I say this. Everybody says this, when it comes to lighting a photograph. “Get your main light done first!” Make sure you get that lead light, the flash that makes the statement, done first and done right. That light, big or small, announces, characterizes, beautifies, polishes up, and declares your subject as the rock star of the photo. One hopes for this, anyway. It is generally up front and at the center of the action, in the foreground. And, quite naturally, that’s the light you work on first, as it anchors the photo.
But every once in while, it makes sense to build a photo from the back to the front. I showed this recently at an Adorama sponsored workshop at the Tribeca Skyline Studios in downtown Manhattan. We had an amazing couple of days, with five sets rocking and rolling all day, big and small flash, beautiful, charismatic models, and the lessons of light bouncing all over the place. I did demos in the morning, then folks shot on their own, and then I closed each day with another quick (very quick) demo before everybody went downstairs to greet the NYC rush hour.
We had James Gallagher on the set, which was a truly fortunate event, as he has great presence in front of the camera. I didn’t really know exactly where I was going with this when I started, but there’s been many a lighting grid I’ve started with the old, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” kind of a shrug and a bash on regardless mentality. Pursuant to this, I thought two Profoto 1×6 strip soft boxes, fitted with D1 packs, were a good idea. As you can see my first frame is not promising. But I started this way, because I guess I had symmetry in mind, and I wanted to get the rim lights even. And when they’re the only lights in the photo, and all else is dark, it’s easy to pick up on your screw ups.
One’s too dim, one’s too bright and they’re not placed all that well. First frame, 4:41. Quickly adjust.
Better placement, left is still a bit hotter than camera right light.
Go to incandescent, turns them blue. (The flashes are ungelled.) Still a bit brighter, camera left. Hello Joe, you do see it’s a bit too bright, don’t you?
Add background, a Profoto B1 with red gel, and ten degree honeycomb grid. Too weak.
Power it up. Looks good, but slightly off to the right.
Reposition, get the glow centered behind James. Still forgetting about the camera left blue highlight being too strong. Sigh.
Add double gelled (for warmth) Profoto B1 with five degree spot grid. Bang that into literally the heart of the matter, the amazing tattoo James has on his chest.
Add Lastolite speed light box overhead on an Avenger c-stand, running on manual slave mode. (SB-910, running on SU-4 mode.) Too normally placed, and too far away, it bleaches out the warm highlight on the chest. It also is gelled, but just with one full cut of CTO, bringing it back to a “normal” or white light condition in response to the incandescent WB.
Reposition the speed light box much closer to James, and ask him to angle his head up into it. The closeness and steep angle combine to limit the spread of the box so the warm highlight retains a good amount of intensity. The position of his face, slightly up and into the light, is important.
Add some intensity of expression. First frame off. Ask him to open hands and try to remember how to compose with some measure of spacing and reasonable framing.
Shot I liked. Second frame. Done. 4:49. On the frame above, I did a little saturation, and a bit of burning and dodging. Below is same pic, jpeg out of the camera.
I never did anything about the slightly hotter blue. Next time, maybe. But almost assuredly, I’ll forget something else. It’s just the way of location light, especially when you’re moving fast. Now I had Jon and Cali with me on this, moving the lights. We had a 5pm scram time, and I had 50 people I was talking to about doing this while I was shooting and the pix were going up on the screen. So, yes, when you gotta move fast, there’s no substitute for a knowledgeable crew working with you. Many thanks to them.
And thanks to all the folks who came to the studio lighting workshops! And to Adorama, who staged them. They were so well received, I have a feeling we’ll do it again one of these days. And to our wonderful, patient models, thank you! You guys were a great and beautiful crew to work with–James Gallagher, Kaydence Frank, Sharinna Allen, Alexandra Martignette, and Anthez Williams. Makeup by Bethany Serpico, and Anna J. Bearman. Huge thank you to Seth Miranda, who is a terrific shooter, and creates special effects characters portraits like no one else. He helped us all weekend, and arranged for the special effects makeup we had on the set, which was a big hit with all the photogs who participated.