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Light Chasing Setup - Desert Shoot
*Mentoring Workshop at the end of April in LA. Contact info at the bottom of this article (it will be a small group and fill up quick)
Students often ask me, "where do you start with lighting? What's your favorite light modifier?" Let me start by saying when using off-camera light you always have one constant light source, what is 'available' or what is often referred to as 'natural light.' I have trained my eye to search for the available light source first and then build lights around that. I'm obsessed with searching for unusual light: reflections, dappled, soft, hard, patterns, contaminated, etc. I'll say it again, available light is the one thing that is constant in every photo (unless you are shooting in a vacuum...lol).
If you want a quick peek into a simple light scenario centered around the most basic available light source click READ MORE.
Last weekend I decided to use almost exclusively artificial lighting to create the mood. The available light was simply a cloudy day in the desert. With off-camera flash/strobes you can control the intensity of the available light. In this case I wanted to see the dramatic clouds and I achieved the look by lowering the ambient (sky) by two or three stops to draw the focus of the image to the subject. Using strobes is like exposing for two different images, the ambient and the subject. I visualize the final image like combing two different images in photoshop: First I expose for the ambient (sky in this case) and then add lights to the main subject (dude with a Benelli shotgun).
Let's examine how I came up with 'the shot.'
I was planning a shoot with a model in Los Angeles and the weather report said "RAIN...All WEEKEND!!!" Knowing rain was going to kill my chances of a location shoot I decided to blaze out to the desert to shoot with a friend near Palm Springs. The weather in the desert reported clouds and scattered showers which would equate to dark and moody. Storms in the desert aren't that common...I jumped on the opportunity.
I knew I wouldn't be doing any light chasing. The moody clouds would be my backdrop. Jason and I decided to load up the truck with every damn light modifier we had in our combined arsenal. Beauty dish, octaboxes, flags, grids, reflectors, ring flash, etc. You name it, we had it; we stuffed every piece of gear we had in the back of the SUV and blazed out to the desert.
I should also mention props: an Italian made Benelli shotgun...flat out mean looking.
The set up:
This is a light test. I was simply dialing in the feel of the image. I knew I had 360 degrees to work with. Once I get good exposure coming out of each light, it's time to experiment. I use Pocket wizards which allow me to test each light individually.
*Modifiers from left to right: bare bulb with 3/4 CTO gel, Ring Flash, Matthews Flag, Beauty Dish
The fun begins once exposures are dialed in. This is when I can relax, play with the position of lights and look for 'the shot.'
We made triple and quadruple sure the Benelli wasn't loaded...it's NEVER a good idea to aim a gun at someone, but shooting down a barrel of a shotgun creates the unmistakable feeling of danger. I was happy with the light, but I wasn't satisfied with the look so I kept searching for a keeper.
"Don't MOVE Biatch"
Still no cigar. At this point I'm shooting different perspectives and playing with shooting long and wide. The first few drops of rain hit and I knew I had to nail the shot quickly. I blasted out a few more...
NOTE: the sky is much brighter than the other images. I slowed down the shutter one stop to see if I wanted a less dramatic sky (shutter controls ambient only). It's a quick flip from say 1/250 to 1/125 (that opens up the ambient one stop)
I went back to the faster shutter speed and had Jason look into the lens of the camera. The image didn't feel right. No one shoots a gun while looking out of the corner of their eye.
Using my 24-70 I zoomed out wide and got in close; the up and close perspective completely changed the look and feel. It's those subtle changes that can make or break a shot. I knew I wanted a mean looking barrel and Jason in the sky; when I saw that the distortion accentuated the gun I knew I had the final image. I framed up the shot, locked focus on the eye, recomposed and took my last shot. "It's a wrap! Let's get the gear packed up before that storm dumps rain on our gear."
location and weather
variety of different modifiers to create the feel
knowing when to stop and move on
instinct tells you have the final shot
timing is crucial
directing your subject is probably the most important factor (you won't find this on Youtube, if you need help directing...take a workshop from someone who knows how to be a mentor (HINT HINT)
A lot of good information here but I merely scratched the surface when it comes to getting an exposure, light modifiers, visualizing the image, and directing the subject. I have workshops in the works for the end of April through May in California. LA and San Fran. Shoot me an email or call the studio: