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KrisCarnmarker March 31st, 2007 03:34 AM

Creating with Light
I'm one of those people who really do not enjoy "people photography", whether its studio portraiture or fashion shoots or street photography or whathaveyou. This means that lighting technique has never been high on my priorities. On the other hand, I do enjoy macro photography a lot, and lighting technique can be very important. So, when Joe McNally came to town for a three day workshop entitled "Creating with Light", I signed up immediately. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and results.

One of the aspects of the workshop that appealed to me was the fact that it focused on lighting with regular, everyday hot-shoe flashes. I'm not likely to buy studio strobes, 12 foot scrims, huge softboxes, etc. anytime soon, and learning how to use flash for creative lighting was appealing. We did have a couple of strobes and some studio equipment, but for the most part, it was just a single or multiple hot shoe flashes.

Joe started off by showing us a sample of his work. Again mostly with flash. Granted, some shots incorporated more than 10 flashes. Some of the pictures where really awe-inspiring, and knowing that they where done with simple flashes got everybody excited, of course. Joe is also very practical and talked about improvised lighting equipment such as bed sheets, a conference room's whiteboard as reflector, etc. Examples of published images showed that these work very well indeed (and why shouldn't they?).

After most of the day in the classroom we headed out to the desert for an on-location shoot. Still the first day, so most of the time was spent watching Joe in action and absorbing as much as possible. We did get a chance to get our feet we though. Here's my best shot of that 5 minute trial.

This was taken late afternoon. The sun is fairly low in the sky, but still quite harsh. A large diffuser was used to block the sun, and a studio strobe was placed behind it. The idea here was to put the model in the shade and then control the light with the strobe, but making sure the strobe light has the same direction as the sun's light. The diffuser is just off-frame, as close to the model as possible. The camera is set to Av, and -2 EV in order to avoid getting the background blown out. The strobe was then moved around a little and the strobe's output adjusted in order to get a soft, round directional light.

The next day again started in the classroom, but soon enough we headed out to a local primary school to photograph children. Each group of two was assigned a child and off we went to find interesting locations. We found some nice locations with really good light, but we also wanted to give the image some context. I spotted a corridor outside the library that was quite dark, lit only by a row of soft spotlights illuminating the library wall. We stood there contemplating it. Too difficult? Probably, but we'll learn a lot. Here's a shot (don't know how I feel about it )

The only existing light was the spotlights lighting the wall behind the girl. How to light her appropriately without destroying the moody existing light was the challenge. This was lit with three hot-shoe flashes (2x580 + 1x430) with Stofen diffusers and on wireless manual. One 580 was set on a tripod to the girl's left, about 6-8 feet away, and bounced off the quite low ceiling. The second 580 was on-camera, and the third (430) was held by my partner behind a tri-grip diffuser, around 5 feet away on the girl's right at about 45 degrees angle and at floor level. Now I'm not sure I remember exactly what the output settings where on each flash. It took quite some experimenting, but I think I ended up with -2 on the ceiling bounce flash, -3 on the on-camera flash, and -2 on the 430 to the girl's right. I don't think it worked out as well as I'd hoped, but Joe agreed that is was very difficult and that we did very well.

The last day was a full day of dancers. Now, I'm not much for dancing, but Joe mentioned how dancers are his favorite subjects, and after this day I can understand why. They are very exhibitionistic and, of course, very aware of their body.

After some failures with very soft existing light, we went for the complete opposite. We set up a large (but not large enough unfortunately) black background next to a large window wall which was not directly lit by the sun. It was afternoon so the light was quite soft and warm.

For this shot, the existing light was augmented with a single 580 through a 4 foot diffuser, about 6 feet from the dancer. If I remember correctly, the flash was set to -2. I think it could have done with a tad more light though.

At this point in time, Joe came by and suggested a second flash bounced off the parquet floor, so I tried that (can't remember the output on that one though). At the same time I increased the output from the flash by the window by half a stop.

And that was the end of the workshop. Some more images can be found here.

I can't recommend Joe's workshop enough. He is an excellent teacher with a very humble and practical approach to photography. Now all I have to do is to take all I learned and adapt it to the macro world!

Kathy Rappaport March 31st, 2007 08:18 AM

Very popular
Joe is a very popular teacher at the Santa Fe Workshops too. Everyone was raving about his classes.

Beautiful images. I think lighting technique is important regardless of the subject. Photography is all about light and using it and modifuying it to make great images.

Asher Kelman March 31st, 2007 10:56 AM

Wonderful contribution and important. The 580 EX is an important contribution since it has a more user friendly interface. This alone is the reason for adding one to your EX collection.


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