How to Create Motivated Light in Your Photos

Let’s first clear your doubt. Motivated light isn’t a type of light that motivates you. Nah, that would have been too obvious! Motivated light is actually a light source that you place in the shot. Normally, when we create images using any type of light we avoid putting the light source in the image (unless of course we’re shooting the moon or the stars or the sun). But motivated light is something that we make an exception for:

Gavin Hoey‘s trick involves a cleverly hidden light source (Flashpoint ZoomLioN On-Camera Flash) inside the perceived light source, which is a lantern.

Setting Up the Motivated Light

Hoey used a diffuser cover on top of the flash to make the light a bit more controllable.

motivated light in photos

Flash only, fired at full power

The first shot above was made using just the flash placed inside the lantern. The flash was fired at full power. As you can see, the model is fairly well lit. But the lantern—the perceived light source—is blown out.

flash used as a motivated light source

Flash only, fired at quarter power

To counter the problem Hoey dialed down the power on the flash to 1/4. This resulted in the above exposure. Now the lantern looks a lot better and the model is fairly exposed too, but on one side only.

Adding the Main Light

Now’s the time to bring in the main light source. Hoey brings in a StreakLight 360s mounted on a small beauty dish with a grid. The problem when dealing with motivated lights and then illuminating a model with another light is getting the angle right. It has to appear as if the perceived light source is illuminating the subject. If the angle is too steep, it will look unnatural.

how to use a flash as motivated light

Flash and main light

Hoey does a quick incident light check which read f/5.6 at 1/160 of a second. To increase the depth of field he then increases the power on the main light by one stop, which results in a revised reading of f/8 at 1/160 of a second. That’s perfect. A quick test shot results in the above image. As you can see it’s beginning to get interesting.

Using a Reflector

One thing you may notice is the side of the model’s face away from light is a bit dark.

motivated light in photography

Flash, main light and reflector

To counter this problem Hoey brings in a third light. Well, not exactly a light, but a reflector. A silver reflector to be precise. The result is there to be seen. Now the shadowed side of the model’s face is visible.

Adding a Background Light

The final light that Hoey uses is a background light.

lighting arrangement for motivated light

Flash, main light, reflector, and background light


What Hoey does next is a little bit of Photoshop trickery that magically transforms the crystal ball into a glowing orb—the kind used by fortune tellers.

photoshop and motivated lights

Final Image

Cool, isn’t it?

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