Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Small Lights Big Effects

By William Sawalich, Photography By Corey Woodruff Published in Photography Lighting
Using colored gels and directional effects, you can create a high-tech look with small flashes. In this recording studio shot, the use of blue gels transforms the background while the spotlight on the wall speakers adds dimension.
Using colored gels and directional effects, you can create a high-tech look with small flashes. In this recording studio shot, the use of blue gels transforms the background while the spotlight on the wall speakers adds dimension.

Use Color For Special Effects

Whether shooting an industrial location or a computer scientist, sometimes a bit of lighting drama can be helpful to give an otherwise drab scene a little bit of pop. Gelled strobes are perfect for this. Instead of matching the ambience, consider a bright red gel on the background light to create the illusion of heat, intensity or danger. If you're going for a clean, sterile feeling, consider a blue gel on the background to play up the clinical, high-tech storyline. And remember that you don't necessarily need to gel a background light to create a color shift—gelling the key light warm orange and then compensating with a custom white balance (so the key appears neutral) will make the ambient illumination shift toward blue—especially if it has any daylight in it. Working with customized white balance affords the digital photographer a whole new tool in the run-and-gun lighting repertoire.

Augmenting Architecture

Even a single handheld strobe can have a huge impact on architectural photography. When you're photographing a structure from a fairly close vantage point, a properly aimed on-camera flash can fill in foreground shadows and provide detail in the darkness. With longer exposures, you can walk around the structure and fire the single strobe multiple times from multiple positions to practically paint the scene with light. (Consider using an ND filter to allow for longer exposure times.)

But what about when you're photographing a larger structure from a distance? Can you really use small strobes when shooting a skyscraper from a half-block away? With wireless triggers, yes, you can, to an extent. If you position those strobes close to the structure and hidden from view, they can have a huge impact on the illumination of portions of the building. Another great approach, if you have the time and assistance to move lights between exposures, is to composite multiple shots together in post to create a finished product that makes use of nine lights—even if you only have three in your kit. An orange-gelled strobe placed on the interior of a structure creates a warm glow in windows that balances nicely with tungsten interior lights and glows warmly in combination with blue sunset exterior illumination. Positioning a strobe so that light rakes across the façade of a building or backlighting a foreground subject are wonderful ways to add to the appearance of three-dimensionality in your scene.

Must-Have Accessories For Your Lighting Kit

Aside from the obvious, like strobes, a well-stocked lighting kit also includes these essentials.

1 Wireless triggers, optical slaves, TTL cables and PC-cable backups so those strobes actually can be put to use.
2 Compact tripods and light stands designed to save space and weight. These bulky items can be a real pain if you don't plan for them accordingly.
3 A variety of gels, including at minimum orange, green and blue for color correction when mixing strobe with tungsten, fluorescent and daylight.
4 Pony clamps, cold-shoe mounts and maybe even a Gorillapod. You never know where you're going to be able to mount your strobes.
5 Rubber bands, gaffer's tape and C-47s (otherwise known as clothespins), perfect for affixing gels and accessories, and for all the things that you may need to fix in a pinch.
6 A neutral gray card is necessary for white balancing in tricky mixed lighting scenarios and really helpful even under normal lighting conditions.
7 Batteries. Strobes suck down lots of power. You have nothing but paperweights on your hands if you aren't prepared to recharge or replace batteries on site.
8 Backups. If any of these items is absolutely crucial to your success—whatever it may be—you'd better be sure to bring along a backup.

You can see more examples of Corey Woodruff's run-and-gun photography at Bill Sawalich is a frequent contributor to DPP and a professional photographer in St. Louis, Mo. He also teaches a studio photography course at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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