Tuesday, September 29, 2009



Settings: Ambient (on the subject) is one stop below neutral grey. Flash is one stop above neutral grey.

This past week I traveled to Lausanne to vacation and attend a strobist meetup. I had a great time and got a chance to photograph two very good models, Sandra and Scott. I was a group leader, and when we were asked if any group wanted to use the library, I volunteered, as it was very bright and sunny outside, and I didn't know the campus we were on. I didn't want to lose too much time walking around looking for a spot. Once in the library, the tables and chairs near the brightly lit windows immediately drew my attention. I explained how that when walking around looking for locations, I use my hand to envision how the ambient light will fall, and how bright the exposure on it compared to things in the background will be. It's much faster than having the camera up and trying to arrange the model. It's like a divining rod for pleasing light.

Once we were all set up, I asked the group if they wanted me to walk through a normal shoot, and they said yes. I'll try to repeat all the steps and explanations here.


This first image is the natural light only. I explained my first choice is always lens fov. Because of the location, a wide angle lens would have revealed that this was just a row of tables at the edge of a library, and for the narrative of this photo, I wanted it to feel more like a warmly lit cafe. A telephoto lens would compress the scene to only show the row of tables and give a more blurry background, creating more subject isolation, and a pleasing pattern of all the background patterns.

Step two for me is to figure out ambient exposure. If I'm planning to use flash, I use 1/180 as my ceiling for shutter speed (1/200 is the 5d sync speed, but I can't seem to get my skyport/quadra setup to reliably sync, but it always hits 1/180, and I have my camera set to half, rather than third stop exposure changes, so 1/200 doesn't show up anymore, but 1/180 does). It was really bright in this room so I was able to use ISO 100, 1/125 and f/2.

We noticed that the background really blew out in brightness, so our next step was to try to control the background, and use the flash to augment the existing light. The goal was to get the same overall feel as the ambient only image, but with complete control of background and subject illumination. I doubled the shutter speed to 1/250 to darken the background. This left the face quite dark, but I positioned my softbox in the same location as the window, and powered it up to match. Because I did not want spill on the table, the shutter at 1/250 managed to block the flash from hitting the table, which was a convenient feature.


The light is a bit more contrasty and specular than the window light only, but to be honest I prefer it that way. It's not quite as appropriate for women as for men, but she had sufficient makeup on that it worked well anyway. Specular highlights tend to work nicer in bringing out skull structure on men, whereas women look better looking smooth and matte.

Notice how in the ambient only image, the bright areas in the background fight for visual attention with her face. In the flash lit image, we were able to darken the background, add a bit of volume to her face, and bring it out brighter. Now there is no question where the eye should go, directly to the subject's face. With this control we could darken the background even more, or let it bleach out. The flash frees us from the ratio of the ambient only.

Next I wanted to try a different feel. With the crop occurring mid-torso, it has a more relaxed location feel. But since she had very nice legs and a short dress, I felt that a more full body shot would be more beauty/glamor. I asked her to move the chair to the edge of the table so that I could see all of her.


Settings: Ambient (on the subject) is even with neutral grey. Flash is one stop above neutral grey.

For this the flash is coming from almost directly in front of her face, perpendicular to the camera. One of the group members asked about how the light would work in terms of reading well, since the ambient light is clearly coming from the other side. I said that since it was an indoor location, there would most likely be interior lights, and having a light source coming from the other direction was ok and would most likely still read well. It was a good question though, as it's good to have your light motivated by existing ambient. It is possible to break the lighting on the subject so they appear not to actually exist in the background.

I also explained that once I have a lighting setup and pose that I like, it's fun to explore around to the different angles, and you can potentially find a really nice image that you hadn't pre visualized. This was one such example.


This was the first part of the day, I will cover the second portion tomorrow or the next day.