As a fairly regular reader of David Hobby's blog, Strobist, I am often amazed by reader-reactions to David's posts. How do I know what those reactions might be? Well, d'uh! I read the comments posted by David's many readers.
David's blog often focuses on the use of speedlites as light sources. That's not to say his Strobist blog is exclusively dedicated to speedlites but it's a subject that is responsible for much of Hobby's content.
I don't often use speedlites in my work but I almost always carry a couple of these small, battery-operated, flash-emitting ass-savers in my bag. I never know when my speedlites will come in handy or, more importantly, when they might represent, for whatever reason, my best (or only) option--potentially, my lighting salvation--in one situation or another.
What particularly astonishes me regarding Strobist readers' comments is when David posts simple, MacGuyveresque, solutions to various lighting-scenarios and readers are positively amazed! Apparently, more than a few of them experience near photo-epiphanies when reading Hobby's solutions to many day-to-day photo/lighting situations.
Hobby merely employs whatever he can scrounge--whatever is available--to modify and/or control the potentially harsh lighting that usually results when someone points a naked speedlite at their subject and fires away.
In his most recent update, Improvisational Light, Hobby describes the use of a small, white, garbage bag to diffuse a speedlite's photon-output. As result, more than a few of his readers were, from the tone of their comments, thunderstruck!
I'm not dissing Hobby's innovative, clever, and practical use of whatever is available to modify light. But it seems to me that many Strobist devotees must not be putting their thinking caps on when confronted with situations that require a small bit of logic, coupled with some creative thinking, to enhance the quality of whatever lighting source(s) they are employing, whether it's a speedlite, a monolight, or even bare naked sunlight. If they did, I suppose, web traffic to Hobby's most-excellent blog might be diminished. Hell! Mine too! Or, maybe not. While not having as large a reader-base as David enjoys, I do feature pretty naked women to help attract readers. That's gotta count for something, right?
Diffusing, modifying, and controlling light can usually be accomplished, in a pinch, with so many common, household, items or available surfaces. A list detailing all the potential light modifiers and controllers available to photographers would be a lengthy list indeed.
From garbage bags to shower curtains to sheets to windshield sunshades to pieces of Styrofoam and paper to walls to ceilings to floors to so much more, the world is filled with so many things that can be effectively utilized to produce aesthetically-pleasing light. When photographers purposely apply the same creativity to making good light (out of so many common things) that they attempt to apply to other creative aspects of their photography, they'll find they're less stupefied when someone details the use of common stuff to wrangle light.
Using simple items to effect good lighting doesn't represent thinking outside the box. (Unless you're using the outside of a box to bounce some light.) It's not about over-thinking for solutions. It's simply about thinking practically, logically, creatively, and improvisationally. Do yourself a favor: Try not to engage in paralysis-through-analysis when coming up with lighting solutions. Just try to K.I.S.S. your lighting
This stuff ain't brain surgery and it ain't rocket science. It's little more than ingenuous, practical thinking. Try it. You'll like it. And you'll be less amazed, though still impressed, when someone tosses out yet another lighting solution (using something you hadn't already thought of) by simultaneously engaging the creative and logical sides of their brains and wielding a common household item to modify or control light.
The diptych at the top, featuring two Dalias, is an example of simple, practical thinking as it relates to the light. The images were captured by my buddy, Rick, of Simi Studio, during our time at El Mirage Dry Lake shooting the PGS DVD and the Innovatronix spot.
In the image on the left-side, Dalia was lit with available light plus a white reflector from below. No problem there. The reflector-from-below technique is a great way to pleasingly fill when shooting pretty girl pics. It's also responsible, in the images above, for the pronounced catch-lights.
While Dalia was placed mostly out of the sun in a shaded area, the faded, white-painted, corrugated-metal wall on her right provided a bit of soft, reflective fill, helping out the images' exposure. Unfortunately, the sunlight hitting her hair was quite harsh and a few stops overexposed. In the right-side image, a scrim was brought in, overhead, to diffuse, soften, and knock down the sunlight about one stop. (In this case, a medium Wescott Scrim Jim.) Doing so retained highlights and also provided much more detail in her hair. Lighting-wise, a much better capture, IMO.
Although a manufactured scrim was used, I'm confident something else could have been scrounged up and employed to knock down and diffuse the sunlight: A thin white sheet or other material or almost anything that was color-neutral and translucent. (Actually, since Rick was shooting in monochrome mode, color-neutral wouldn't have mattered much.)
I did the processing on the two images and, truthfully, didn't spend much time/work on them. I suppose I could have done a better job with the levels of Dalia's skin, making them appear more equal. Certainly, a more gifted PS processor than myself could make either of those images sing-- such is the way of those skilled in the magical arts of Photoshop wizardry.
Rick snapped the pics with his Canon 40D in B&W mode. (No conversion was necessary.) They were exposed at ISO 100, f/6.3 @ 125th. If I recall, he used his Canon 28-135 IS USM zoom lens. Exif data recorded the focal length at 40mm.