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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

One Light In The Window
Did that again in the way back, over Brianna’s right shoulder, waaayyyy in the back of the barn. That light is just sitting on a table, in plain view of the camera, but the camera won’t see it ’cause it’s so damn small in the frame. What it is doing is lighting that far wall, and it gives the reader a sense that the barn goes on and on. It was also a bit of an experiment to see if the flash would trigger i-TTL flashes at that distance, which it did. Cool! Love it when it works.

And then, finally, there is one more main light in the picture. Sort of. I say “sort of” ’cause it is powerful, and it is directly behind Brianna, radiating through the American flag. That lone light is causing all the backlight and shadows in the picture. It makes the flag glow and lights the sides of the barn in a strong way. Would have loved to eliminate the powerful shadow at the upper right of the picture, but there was a sizable thingamabob up there that would have required industrial circular saws and a crew of six to get rid of. So I let it go.

Which, all the techy lighting talk aside, may be the most important lesson here. On location, you take it as far as you can, and then, sometimes, you just have to let it go. At Life, Mel Scott, who was one of the truly great picture editors I ever worked for, used to say, “Just go out and make a picture. Just make a picture.” In other words, quit worrying over that last tenth of a stop, and just shoot. It’ll come around.

One Light In The Window
It should be no surprise that light will take on the shapes and shadows of what it passes through or hits. That’s why it’s always great to experiment a bit and put it out there someplace a tad unexpected or where it just plain looks cool.

This basement definitely looked cool. As for Deirdre, well, it’s a given she’s pretty cool, so the question I was facing here was how to light this and not mess up all the inherent coolness.

There was an old battered window just to camera left and up above my shoulder. Passing a light through that decrepit frame with slats and broken glass was bound to be more interesting than using an umbrella. The window corrals the light, shapes it and gives it a bit of dilapidated, craggy character that matches the patina and feel of the dungeon-like setting.

It was a no-brainer and absurdly simple with i-TTL technology. Popped an SB-900 on a stand, with the sensor turned toward the window. I took an SU-800 and connected it to the camera with an SC-29 cord. Took that trigger device and held it at arm’s length, up and back toward the remote flash, which was about 10 feet from the window. Zoomed the remote SB-900 to 200mm, without a dome diffuser. (Remember, the further the flash from the subject, the harder and sharper the shadows. You increase the punch and depth of the shadows by zooming the light.)

Deirdre does her thing, which is always amazing, and makeup artist Copper went to the wild side and painted feather designs on her skin. I shot on manual so I could eliminate the small amount of ambient light hanging around the basement and also control the output of the flash via my commander unit. Exposure ended up being 1/250th at ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, with a +2 EV programmed into the SB-900. The flash is also warmed up with a full CTO gel.


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