Friday, March 09, 2012

What a Difference a Light Makes

Yesterday, while shooting at a location house high in the Hollywood Hills, I experienced a few technical problems. The first set I shot was out by the home's pool. That's the San Fernando Valley, by the way, in the background in the two photos above. Also by the way, on the other side of those mountains faintly seen in the distance lies the Santa Clarita Valley. That's where I live.

The two shots, side by side, are of Anna, my model for the day. Both images are unprocessed. That's how they came out of the camera save for resizing them for the web. I didn't adjust levels or do anything else to them in post. The image on the left is one where my main light failed to fire. Obviously, the snap on the right is one where it did fire. D'uh, right? I suppose I could do something with some of the images like the one I posted on the left if, and this is a big "if," I were shooting some sort of quasi art nudes. But I wasn't. I was hired to shoot pretty girl pics, i.e., glamour pics, for a web site.

By the time Anna got out of hair and makeup it was about 11 A.M. or so and not the most ideal time of day to shoot exteriors in bright sunlight. While Anna was in makeup and I was setting up my lights -- a 4' Photek Softlighter for my main and couple of smaller Softliters for kickers -- I discovered one of my cables, one that attaches my Pocket Wizards to my strobes, was missing. Bummer! That meant I'd need to rely on the built-in optical trigger for one of my lights, and I was going to have to rely on it in bright daylight.

I hooked up a PW to each of my kickers hoping they would trigger the optical sensor on my main light. It worked great! Until, that is, I slightly moved my main light. It seemed the two kickers would only fire the main light if the main light was exactly where I serendipitously placed it when I first set up my lights. (Wow! It's not often I get to use a word like, "serendipitously.")

The solution, of course, was simple, if not perfect: Keep the main light where it was when I first set it. As usual, I was under time constraints for each set I shot during the day so I didn't have much time to spend overly dicking around with the placement of my lights. I needed them to consistently fire more than I needed them to in the EXACT spot and angled EXACTLY how and where I'd prefer them to PERFECTLY be doing so.

As it turned out, out of a set of about 150 exposures for this first set, my main light only failed to fire about a dozen times. Later, back home and while editing the day's work, I realize some of the photos (where the main light failed to fire) represented some good examples of what my kickers were doing, on their own, when they fired. Since I'm always looking for something to write about, I thought a photo where the main light failed to fire, shown alongside one where it did fire, and with the model engaging in nearly identical poses, might be a good way to illustrate what I often do with my kickers.

I'm a big fan of three light setups. The most common 3-light setup, also called triangular lighting, utilizes a main or key light, a fill light, and a back light. For glamour, I often use a variation of the standard 3-light setup but with a main or key light plus two kickers or back lights. Often, I set my kickers, or back lights, at 45s behind the models. Sometimes, I might decide to move one or both forward, almost on the same axis as the model, to provide more highlights on either side of her body. That's a taste thing, a personal preference thing, and there aren't rules or anything else that tells me when to do that. I just do it if when the photo spirit moves me to do it.

In the image at the top, the kicker camera-right is closer to the axis of the model while the kicker camera left is positioned closer to a 45 behind her. Why? Because I felt like it. BTW, when I want to add front fill, I usually do so with a reflector of one type or another rather than adding a 4th light into the mix. For the shot above, I didn't use anything for fill opposite my main. There was plenty enough ambient daylight to keep the image free of too many shadows on her front side, not that there's anything wrong with shadows per se. There's not. But again, I didn't want to see much shadow for these shots... you know, just because.

As I already mentioned, the just about completely naked pretty girl at the top is Anna. (Click to enlarge.) I captured Anna with my Canon 5D with a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di lens hanging off the front of it. ISO 100, f/8 @ 160th. The kickers were set to fire with about a half-stop more power than my main.

Here's two more from yesterday's shoot with Anna. These images do include some processing, but not a whole lot of it.

1 comment:

RandJ-Photo said...

Man I can identify with that. I was lighting a group of people on a staircase. Shooting from ceiling high on the top floor down to people on the lower floor. And the radio syncs wouldn't work through to the second floor.

We had a mix of mono's and Nikon strobes. I juggled the Nikons to see each other so they could trigger with Nikon's CLS system and optically trigger the monolights set out of sight on the lower floor.

Then some really creative person decided to rearrange the people on the staircase and I had to start all over.