Using Small Strobes to create an Ethereal Image on Location

Let’s look at a way to create some interesting, and somewhat ‘ethereal’ light on location without taking 200 pounds of lighting gear with us. We are going to use two strobes to ‘sculpt’ the subject and a bit of careful angling to get the image we want. Backgrounds count a lot when you want a dramatic image.

Before we get started, I want to remind you of some recent posts that really rocked… in addition to Briana’s two part series on posing, part 1 and part 2, we had a post on “Making Your Own Reality” with small strobes, and some great interviews over at LEMag, Jay, Laurie and Keith.

OK, then let’s get going on this post about creating some fun lighting on location, with only a couple of speedlights.

Learn to Light with inexpensive tools at Lighting Essentials

Learn to Light with inexpensive tools at Lighting Essentials

The shot of Somer was taken in an alley in Miami, Arizona. We had some dramatic skies, and I wanted to feature Somer in a different sort of image. I didn’t want static, I wanted movement and a sense of whimsy to the shot.

First off I needed a background that would show her off. Simply shooting straight down the alley wouldn’t work as she would have that bright sky behind her and diminish her shape. I wanted the darker buildings so I angled the shot to pick them up behind her and still show the depth of the alley.

I really liked that pool of water in front of her and it contained just a hint of reflection. It also had some raindrops making little splash patterns that I thought were pretty cool. (I was also watching them to make sure they didn’t increase in number as we were setting up the lights and with a camera around my neck.)

The angle I chose put Somer in front of the dark building and kept her brightly lit frame as a point of interest in the shot. You can see that if she had been in front of the sky, she would have somewhat been diminished.

I placed a strobe on a boom and had John place it nearly on camera axis and coming down on Somer. This boomed light was in a small softbox. We put it in pretty close to Somer to keep the light soft, yet dramatic. It is about 3 feet from her face and just out of camera view. The down angle lit up her face and tops of her arms and legs. (Note: for this shot we used a Nikon SB600 and a Canon 430EZ. They were triggered with the Elinchrome wireless trigger system.)

John has the main light boomed out over her head and would bring it slowly down into my frame and then I would have him lift it a tiny bit… just enough that I couldn’t see the edge of the softbox.

The second light was placed on a stand to camera left and behind Somer. It was about shoulder height and was a bare speedlight, no modification. The job of that speedlight was to add dimension and a feeling of light coming from an unknown location. We psychologically understand front light, but both front and side makes our minds take notice.

I placed Somer on that little dry area that you can see at her feet and we worked through some more static poses to make sure I got a good one there. This was literally my first shot with Somer, so I didn’t have any idea if she could jump. I work with some models who can really get in the air, so I was a little hesitant to base the shot on her ability to jump when it was untested for me.

I generally count down for my jumpers… 1, 2, 3… kind of thing. In this shot I had Somer not only jump but throw her head from left to right to get the hair flipping back instead of on top of her head. This technique takes a little getting used to, but once the model finds it, she can usually repeat it several times.

It is really important to catch that jump right at the apex (the top of the jump) and you will find that your digital camera has a bit of a delay (yes, even some of the more expensive ones) and you must anticipate. The delay is not as dramatic as some point and shoots where you could have a sandwich while it is deciding to shoot, but it is more than my film cameras were. I have photographed a lot of dance and skating so anticipating the top of the jump is second nature to me. With digital, I find I have to be a microsecond early or I don’t get it.

She was a little tentative at first, then just leaped into it with abandon and I got this shot. Thanks Somer. BTW, Somer is an MM model that actually shows up and is ready to go. Wow.

We metered the front light with our trusty Minolta Flashmeter IV and set the back light to match. The meter said f5.6.5 at 1/125. I wanted the shot to be more dramatic, so a bit of underexposure was called for. I moved the f-stop to f8 (effectively underexposing by one half stop) and then moved the shutter to 1/250 rendering another 1 stop underexposure. Total amount of underexposure 1.5 stops. There was a lot of ambient in the alley way behind, so it is actually only about a stop underexposed. You can see the diagram below:

The above shot shows a more static image, but one I still like. I made a lot of changes in post, so I thought I would upload one of my post images with notes on it. These aren’t terribly extensive notes, but they did help me visualize it before starting on the post. You can see on the diagram that I chose a wide angle lens for the shot. I used my Canon 21-35mm L and had it out to about 28mm for this shot, That focal length let me pick up the background and keep Somer in the center of the frame. The light helped to ‘isolate’ her from the surroundings.

One more shot from that shoot to show you another look. I used a lot of post in Photoshop to add some texture and drama to the shot. I like the look, that’s why I do it. You may choose other options, but the light is what makes the shot seem ‘ethereal’ to me.

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