Photography is not a crime
I thought I would start my first “real” post off with some shots I took a few days ago with Lindsay. I chose Mare Island in Vallejo California as my location – In retrospect, I’m not sure how smart that was as I kept getting hassled by the security guard there.
I was shooting in a parking lot near the waterfront under a big blue sign that said “Public Access”. I was informed by this security guard that I should not take the sign at face value and that this property was off limits to me if I was shooting an actual person. He went on to explain that if I was just shooting birds or rats or buildings, I was in the clear. But the moment I put a person in front of the camera, well I’ve crossed some sort of line and Homeland Security would have to get involved.
Just before I was
hit by his tazer gun chased off the island, I was able to snap this image:
For me the shot was a keeper due to the drama of the split light on her face and the little splash of light on her camera left eye. I wouldn’t shoot every shot this way but it was a welcome change from the standard yet boring Rembrandt Lighting setup.
My original idea for a shot wasn’t working out (Lindsay took a *really* long time to get ready for the shot and my ambient light changed completely). I decided to just walk around the model without moving my lights and see if there were other compositions that would work, I find that when you do that you discover shots that you would not have otherwise conceived. My first idea was to shoot this standing much closer to the light stand. Not satisfied and in search of something different I rotated clock-wise and set up camp here:
Photo credit Larry Seamer - (www.lseamerphotography.com)
You can see in the above BTS shot that I am in broad daylight, so how did I make the image look like it was taken after sundown? By killing the ambient light.
Step One: Kill the Ambient Light
Killing the ambient light in a scene can add a lot of drama and emotion to the image. The way you do this is simple, you take an ambient light shot of your scene with your shutter speed set to its max sync speed (Canon 1/200 – Nikon 1/250), your ISO set as low as it will go and your aperture at about 5.6. Take a look at your scene, are there blown out areas or areas that are lighter than you would like? Simple, just stop down your aperture to something tighter, 8, 11, 16, etc.
Step Two: Bring in Your Lights
When you get your scene as dark (or light) as you want, the next step is to bring in your lights. In my case, I used four Canon 550EX’s triggered with Pocket Wizards grouped into one flash as my main light. The reason I use so many flashes is because I have to, when you dial down your ambient light using the method above, you need a TON of light on your model to overcome it.
Step Three: Buy More Lights
At some point a couple of years ago I was stuck, I just wasn’t getting the power I needed out of one flash. I realized that I was either going to have to buy big lights, or start grouping my flashes together to make one big light. There are many multi flash brackets available on the market, and they all work fine if you are shooting through an umbrella or some other light modify-er, but if you are shooting with bare lights because you need the power, you run the risk of casting multiple shadows.
So, after much trial and error with some of the commercial solutions out there and being disappointed with the results due to the multiple shadow issue, I decided to make my own.
My homemade, multi-light solution.
Here you can see that I have essentially wired and taped four 550EX’s flash heads to a modified softbox mount. Because they are all lined up and pointing the exact same direction, they read as one light and only cast a single shadow. Another benefit to grouping your lights like this is that size of your light is increased by 4X, meaning that it is softer light due to being larger.
Don’t buy the Hype! Softer Light isn’t Necessarily the Most Desirable Light.
If I need softer light I can still fit the original softbox over the mount. But usually I like to shoot with very hard light. I use it to sculpt the features of the model’s face because it’s got sharper edges. Soft light is great for your grandma, but hard light does a much better job of informing the shape of the face.
Note: When you’re shooting with hard light like this is it important to use a fill light to make your darks more accessible and prevent your images from having too much unsightly shadow density. If you decide to shoot hard light with a single light source, your shadows are going to be blocked up and unreadable. Sometimes, unreadable shadows are great, but they can be unforgivingly unflattering when you’re photographing people. In this case I used two 550EX’s wired and taped together as my fill light.
When I took the above image, my plan was to clone out the light stand, but when I got it home I realized that I really liked having the flash head visible in the scene, it added a little balance to the image. The only other time I ever had visible flashes in my scene was in one of my early lit portraits:
Full Disclosure: I stole this lighting setup idea from Joe McNally.
I remember thinking at the time that I should try it again, I wonder what took me so long?
Break This Rule: “Never shoot a lady from below the chin line”
As you can see, I tend to shoot my models from below – a lot of photographers think this is taboo because it can make your model look heavier than she really is. I disagree, I think that when you do it well, you can make your models appear majestic and larger than life (in a good way).
Be forewarned though, shooting from below usually means you’re going to get dirty.
Photo Credit - Larry Seamer (http://www.lseamerphotography.com/)
That’s it for now, my next post will cover using gels on your flash to achieve amazing ambient light. Feel free to comment let’s get this blog going!