Making the Shot when the light is no good.

In keeping with this months major tutorial on using speedlights to their maximum, I thought I would take apart a shot that Briana and I did in Florida during a terrific thunderstorm.

We were hot and it was very humid, but we decided to make the best of the down time by making a shot or two. We did actually make three different shots, but I am going to show you this pool shot as an example of how knowing your flash units can make a setup fast.

(Before we get going, I did want to announce three new workshop dates: Atlanta, Winston/Salem and Kansas City. They are coming up this fall. Check the Workshop Page for more information.)

I put this light together in about 10 minutes including the conception of it. I wanted to get a feel of the room as well as the ambient of the outside to make the shot look more ‘natural.’ This was a little tricky as all my modifiers – umbrellas and such – were packed for the trip home.

The shot takes place in a small cabana during a rainstorm. The girl is there to play… she isn’t there to be coddled. She has an attitude of power and a relaxed, but slightly arrogant demeanor. She is self assured and is ready to get to the game… Such is the types of stories that I run in my head as I set the shots up. I share them with the models as well, giving them some insight to where my head is on the creation of the shot.

There is a storm and rain outside and I wanted it to be part of the shot. The light outside wasn’t strong enough for a good backlight in this very dark room, so I used a ‘rim’ light to increase the light from behind, but at an angle to make it seem like it was ‘wrapping’ around her a little bit. The accent light was for fun and drama. It was a variable I would play around with as the shot progressed.

I used three strobes for the shot: A main from slightly off axis of camera right, a rim light for a feeling of separation, and an accent light to mitigate the shadow thrown from the main light. The accent light also adds a bit of whimsy to the shot and makes Bri stand out from the surroundings a bit more.

Here is one of the shots:

You can see the strong accent light and how it adds some drama to this shot.

You can see the strong accent light and how it adds some drama to this shot.

As you note, the accent light is very strong here. I wanted to see how it would look as a ‘mysterious glow’ sort of thing, but not as an overt mystery. More of a light as a tool to break up the otherwise simple shot. I like how it turned out and then moved on to a more subtle use of the accent light.

Notice how the rim light keeps her separated from the background and seems to be part of the overall ambient in the room. You can do so much with very weak light, no need to overpower the scene. I also wanted to keep the ambient in the courtyard as part of the image, so too much flash could have made the image look too artificial. Setting the rim light took the longest, as its position is so critical.

The rim light can’t be too far forward as to throw light on her nose, nor can it be too far back and only offer a back light look. I wanted that light to fall across her chest and under her neck. I didn’t want it on her nose or side of her face. (BTW, this is critical for your model to understand as there may be some constraints on what can and cannot be done in the posing… making sure she doesn’t offer her face too much to that rim light…)

In this next shot, I toned the accent light down a bit by opening the door and getting less of a direct hit from that flash. The unit was already turned down to its lowest setting and had a piece of typing paper over it to cut the light and add a little softness. Changing the angle on the door and slightly on the light made a huge difference.

You can see that the accent light has been toned down, and still offers a nice break behind her.

You can see that the accent light has been toned down, and still offers a nice break behind her.

When working with a model in a situation like this, I like to make up stories for her to think about. Who she is. Who she may be waiting for. Who she is playing against and other ideas for her to form a ‘persona’ who she can explore with posing and attitude and expression. Working with models who can do that can make your creativity soar.

At this point, I knew I had the shot I wanted, so I decided to turn off the accent light and see if that shot worked as well. For this shot I had Bri sit on the edge of the pool table and change the shape of her body in the doorway so there was less door behind her camera right.

I like this image as well. It seems very natural and the rim light now looks as though it is actually part of the ambient light in the courtyard even more.

I turned off the accent light for this shot, and had Briana move into that area.

I turned off the accent light for this shot, and had Briana move into that area.

Important to remember. The axis of camera and main light. If you look at Briana’s face you will see some shadowing at play on the side of her nose and under her lip and chin. This is a natural shadow, but I don’t want it to be very big or show that much. I control that by keeping the angle of the camera and the light very close to each other. The farther the light goes to the side, the more shadow gets thrown and I don’t like that shadow on the face in most instances.

The rim light is coming from slightly behind her and high into the corner. It is designed to make the light that is on her appear as if it is coming in from the ambient outside. It also helps shape and define her as well as separate her from the background. Keep in mind where you want that light to come from when you set it up… and make sure it is in the right position to do what you wanted it to do. If the light had been slightly more to the front of Bri, the light would have looked like a side light – a source – and removed the ‘natural’ look to the image.

Accent lights don’t have to be very powerful at all. A little hint of light here and there and you can create a nice, modulated background for your subject. I love little, weak strobes… they can be so cool with a shot where you only need to light up the bottom half of a door for instance.

Visit us Monday for part two of the Using Small Stobes to Advantage article and a recap of this weeks Seattle workshop.

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