We kind of all know where to put the light by now, at least mostly. Well, some of the time, anyway. Basic lighting info is all over the internet, some of it good, some of it bad or just indifferent. It’s pretty ubiquitous, to the point of being monotonous, such as the axiom of “If you move the light closer to your subject it will appear softer.” There’s so much of this out there you might actually begin to think it’s important, like the kind of important that shows up on the nightly newscast.
“Earlier today it was reported that a man with a flash into an umbrella was evidently using that umbrella more than ten feet from a bride and groom. Police are still searching for this man and have set up a hot line….”
A much more interesting question is of course, how do you find a picture, and once that picture is potentially sorted out, how do you then explain, elucidate or otherwise illuminate said photo so that it makes sense to someone who wasn’t there finding it with you. The viewer of the photo, in other words. The reader of the magazine, or blog, or website. Your customer. That’s kind of what my new tour with the KelbyOne group is about. I’m discussing the thought process of light instead of the mechanics of it.
Questions about f-stops and shutter speeds and Group A, Channel 1 are still important and worthwhile to be sure, but once you have your head wrapped around those items, they should be shunted into a program running on background in your head. The active program on the desktop of your eyes has to be what you see and how you interpret what you see. Which speaks to the issue of lighting what you see.
So, lately, in most instances, when I’ve been teaching, I’m emphasizing more and more the importance of finding the picture. The lighting is important, to be sure. But if you see it well, right out of the gate, before the flashes even come out of the trunk of the car, the light will come.
First, find the angle. Find something that means something, has good dynamic impact, conveys good information, or just looks cool. Below, I sorted out a frame in a boxing gym. It’s got the bags, so you know where you are. The red ribbing of the supports is a plus. Take a look. Slow down. Make an ambient light photo. Establish the frame. This just might be the frame for the action of the photo that you will have to live with for the whole shoot. Time being compressed on location, once you place your bet, you often times gotta stick with it. So, this is a crucial, simple step.
Next, get control. Get rid of the ambient light and start by playing with the look and feel of a main light. In this instance it is the Lastolite Ezy-Box hot shoe soft box, the 24 incher, fitted with an egg crate. I’m standing under it, alone in the darkness, howling at the pixels, fists clenched, shaking with rage at the immutability and unforgiving nature of light, shadow, flash duration and the digital sensor. Actually, it’s just a light test, and I’m goofing around.
Next, establish some context, which can mean lighting some area of the background. This is a Group C, SB 910 speed light, tucked away on a short stand, firing at the floor. A little splash of drama, if you please!
Not pleased with the lack of color. Add a CTO gel to the aforementioned light.
Rim lights for an action hero! A boxer is almost always an athletic, daring, dramatic figure. Lighting up his or her edges tends to be a tried and true means of separating them from the darkness of a background, and lighting their physiques in a cool way.
Aargh! The pain of unfettered rim lights being hid in impromptu fashion by heavy bags. Took some time to get them placed right, so they A) lit the boxer and B) didn’t give me screwy, noticeable shadows in the foreground. This was really a matter of sliding the lights up and down on the stands, and testing, re-testing, re-testing.
Now, my stands are directly below the bags and are visible. Being Manfrotto stackers, they are black and thus not too overt, and someone good at Photoshop could blink them out while eating toast and drinking coffee. Me, I just threw some gym/boxing stuff in front of them to obscure the nature of the supports. I do this a lot, actually. Find semi-appropriate stuff in the environment and use it to obscure the lighting supports.
Also, the background was looking dim. So I threw another light back there to light the wall. Given the CTO warm tone off the floor, I used blue for the wall, figuring I’d get a little pleasing vibrational effect. Look at the level, tone it down.
Black bag on camera left was disappearing, just a tad too much. So I banged a CTO gelled speed light off the wall and hoped for the best. Fussed with it a bit, and got it to a reasonable place where it produced a highlight that is not a HIGHLIGHT. This was actually a fourth group if you will, as my main is Group A, my rims are Group B, and my background is Group C. So I slid this puppy into Group B and it seemed to like the power level. That’s the thing about having three groups to control. If you need to go beyond that, you have to hope your “fourth group” works well in the already determined power level for that set of flashes.
(One thing you can do, is make a single group manual. Just the one group where you are asking the flashes to light different sections of the photo and you want some variance to their power levels. For instance, Groups A and C are working out just fine with a single, TTL directive. But, you are asking Group B to, essentially, multi-task. That group can be thrown into manual, and feathering the lights to different power levels can be accomplished with neutral density gels. That’s really old school, but it works. Lots of ways of going about a photo shoot.)
If that had not worked out, I would have had to go with manual power on everything, gotten out of TTL mode, and thus lost push button ratio control at the camera. Which would have meant I would have had to get up and walk around the set pushing buttons. Instead I remained comfortably seated at the camera, merrily instructing the groups to sing and dance from the commander flash.
Now, introduce talent! Talent that’s been oiled up and sprayed with water!
Talent that is screaming while lifting heavy objects! Objects that just by luck have silver handles which pick up backlight well!
Lighting and talking my way through this took a bit less than an hour, with a total of six speed lights in the field. Each light has a specific job to do, within the frame. But establishing that frame remains the single most important thing. It’s the stage. They then become the players.
Gear used is pretty straightforward for all this. In fact, there is only one light with a light shaper. Everything else is just a raw light, banged or bounced around on the set. All the bits and pieces are hot linked, but further questions, head over to [email protected], my camera consigliere!