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Monday, August 10, 2009

Have Light Will Travel

Joe McNally is one of the greatest at location lighting. Known for traveling with a minimal kit, he pulls off shots that are masterpieces of technique and artistry.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Next step: main light. I used a Lastolite 6x6’ Skylite panel horizontally, just over the lens, which is a 14-24mm Nikkor, by the way. I use wide glass for portraiture all the time, seeking to establish environment for my subjects. Lots of fears out there about distorting the subject, but if you handle the lens carefully, you can make wide glass work real well.

I had two SB-800s, both with diffusers on, shooting through the panel. Reason for two is simple. This light is not just for Brianna. It does light her, but it also covers the whole front end of the fire truck. It’s a broad, nice source, but Brianna’s got great eyes, and they scream for the spark of a low beauty fill light, which was a seat-of-the-pants, handheld solution involving a Lastolite TriGrip diffuser and another remote SB-800.

When you light with a main and a fill like this, you are basically playing a ratio game. De facto, the main is more powerful and the fill is less so, because it is, well, a fill. That is why it is always advisable to put these two crucial lighting elements into different groups in the CLS system. Here, my main remote flash (aimed through the big panel) is Group A, and fill light (firing through the smaller TriGrip diffuser) is Group B. Remember, the flashes in a group all ratio together. They react to exposure inputs differently.

With two groups, I can play. I can make the main light dominate the scene, and feather the fill in very gently, using increments of a third of a stop. I am not concerned with numerical measurements here, or 3-to-1 lighting ratios—the kind of stuff that a lot of us learned in school or by reading some technical book of light that looked and felt like math homework. I could care less about the amounts and how they compute. I care about the feel. With fill light, there is fill, and then there is too much fill, which makes it look like a misplaced main. Don’t overplay it! Especially with low light! You will make your subject into a Halloween poster.

Before you start to light, figure out the picture. I mention this time and again. Know what’s gonna be in your frame. You are not running and gunning here, fill-flashing the perpetrator as he makes the mad dash from the precinct to the paddy wagon. Take your time.

Okay, on to the dark barn. Warm, accent light is the way to go. Why warm? Couple reasons, actually. First is psychological. People like to see, and are used to seeing, warm tones in a barn type of structure. Think piney wood, hay, golden glow, all that stuff. It works. You don’t light a down-home country barn like you would light the Merrill Lynch trading floor. Secondly, the light in place there (what there was of it) was already warm, or more specifically, incandescent. The existing light was coming from a few 60-watt bulbs.

So on camera left I placed another SB unit, gelled with a full CTO, which brings its daylight, neutral temperature down the Kelvin scale so it behaves like a tungsten bulb. This flash, the fourth in the setup, is simply bounced into the wood rafter just above it, which will give it an extra bit of warmth. (Light picks up the color of what it hits.) The effect of this light is to simply fill that dark side of the picture—not to call attention to that area, just to let you know it’s there.


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