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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Concept Driven Lighting

Two photoshoots in one day, each one different from the other.

There was a time in my photographic career when my idea of a terrific lighting would always include an umbrella or a soft box.  It's a safe bet and you could almost never go wrong.  Everyone loves soft light.  It makes skin look creamier and softer because light virtually "wraps around" your subject, hiding some signs of aging and imperfections on almost anyone's skin.  Shadows blend smoothly to highlights, it's simply beautiful.
It's just a shame that a lot of photographers can't get past this stage.  To those, every light has to be soft.  I've seen a good number who would light in the same way whatever the concept is, wherever the location is and whenever the shoot is.  As if, it's the only lighting technique anyone needs to know.
I got interested into lighting for photography at the time when Joe McNally was at the height of his CLS experiments with Nikon, approximately at the beginning of David Hobby's Strobist blog, then later when Zack Arias became a household name with his One Light workshops and video.  I developed a great appreciation for proper photographic lighting because of the works of these 3 photographers.  (Ironically, they're all Nikon shooters except for Zack who has just recently shifted to Canon.)  I admire how they use light to complement their subjects, not to say, "hey!  my lighting is awesome!"  To me, lighting is awesome when it works with the intended concept.

Anyway, to illustrate what I'm talking about, I have here 2 different subjects in 2 different concepts and in separate photoshoot sessions but both on the same day and same location. 


Mitzi's outdoor photoshoot with the wooden front door as background and the canopy providing some shade.

Without the benefit of daylight, all the lighting was
provided by my three flashes all of them diffused to
maintain the soft light quality.

In the morning we had Mitzi to model for us.  She's absolutely gorgeous with her slender frame and long legs.  Soft light was my initial thought.  Her first set with the colorful summer outfit (photo above) were shot at the front door outside the house ensuring that natural daylight would provide all the lighting power we need.  At the same time, that area is shaded by a canopy so daylight is effectively diffused.  I based my camera exposure based on that then underexposed it by one stop for better color saturation.  I used 1 flash with a mini soft box aimed at her from about 2 meters away with power set to 1/4.  I wanted that flash to simply "lift" her up from the underexposed background and fill some shadows on her face.  Soft shadows but they are dark enough to hide her eyes so they needed to be filled with a little burst of light.  If I used a big softbox here, that would mean increasing the power of the flash to compensate for the light loss caused by the white diffusion material.  And . . . it would have washed out the vivid color of the wooden door.

For her second set, we moved indoors for a more studio-like type of shots.  We're still using soft light but this time, I don't have the benefit of natural daylight so all the lighting will have to come from my flashes.  Both photos here have virtually the same setup.  3 Speedlites - main light in softbox at camera right slightly higher than Mitzi's head then pitched down to aim at her face and positioned as close as possible to her.  Fill light in soft box at camera left about 1 meter away positioned high, and finally a bare flash aimed straight down to a white reflector to lightly fill some shadows.

Two different approach but maintaining similar lighting concept - soft light.


The Fighter concept was lit with 2 speedlites, each of them fitted with a grid snoot.

For the afternoon session, we had a gorgeous Kenyan model named Christine.  This time our concept was a fighter / boxer working out with a punching bag.  She has some beautiful well-toned arms and upper body muscles and I want to highlight those.  Furthermore, although she doesn't know how to box for real, I wanted her to look convincingly tough like a real fighter.  So prior to the photoshoot, I gave her a crash course on how to punch the bag without hurting her knuckles or elbows.  Even during conceptualization, I knew I would be ditching the soft boxes and will be using hard light instead.

The lights were positioned behind her to create a "rim light effect" to highlight her well-defined arms and shoulders.
The snoots were to ensure that the lights will not spill in the background.  I used just 2 lights both coming from behind her - the main light at camera left and the other one at camera right way behind her as a mild rim light.  The rim light was set and positioned for the following reasons:  (1) placing the light closer to her (or increasing it's power) run the risk having too much feathered light to spill into the background making it brighter than I want it to be, and (2) I wanted the lights to look like they are coming from the ceiling of a gym, which I think I have succesfully achieved here.

Sometimes, during a photoshoot, happy accidents happen.  This last shot was nothing more than a misfire.  For this last shot at right, the main light was supposed to be the one behind and way above her.  The light at camera light was meant as rim light.  As batteries begin to get used up, recycling tend to get slower and for this shot, the main light directly behind her failed to fire.  The resulting picture was a one-sided lighting with only her profile visible and the other details are lost to darkness.  I liked it just as it is.  When I first showed it to a colleague at work, he thought it was some kind of a movie poster before he realized it was just one of my shots.
I chose hard light for this concept because it creates an edgy, strong and dramatic look for this kind of photoshoots. 


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