As photographers, we often get caught in a routine where we are doing the same basic lighting set ups for different shoots. I’ve never been a fan of the same old formula every day. As a result, I do try to vary my lighting, matching whatever the subject is to my choice for lighting. Telling a story with your lighting is as important as how the subject is composed in the frame.
Every so often, there are those really fun challenges to overcome. You might think this involves having to hang backwards off a cliff to get the right angle (did it), paraglide off a mountain tandem (that was sick), or fly backwards and blind to land on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean (that was crazy!). However, I am talking more about the lighting challenges to overcome. This is where we make the mistakes that make us stronger as photographers.
When I can, I do like to do tests on my ideas prior to a shoot, but there are times or conditions when this isn’t possible. As I always preach, drawing up a plan will always make your life easier. When I am sketching up my plan for the shoot, I’ll have a loose idea of what I am theorizing will work. Much of this of course comes with experience, but unchartered waters are often ahead.
Being a hands-on photographer it helps to have good assistants with you, but the job is on my shoulders, so I feel obligated to come up with a good plan. Here’s how I made this one work:
For this assignment, the Creative Director, Chris Hobrecker (http://thescribblefactory.com) wanted to showcase the 3-4 movements within each of these exercises, all in one shot! I felt the best way to show our model’s different positions would be to shoot on a dark background. In an ideal world, we would shoot in a studio, where we could control the environment.
The first hurdle would be that we needed to shoot on location at a gym. There was some specific equipment we’d need and getting it all to a studio would be too difficult. I asked all I could about the ceiling height, amount of space in the gym, etc. We’d definitely have space issues, and much of the gym had large windows or mirrors around. Ceiling height wasn’t great, but it was an open ceiling, so that at least helped a bit.
I got five 12x12’ black duvet, plenty of C-Stands, Medium Rollers and enough 6’ crossbars to make a wall of black fabric. As it turned out, we could only use 12’ of pipe on c-stands, mostly because of space. In some cases we just draped the fabric over machines that were in the way. I actually have a few pieces of black velvet around quite often at gym shoots, as there’s nothing more annoying than a white or silver machine that is catching a little bit of light that distracts from my subject. Giving my client a cleaner image is always for the best. I knew that I would intentionally burn in the bottom of the frame to keep the light focused on the model. This also applied to any light that spilled on the duvet. More ideal would be to have it further from my subject- or have black velvet that tends to eat up more light.
The next hurdle would be dealing with a long exposure but a short flash duration. I needed the quick flash duration to freeze the action, whereas the long exposure would allow for the model’s movement to “drag” across the frame. Shooting on black would help this, and we used a Profoto 8a packs, a bi-tube head to get power and a fast flash duration on the key light. We removed the pyrex on the strobe to get a bit more power out of the light. This was inside a Photoflex Medium Octadome, with power set to f22 at iso 50 warmed up with a 1/4 CTO gel. Our highlight light was a Profoto Head inside a regular zoom reflector, set to f22.3. We also used a continuous 1000w light to help create the drag effect. This also gave me a good focus light.
All shots were exposed from 2-6 seconds depending on the exercise, and camera set to f18 at iso 50. We assumed we would have some issued when the model had to move a decent distance, like the shot at the start of this post, but rather than changing the settings mid shot (as if there was time), we decided to live with it, and I could always add a little light in post. Using a PocketWizard Transceiver I fired the strobes at the points of each sequence that needed to be highlighted, essentially position A,B,C and when needed D.
All in all, things went smoothly, and something that could have taken a long time to get right was accomplished in a few hours. Seeing the images on the computer as we shot, the writer/tech advisor was able to approve images right away, so we shot each sequence a few times just to be safe.
I can’t say this is one that will apply again anytime soon, but it was a great challenge and a fun day.