Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dishes and Grids

Just got off the phone with John, my lighting-guy friend. He just completed working 11 production days for some Brits shooting whatever they were shooting. I've worked for these guys before but, this time, they brought their own photographer: Another Brit.

Sometimes, it goes that way.

Anyway, John was telling me how unimpressed he was with the photographer's work. He kept emphasizing what a nice guy the guy was but how lackluster the images were. (And I'm being kind using words like "lackluster." John wasn't so kind.)

John told me the Brit shooter had a dish, not a Mola, and John could only describe it as a big salad bowl although it seemed to be professionally manufactured. The shooter was using this dish as his main and rarely had any other lights working. He also mentioned the guy had put a 30-degree grid on the front of the dish and that made things bad. In almost every shot, the models had big hot-spots on the center of their bodies with everything falling off to dark from there. Apparently, John tried to coax this nice guy into losing the grid but the guy wouldn't go that way. John finally convinced him to use an on-camera strobe, figuring that would help things out, and the guy went for that. Of course, now the pics all looked like they were shot with an on-camera strobe... on the camera... but this was, believe it or not and according to John, an improvement.

Grids are wonderful modifiers. You can use them to direct the light and keep it from spilling. But there's times when a grid just ain't going to do the job effectively. In fact, when misused, they can take the effectiveness of your images down more than a few notches.

In this case, the problem with the grid was that the shooter, while trying to contain the light, was also directing the light more narrowly and, since the bowl was centered on the model's torso, that's where the hot spot became very evident. Why? Because the grid was destroying the usual effect of the dish. Normally, a dish will provide very even fall-off from its center. But the grid made the the light fall off too quickly and radically and, because the grid directs the light more narrowly, the hot spot on the model's torso was plainly evident. And, according to John, it was a really noticeable hot spot. Using a grid on a dish, BTW, might be effective when shooting head-shot/portraiture where you might want the light to fall of more dramatically because your framing a smaller area of the model's body, i.e., her head.

Assuming I have a point with this update, the point might be that just cuz you have some cool lighting gear and modifiers and such to throw at your visions, you still need to be selective and use the right tools for the job. Sure, a dish is a cool tool and can seem impressive to some people. And a grid can make things (and you) seem even more impressive to the average onlooker. But it ain't about looking cool with your gear. Your skills are defined by the output of your work, not by the gear you use when capturing it.

The pretty girl at the top, with a fan pointed at her nicely rounded butt and blowing her wardrobe, is Aveena. No grids were used in the production of this image.

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