stronger than the side; cut it off.
11. Get the top and side light working in harmony.
12. Use a headrest on any exposures of over two seconds; it saves "resits."
13. Sometimes a bad reflected light may strike the shadow cheek. It may come from the floor. Have the floor painted a dull brown or use carpet of that tone.
14. Do not use any more reflected light on the shadow side of the face than necessary. Reflected light destroys modeling. However, the shadows must be illuminated, so use just enough for that purpose.
15. Do not use the reflector too near the subject, nor too far toward the rear of them, but have it well up to the front.
16. If your light should happen to be a south light, have a curtain of thin cloth, pink in color, running on a wire, so that it may drop down from the skylight clear to the floor. Have this curtain come between your subject and the side light. It will give a softer and more delicate negative.
17. Time for the shadows always, paying no attention to the high lights.
18. Develop for the high lights, paying no attention to the shadows.