Dramatic Lighting – Strobes/flash

The couple of shoots I’ve done this week made me think a bit more about my style of lighting and how I get the results that I do….which is purely subjective; you either love it or hate it.  Adam Lerner, a photographer out of NYC who critiqued my work before on his YouTube channel, noted that I have a very consistent method of using dramatic light…..which he’s right, I do.

I shoot a lot studio-type work with dark or very contrasty backgrounds, which is my thing.  Someday if I ever get a permanent physical studio and can get a nice 140″ roll of white seamless, I’d love to experiment with that….but dark seems to be my realm.  To make it more challenging (read: really difficult), it seems most everyone I photograph also wears black.  Wearing black against a black background and having light colored skin makes balancing exposure well….slightly difficult.  The problem is that black absorbs light and doesn’t reflect it very well.  You need to throw a lot of light at it so that it doesn’t look like a dark blob of nothing just sitting there in the photo, but then when you do that the exposed skin starts to resemble a nuclear explosion.  This is where using a bunch of lights come in.

The rough setup from earlier in the week:

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I obviously would move the non-boom lights around as needed, but below are some sample photos and will go over some basic points of the setups involved.  All photos were taken with a Nikon D3s at ISO 200, F8 and 1/250th of a second.  Lens choice varied between the 85mm F1.4G and 50mm F1.8G lenses.  I think I shot most of them with the 50mm.

 

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I did both a color and black and white of this, and I like both for different reasons.  This photo posed a problem in a couple different ways; the black pants and extending her arms overhead.  The key light for most of the shots in this session was the light overhead.  In order to get some light on the pants, cranking up the key light nuked the skin tones, which is bad.  The two softboxes on each side, effectively creating a rim light helped, but still were not enough – I had to get them very low to the ground so that her feet weren’t dark and to give light to the legs.  Unfortunately, her midsection was still a little too dark, even though she is wearing a pink top.  I used the 4th strobe with a 20 degree grid on it, aimed around her midsection/butt area off to camera left.  That worked quite well, and then worked on the contrast levels in Lightroom to create this photo with some burning in a few areas.  One of my favorites of the set.

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I love the lighting in this photo, particularly around the face and hands…..the light is wrapping around, but at the same time still giving depth and shadows.  Photographing Yogis is rather difficult since they can’t hold poses (particularly like this one) forever, so it’s hard to adjust light positions and then have them in the exact same position.  You gotta work really fast, both in positioning your lights and adjusting ratios.  The PocketWizard MiniTT1/AC3 and MC2′s on the Einsteins make this easier, but my only wish is that they had 4 zones  instead of 3….then I’d be in heaven.  Guess I need to upgrade to the CyberSync at some point.  Anyway, the rim light here is still created by the softboxes on each side, as well as the overhead light.  I seem to rarely put lights behind people, yet am still able to get decent separation from the black background and dark clothing.  I’m using 24″x36″ softboxes on each side, and a 47″ Octa for the overhead light.  I think for this shot, I only used those three lights, I didn’t use the 4th gridded light.  I got the side lights in close for a softer light and kept them low.  The light on camera left is slightly “behind” the light on camera right.

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This is another 4 light setup…and honestly, I’d like another 1-2 Einsteins with grids or snoots.  This shot gave me problems with the background separation.  Once again, I had the side lights in very close for a soft light, but to also control falloff so that she wasn’t just totally bathed in light with no contrast.  I used either a 20 or 30 degree grid on camera left and slightly behind her to create some separation from the background.  I needed a 5th light for the right side, but didn’t have time to set up a 900 and put a grid on that too.  Also, the overhead Octa has a grid too in all of these photos so I can control the light spill around the subject – I want a concentrated area of light on the ground and not lighting up the entire area.  It’s a process.

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This was an “in-between” shot….she was just stretching in between yoga poses and I took the photo with whatever light setup I was using for the previous pose.  It turns out this is one of my top 3-4 photos, as the contrast and light gives it a really intimate feel.  I seem to get lucky a lot with these types of things.  Overhead light plus the two softboxes on the sides, low to the ground.  No 4th light.  Really, what I’m doing here is playing with lighting ratios and adjust until I get it right.  While I have a very nice (and very expensive) Sekonic L-758DR light meter, I only use that during my initial setup of my lights to dial in a basic exposure.  After that, I start adjusting ratios on the fly by looking at the LCD.  Seems to work ok for me.

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To change things up a bit, this is (clearly) not in a studio and I’m just using one artificial light source.  Over an hour and a half before I took this photo, I arrived at the beach to scout out the area….the sky was bright/washed out and a million people around.  Wasn’t looking too promising.  However, the challenge of being a photographer is you still need to make shots when everything isn’t in your favor…..which is like most of the time.  So once again, we have a very strong contrast of light and dark.  For these types of shots, you need to determine your background exposure first and in this case, it was ISO 200 at 1/125th of a second and F13.  Part of the problem was also getting the least amount of people in the background in the photo so that they weren’t distracting, and I did that by moving the camera position around and underexposing the background a bit.  I used the 50mm F1.8G for this shot, which seems to be my go-to lens quite often as of late.  Now that I had the background exposed, it was time to dial in the 47″ Octa/Einstein/Vagabond Mini-Lithium on a flimsy Lastolite extension pole that Rocco was holding.  Once I positioned the light where I wanted, I metered it and fired away.  I think I was shooting at 1/2 power for this, which is 320 watt seconds on the Einstein and had the light just out of the frame on camera right, and about as high in the air as Rocco could raise his arms to avoid reflections on their glasses.  The 47″ Octabox works great here as it provides pretty even coverage for the entire body.  We definitely got a lot of looks and stares by beach-goers, that’s for sure.  The calm and serene pose (the couple was very good with posing and required little in the way of direction), the soft light and background colors/light made this my favorite shot of the session.