Pittsburgh Lighting Essentials Workshop: A Blast in Western PA

Well, this was the second to last workshop for 2009 and it had its own challenges. The weather wanted to be a problem, and we were unsure of out talent pool. Talent was wonderful and the weather… while being a little stubborn on Sunday, finally opened up and gave us a beautiful bright, clear afternoon. We had photgraphers from all over the area. Buffalo, Ohio, Connecticut… a great cross section of shooters meeting and shooting at the place where three mighty rivers converge.

Wet weather nearly derailed the first outdoor shooting we did on Saturday, but the gray skies and mist eventually gave way to good lighting and innovative photographers. I want to show you a few shots from Pittsburgh, along with some behind the scene shots of the workshop.

Next year is shaping up to be a fun one as well. We have changed up the curriculum and added some AV items to it. Lighting on a bigscreen as well as the studio work we are doing. Laptops will display talking points as well as the AV and the “live” shooting. Lots of hands on, and structured lighting on day one. Day two will be involved heavily with location work… lighting, composition, logistics and working with live subjects.

Before we start, some news from Lighting Essentials.

We will begin to utilize our Flickr forum as an extension of the workshops. Thoughts are to create a private discussion area for the students of LE only, and to invite some industry professionals to interact with the students. Stay tuned for more information. Students check your LE Member’s Area for access information.

Recent Posts Around the Internet:
The Future of Photobooks: Lively and important discussion.
Photographers and Social Media: A Report.
Got an iPhone? Got an overwhelming desire to make lighting diagrams? Combine the two passions here.
Bill Vaccaro’s “Roadside Attractions” is pretty cool, as is the work of James Knight Smith.
Thomas Friedman’s idiotic ramblings in the NYT caught the attention of Austin Photographer, Kirk Tuck who had some things to say.
Here on LE we had a couple of posts that are pretty applicable to this time of year… “Twenty + Non-Photographic Essentials for Photographers” – think about gifts – and “Using the Lightmeter and ‘Placing’ the Light”.

And now we are off to Pittsburgh to sample a few of the images the photographers sent me. And, BTW, if you have attended a workshop and have a shot or three you would like to share, send it over with your name as part of the file name and we’ll get it up soon.

Single Speedlight for a dramatic portrait along the river in Pittsburgh

This shot was with one speedlight, and the photographer, Jessica Cornwall, wanted to add some snap to this shot, and bring Matt into the exposure with at least a matching light. Backlight was immense at this point and there was a bit of glare. Jessica knew exactly what she wanted the image to say, and set the light to beat the ambient sun about 2/3 stop. Not enough to darken the surroundings too much and have the shot seem un-natural, but enough to get Matt to pop off the page, and keep his face lit within that mighty backlight.

One speedlight at full power was used to light Matt. Jessica placed it so a little of the light ‘sprayed’ on the concrete buttress, which added a bit of whimsy to the shot and also gave it some depth. We stayed close to the light because of the breezes coming up the valley. Notice how the dramatic shadows of the railing cast back toward the camera, and Matt’s face seems well lit.

Matt along the river at a Lighting Essentials Workshop in Pittsburgh, PA

Dawn Weyman wanted to beat the sun a little more to provide a more dramatic look to her model. Using a VAL (Voice Activated Lightstand) she brought the light in from the top and created a small pool of light for the model to work with. Dawn’s VAL carefully watched the model and made sure the light wouldn’t cause unattractive shadowing across the face. The power of the strobe was dialed to be a stop and a half over the ambient, and Dawn let the shadows fall where they did. The effect is pretty cool. This is an easy to reproduce light, and can be quite effective in all sorts of ambient situations.

Beating the ambient sun and providing a pool of light for the model was Dawn's approach here

Here is the resulting shot from the above image. Little Photoshop needed when the image is exposed and lit correctly.

Dawn Weyman uses a speedlight to beat the ambient light and dramatically lower the values of the sky in this portrait

In our next shot, Jessica wanted the model to look like she was in the same light as the city. As you can see, we were in the late, late afternoon shadow, and the city was in the late afternoon light. Jessica placed the speedlight to give her a bit of sidelight to separate the model from the background, and then shot from a very low position to eliminate the foreground as much as possible, and place her model in front of the city background. Setting the strobe to match the sunlight, she created a fun and natural looking shot of her model playing on the little structure.

Sometimes for your art it becomes necessary to lay down on very, very cold concrete. The point was to make an image that told a story and not show yards and yards of concrete.

As you can see below, the resulting image was one of pretty, effective lighting. The background is not too bright nor does the shot have a ‘Flash’ look to it.

Caitlin dancing against the background of Pittsburgh. Blending the light to match the background gives the shot a very natural look, not 'flashed' at all.

In the shot below by Dawn, we had some bigger lights outside. Alien Bees and a Vagabond gave us plenty of power to make this shot with soft, elegant light. Dawn placed the model where she wanted to get the composition just right, then we lit around her. A bounce umbrella for the key is opposite the sun. This would lend some drama to the shot as the background is clearly lit from the opposite side. A 42″ translucent diffuser was added to block some direct sun on the models face, and a third speedlight was added as a near to camera axis fill. We put a Stofen on it to soften the effect a bit, and dialed it down to a mere ‘pop’ of light to fill the transition (light to dark) across the front of the model.

In the tall grass with a very brave (it was cold) model and some bigger lights

Dawn’s shot shows a sophisticated light and a beautiful model in an exotic location (actually it is the little park in front of the Steelers Stadium). You can see how well she blended the light and diffusers to present the model in soft, flattering light. I love how the light across her shoulders is gradient, and how the model just seems to pop!

Dawn's model shot in the grass in front of the Steeler's stadium is sophisticated and beautiful

We wanted to do a big shot with all the models and some big lights. As the sky grew darker, and it threatened to rain, we got started. We knew the background needed light as it was very, very dark and in the soft, but definite backlight. The sun was setting to camera right. We also wanted to do a more modern shot with rim/side light from both sides, while preserving the ‘key’ from the front.

We set up an Alien bee 1600 for the background and anchored it with its own Vagabond (Battery). Turning it on full power gave us a nice amount of light for the background and to keep the models separated from the darkness.

Two matching AB’s were mounted with matching silver umbrellas and placed slightly behind and to the side of the trio. A fourth AB was fitted with a beauty dish and mounted to a boom to allow the photographers to keep the key light on axis and lighting up the transition on the models.

A big collection of lights used to make our final shot Saturday evening. It was cold and threatening rain, but we really wanted to do this shot... and the models were incredible troopers!

The resulting image shows how the lower camera position eliminates a lot of the parking lot and brings the eye to the models. The backlight was aimed down to provide a bright to dark gradient across the background which plays well with the ‘evenly spaced’ light of the models.

Big lights at the Lighting Essentials Workshop. Four AB 1600's with Vagabonds gave us some room for exposure to keep the sky interesting.

Another of Dawn’s shots from this set:

Dawn Weyman: A second take of the trio at the end of the first day of the workshop

This is our intrepid Pittsburgh talent and photographers: As you can see, we take ourselves very seriously.

The Pittsburgh Gang. Serious photographers for serious times

Thanks for visiting. If you enjoyed this article, pass it on to your friends by using our social network tools at the top right of this post. Follow me on Twitter for photography related posts and an occasional rant. Workshop information can be found at Learn to Light.

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