Using Light to Create Drama On Location
Briana and I were stuck in a small, hot and very mundane room while the thunderstorm unleashed lightning and torrential rain all over Anna Maria, Florida. She playfully challenged me to do a shot in the space that was, well, simply awful. I looked at the set she picked and realized that simple, flat lighting was out of the question. I needed drama to be added and the best way to do that is with light and shadow.
I had several small strobes with me (I carry 4-5 strobes on location), so I knew I could create some patterns shadows with them. I wanted to do a bit of a ‘kitschy’ type shot, so I pulled out three lights and two stands.
Here is what I was initially faced with:
You can see the initial setup of the two strobes on stands. I did this shot with ISO 1600 and no flash so the tungsten light warmed the shot. This is our starting point.
Next I will add the flash and include some ambient by using a slow shutter speed:
I did a test to see if the ambient would add anything to the shot (above). I decided that it didn’t, so I moved the shutter speed up a couple of notches for the next shot. This shot has no ambient exposure and is created with the strobes completely. I have the strobes dialed way down to allow for a larger aperture – a stylistic choice as I like wide apertures and a practical choice so they will recycle faster than if they were on full or half power.
The point of the shot is light and values and shadows. Briana chose a short skirt and white shirt for the shot and we decided to go barefoot for a more ‘downhome’ look. To make the white shirt really ‘pop’ in this area I decided to make the background even whiter than the shirt. Adding the third light as a ‘spray’ would add a gradient and also neutralize some of the shadow behind her. Here is the shot with the third light in position to make a light spray behind the space where Briana will be sitting.
In the previous images you can see that the main light (camera left) is simply washing light all over the set and making the possibility for shadows less likely. I decided to snoot it off by wrapping a file card around the strobe head and focusing it on Briana’s face. Here is the first shot we did to see the lighting. Notice how the main light is now more of a pool of light instead of a broad area. Her face is lit from camera left and her legs from camera right. The two shadow directions adds a bit of whimsy and mystery to the image.
We worked with the shadows for a few images, and Briana worked within the space to give me some different looks to see how the light would fall. I ended up moving the main light a little more closer to the camera axis and throwing the shadow down behind her. Here is the shot that I ended up going with:
You can see that I tweaked the main light angle to drive the shadow down behind her, and changed the angle of the side light to a more oblique angle that cast a strong shadow. I wanted the light and shadow to be an integral part of the image.
Moving the second light (leg light) to camera left adds the light going from the opposite side from that of the first image. I also moved the main light slightly to camera right. You can see the interesting shadows cast from the low placement of the strobe on camera left. That is because that light is not snooted, but rather throwing a lot of light around – spilling light so to speak. The main light is still snooted and is casting a very tight pool of light on Briana’s face and chest as she sits on the sink.
Here is a contact sheet that you can use to see how marvelous Briana’s sense of space is as she is modeling:
You can see me working the light in the above contact sheet. The last image is two up on the page.
We got the shot and had done some other variations when we decided to do a second shoot at the strange location set we had concocted. Briana changed into a very simple white dress to keep the feeling of the image set going. Again we stayed with barefoot. I moved the spray light to behind the fan and shot the light up into the fan. It had the interesting ability to freeze the fan blades even though the fan is on full power and blowing Briana’s hair. You can see the bright light coming from behind the grungy fan. These shots were a lot of fun and helped to make the stay in the laundry room more productive… hey – I got an article for LE from it.
You can see the look we were going for. Having the strobes on low power kept them recycling quickly and reliably. Main and secondary light on 1/16 power, back light on 1/32 power. That was plenty of light even at ISO 100.
All in all, I like the images a lot, and I am hoping not to bring any ‘shot baggage’ along with the estimation of the them. (“Shot Baggage” is remembering how hard it was to get instead of whether what was gotten was any good. Attaching that emotion doesn’t help when editing your work and you can start to think the shot is way better than it is because it was such a relative success.) Below is another shot from the session – this time Briana is wearing the white dress.
Thanks for visiting. I hope you learned something cool today. Using the light and shadow can sometimes make the most mundane set look different and a bit mysterious. Let me know if you have any questions or comments on the site.