Little Adventures

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Light Dance

"A light-emitting diode (LED) (pronounced /ˌɛl iː ˈdiː/[1]) is a semiconductor light source. LEDs are used as indicator lamps in many devices, and are increasingly used for lighting. Introduced as a practical electronic component in 1962,[2] early LEDs emitted low-intensity red light, but modern versions are available across the visible, ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, with very high brightness."

I could almost feel her excitement when she sent me that email from Osaka, Japan.  Air couldn't wait to get back to Doha to tell me about a new photoshoot concept.  She said she won't be able to sleep.  I thought, Wow!! - this concept must be really something to loose sleep.  Along with the email was a link to a  YouTube video of a rave dance routine, but it was too dark to really appreciate how this would look good in pictures - except for the moving blue lights, you could not see anything at all.  But I did got the idea of what she wanted to do. 
I though the resulting pictures of Air doing this was so cool that I could not resist the temptation of doing a shot with myself in the picture.

So I did a quick search in flickr to get some idea of what kind of shots we are looking for.  There were plenty of great examples, however, efforts to light the models were not to my expectations.  They were either unlit leaving the light trail patterns "take center stage", or they were lit, but without much consideration.  I thought, if all I will show is light trails, then what's the point of having a beautiful model in the pictures?  And . . . if I will light her like they did in the samples we looked at, then where's the creativity and originality in our work?  As soon as she arrived from her trip, we proceeded immediately to planning the shoot - lots of discussions for a suitable time, venue and lighting strategy plus we went out to buy some more relatively cheap but effective additional props.

As a coincidence, Richard Santos, a good friend of mine has just introduced the group an emerging concept in lighting - LED panels.  I thought of doing this photoshoot with all-LED lighting.  But then, after a little brainstorming and formulating a strategy, I came to a realization that LED panels - a continuous light source - is probably not the right lighting equipments to use here.  I need the action-stopping power of my Speedlites to keep the model well lit and sharp while still creating the LED light trails during the planned long exposures.

But I didn't want to flood the whole scene with lights and didn't want to see shadows in the background.  So I used a Honl Speed Snoot on a Canon Speedlite 580EX II to restrict the light pretty much on her face and upper body, and then positioned it to one side so that whatever shadow the model will cast on the wall will be way out of my picture frame.  And to define my model's body shape, I subtly lit up the wall behind her with a blue light from a Canon Speedlite 430EX II with blue gel.

Knowing that these will all be slow shutter exposures, I had my camera mounted on my ever-dependable Manfrotto tripod and did some test shots with the room lights on first.  I would have preferred this because it helps a lot with my EOS 40D's not-so-good-but-not-so-bad (compared to the more modern EOS camera bodies) AF.  But then the room lights were affecting my exposures rather significantly, so we decided to do the shots in the dark.  The Speedlite ST-E2's IR focus-assist did a wonderful job anyway.  So we started experimenting with how long should we keep the shutter open.  I didn't wanted it too long because I was worried that the LED lights will loose their color and burn through the sensor during excessively long exposures.  Because we're shooting in the dark, I wasn't worried of motion blurs on the model, Air.  Conversely, if we leave the shutter too short, then we won't have enought light trail.  So we started with 1 second and increased the time value after reviewing each result.  Finally, Air and I agreed that 3 seconds is "the right stuff".

We cheaped out on the glow sticks and bought cheaper ones.  As a result, they were not bright enough to make them "burn thru" the sensor, she had to do slower movements.

We also used some thin glow sticks for variations in effects.  They were not as bright as the LED so I hat to turn off the blue background lights for such shots.

At this point, let me acknowledge the efforts of my volunteer assistant, Narlito Seastres (jCk-oH!!!) for helping out in preparing the props and setting up the speedlites.  Also to my good friend Ramadan Omran who selflessly provided the venue.  And of course, Air, for continuously entrusting me with the execution of her concepts.

More and bigger photos in Lighting Adventures.


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