I’ve said any number of times, I’ve got an intuitive sense about lighting a bar. I mean, what’s not to like? Mood, atmosphere, patches of darkness as well as highlights and reflections. A canvas to paint on with light. Walk in, breathe in deeply the waft of stale beer, and settle into an angle. The angle is often a confluence of factors. Best place for the subject? Can I show the nitty gritty of the place at the same time? Can I light this effectively in the time that I have? Determine that, spike the camera.
You try to choose the place for the subject wisely. Fortunately this day in the field I was photographing Dominic Minix, a wonderful guitarist, singer and performer in the New Orleans music scene, which always brims with energy and talent. Dominic has considerable supplies of both. When discussing the shoot on the phone, there was a serenity to his voice and demeanor that immediately told me we’d get along well on location. He makes beautiful music, and physically, he’s one of the more magnetic subjects I’ve photographed.
Back to the bar and the light. I cheat, actually. I don’t look into the recesses of the bar, where interminable darkness reigns. I look outward, to the windows, seeking angle of incidence/angle of reflections, which can reward the lens with a skating highlight that stretches the length of the bar. Which can happen naturally, or you can create it yourself. Looking towards the windows and capturing at least a bit of what they offer is a way to work faster and blend your light with what exists.
In addition to windows, I also look for sidewalk space. Somewhere to put three Profoto B10X Plus units outside, out of the way of the pedestrian traffic, gel ’em warm and blast ’em. That’s what is lighting the bulk of the St. Roch Tavern in NOLA. I shot this pic about 10 am-ish and it doesn’t look like that at all. (My metadata is telling me late afternoon, but I’d just flown in from Romania and didn’t change up the time clock on the camera.)
This is what the place looked like when I walked in.
After lighting, it looked like this.
Warm light slides through the windows and creeps along the bar. I moved the upside down bar stools into the path of the light so their chrome legs could pick up highlights. I doubled down on those highlights by placing three Profoto A10 units on their foot stands and sitting them on the juke box just out of frame on camera right. They are gelled, gridded and pointed at the chair legs.
For Dominic, it’s simply one RFi 1×3 strip soft box with a fabric grid off to camera left. Putting up an umbrella would destroy all the look and feel being created by the background strobes. (I was lucky in that the backlights created highlights on the shadow side of his face.
Light speaks, and transforms. Always handy for a bar.