Sunday, December 30, 2018

Outdoor Lighting That's Believable

Supplementary Lighting: This photo appeared in two posts so far. I decided to use it once more, as I realized it illustrates a point Joe McNally made about supplementary lighting, and how to make the viewer accept it as an natural part of the environment and not an afterthought by the photographer. I made this photo with that intent clearly in mind.

A photographer friend  saw this image and assumed it was an available light photo. This was probably due to two conscious actions on my part. First, the bright lamps at the back of the parking lot were included to suggest that there are powerful lights in the parking lot. Second, the primary light, a flash with a dome-type diffuser, was placed well above the camera axis, giving the feeling that the subject was standing at the base of a street light. These two factors make the image totally believable, and help the viewer concentrate on the subject.

Accent Light In The Background: This earlier attempt, made in April of 2018, was an early attempt of multiple flash used in a "run and gun" environment. Even a casual viewer will notice that Cissie is standing in the background clearly holding the monopod with the flash. It pretty obvious that she's not a part of the natural surroundings,and while the image is fun, she does distract the viewer.

Cropping Can Help: Here, I cropped Cissie from the composition but kept the light itself because I wanted to maintain a 8x10 aspect ratio. Now it's a little easier to concentrate on my three dancers, but the viewer is still left with the question, "What's that big ball of light doing in the photo?"

In the future, I'll need to establish an extended command vocabulary to my "VAL" or Voice Actuated Lightstand.  Should I need to apply a similar lighting solution in the future, my commands will probably include:

Closer: Keep the light to subject distance constant, but move closer to me along an arc. This would have moved Cissie closer to the right edge of the frame.

Farther: Just the opposite, this would move Cissie to a position behind the subjects, which is also an option, since I won't need to maintain a line-of-sight between my camera and the flash.

Nearer: Decrease the light-to-subject distance by moving closer to the subjects along a straight line.

Farther: Increase the distance, as above.

Square Crop: This final, severe crop completely eliminates the distractions of of Cissie and the flash "fireball", and makes this image perfectly acceptable, so long as the view doesn't mind a square format.

How Close Is Too Close? Good question, and one that is easily answered. If my VAL can look at the subjects and NOT see any signs of nose, the the position is a good one. The worst thing one can do when using an accent light is to allow the light to skim across the side of the nose. Providing Cissie looks at the subject from behind the monopod, she can tell when a bit of nose becomes visible. When that happens, she can re-position herself until the nose/s is/are no longer visible. An accent light that grazes the cheek is perfectly acceptable, and as you can tell from the subject at camera right, I was nowhere near that critical point.

This is pretty sophisticated stuff for a run-and-gun managed candid photo, but I never intended for this photo to be published.  If this sort of opportunity presents itself again, I won't hesitate to take the steps to refine the lighting.