Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Strobist Solution for Existing Light

I stumbled across this strange 70ies-location while shooting some sedcard pictures for an agency. I just had to take this shot in between.

I placed Katie, the model who was with me at the moment, in a frame with some interesting reflections of the lit columns. Without knowing the quality of the light coming from the columns, I decided to go for a look like in my "Give your camera a shake! Uh... and Flash!" post. Setting the camera to tungsten white balance, everything around Katie would turn pretty much blue.

I did a first test shot at the setting I shot all day with: Cloudy WB. This warms the daylight shots up, that´s why I like it a lot for portraiture.   First check at 1/125, f/5, ISO 320:

  Turned out, the column light is daylight colored, maybe a bit warmer. Pure luck! If it had been fluorescent colored, I would have ended up with some strange color shift that I´d have to balance one of my flashes to with a gel. In this shot I have already placed a flash with white reflective umbrella to her right (not yet covered with the 1 1/2 CTOs, which I knew I would want to have for my desired look).

Slowed down 1 1/3 stops of shutter speed to raise the ambient light (1/50th now) and changed the WB to tungsten already just to see what the lights do:

The light direction seems nice now. Slap the CTO gels on the umbrella flash, move it a little closer to the model for added light power and add a bare bulb kicker flash (both flashes are triggered via radio, so I can move them around at will):

Wooo... I wanted to put the kicker on the darker side of her, in order to get a bit more separation. But turns out immediately, it is the wrong side. I should put it where the viewer expects the highlight: where the bright light (the column) is. That´s a different idea, but definitely the better one. Alrighty, let´s fix that quickly.

Done. Got the light the way I wanted. Stuck with ISO, stop and shutter speed as I figured out from the first test picture and made a few shots. Nine, to be precise.
I ended up with five qualities of light in that one. 1. column light 2. CTO gelled flash 3. bare bulb flash 4. greenish reflections, right corner and middle left and 5. daylight reflection just right behind the big column. Ha! Every light source in my frame has a different quality! They only fit so well, because there is no white thing around (which wouldn´t look white anymore, but mashed-up with different blobs of color) and because they alre all included in an almost black surrounding. Therefore, each light source can work for its own purpose.

Flashes were a Canon 550 EX with umbrella, powered down to 1/4 if I remember correctly and an old 80´s Braun Ultrablitz (Guide No. 38) at 1/4 power or so. Not that important. You´d figure it out yourself anyway, because you´d use different flashes. Plus, distance greatly influences light quality and quantity, so you can adjust lighting by moving your heads instead of screwing around with power settings that maybe you don´t even get from the flash of your choice (therefore I avoid saying "oh, you need to power your flash down to 1/256th. This is of absolutely no help to you. It depends on latitude, time of year and day, location, weather and about EVERY factor imaginable whether a GNo.42 flash at 1/16th power 2.66 meters away with a silver umbrella and two Sky Blue gels will do the job to your taste or not).

Had I not done the daylight/tungsten trick with white balance and gels, Katie would not be catching the eye, competing against the big white light source that the column is. Balancing colors like this makes for an interesting shot with clear focus on warm skin tones. Of course, the contrast between her pastel summer clothes and the harsh, cold environment she´s standing in, helps a lot.