Make Your Own Reality to Add Drama

There are times when the light you have doesn’t match the light you want. The drama of moody skies are rendered useless if they are overexposed and the muddy, dark skin tones of heavily overcast days can make the most competent Photoshop Guru moan in agony.

What to do? Think about underexposing the surroundings to bring the drama back to the image. But that doesn’t mean underexposing the subject. We can use our small flashes to create a light that features our subject and darkens the surroundings. This somewhat muted, eery look we call “beating the sun.” And we did this shot with only two small strobes and a boom. And a willing and beautiful model helped.

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When we got to the location I was struck that the sun, even though behind some rather dark and moody clouds, was shining right down the alley towards us. This caused a wonderful reflection on the water as it trickled down through the buildings. All in all, somewhat of an unusual scene.

To add to the unusual look, we put Haley into a party dress. One that was totally incongruous to the scene and the light we were going to create. This unusual wardrobe selection helps to make the shot a little more ‘over the top’ than say, shorts and a t-shirt would.

Gear for this shot:
Camera and Wide Angle (20-35mm L Canon)
Two Stands
One Boom (human boom optional, but very nice)
Two speedlights (I am using an SB 800 and a 430EX)
One Small softbox for the main light
Wireless triggers

John Sartin (a shooter who was assisting me on this shot), took one stand mounted speedlight down the alley and pointed it back toward Haley. This gave her a very slight rim light and added separation between her and the scene. We placed it low to get plenty of rim light on her legs as they would be a little darker than her body.

As we used a speedlight in a small softbox for main light, I knew that it would not cover her entirely at the distance we were using. That meant that the light would fall off as it went down her body to her legs. Adding the rim light to the legs gave them depth and also separation. Two battery operated speedlights were all that was needed to get the shot.

You can see the lighting diagram here:
Make your own Reality with a couple of speedlights
Click the image to see a larger, clearer size.

It doesn’t take long to set up your image when you see it in your mind beforehand. This image is exactly what I saw in my head as I walked into the alley. The darkened sky, reflections in the water amd the muted, mysterious color. I simply had to make it work with the equipment I had with me and we did.

I chose a medium wide angle lens to lengthen Haley’s legs and show the incredible location for the shot. Coming in too close would have missed the converging alley and the mysterious, stormy clouds.

Making your own reality with two small strobes, an alley and a willing model

I worked a little in Photoshop to desaturate the surroundings a bit, darken the clouds and add a little ‘grittiness’ to the image.

Having an assistant who will hold a softbox on a boom over his head for as long as it takes you to get the shot is simply wonderful. Thanks, John. And thanks to Haley for all her hard work to make the shot have a sense of life to it.

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