Tag Archives: strobist

Stretch your photography skills

1/125s @ f/5.6 ISO 200

When you do something over and over, things kind of become automatic.

I usually shoot portraits, so my fingers know what to do, instinctively, when there’s a person in front of my lens. It’s so instinctive that it seems effortless: it seems I’m not really thinking about it, it just happens.

1/60s @ f/5.6, ISO 200

Malcolm Gladwell writes in his awesome book Outliers that it takes 10,000 repetitions to master a skill, and it’s true that drilling a skill, especially when we practice it the right way, does produce mastery at some point.

But once in a while, we need to shake things up. Introducing something new into a skill set stretches that repertoire. When we apply previous knowledge to new situations, we learn more.

1/125s @ f/5.6 ISO 200

I’m used to lighting people with portable flash units. When presented with a new situation, smaller subjects this time, the portable flash suddenly becomes a huge strobe in relation to what I’m lighting. So naturally I have to stretch what I know about the relationship between the subject and the light.

And, naturally, I learned a lot.

1/30s @ f/3.5 ISO 200

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Shooting the Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe

Natalie is one of the classiest famous person I have ever met.

It’s dark inside the bar, except for a few bare bulbs emitting a feeble orange light. Miss Universe is here, and I have to shoot her in brilliant Indian couture.

I love the dark location. It means the camera is only going to see the light from the flashguns I’ll use. Sometimes, you can blend ambient light with strobe light, like in this shot with a brilliant blouse in deep red with gold embroidery. There is a bare light bulb just above the most beautiful woman in the universe, and it’s mixing in with the main light I have firing with a diffuser on from camera right.

She is soft spoken and humble.

Other times, it’s good not to have too much ambient light. Controlling light from flash gives more pop to a photo—more saturated color, more detail. When you’re shooting people, for example, closeup with flash, it seems every pore on their face is visible.

Off camera flash, small and portable, have been catapulted into star status among photography enthusiasts by The Strobist extraordinaire David Hobby. I chose flash units rather than buying a studio set because the flashguns are easy to carry around to locations away from my small home studio. These flashguns are versatile, accompanying me from shoots in a tropical forest to a tabletop where I shot jewelry.

While the makeup artist Hilde Marie Johansen is working with Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova, I am working with Bianca Kirn, a young model working out of Bangkok. The outfit is an orange and bright pink variation of salwar kameez, a three-piece set worn in the day time. I want the color to pop, so I use a high shutter speed to kill the ambient light from the bare light bulbs. To light Bianca, I use one light on a lightstand above her, attached to a softbox—essentially a black box with one white side through which the light comes out soft and diffused. Another flash gun provides fill light—just a little burst of light to fill in the shadows on the fabric.

Brilliant orange and pink on Bianca.

Later, Natalie comes out in a beautiful lehenga choli, a traditionally red outfit worn by brides in the Northern part of India. This lehenga is ice lemon and turquoise,  so lovely on Natalie. To light Natalie, who is already very tall and is standing on a staircase, I have to prop my lightstand on three bar stools and tie it to the rail of the staircase with a couple of bungee balls—these nifty little elastic bands with large plastic balls at the end. The main light is the softbox on the lightstand camera right. Two other flash guns provide fill, one below the camera for the dress, and another camera left for the shadows on the model.

Although a celebrity in her own right, Natalie is very down to earth.

We shoot six outfits, and the last set is with a white salwar kameez with fringe made of 19 meters of fabric. To show off that fringe on the skirt, I ask Natalie to hold the skirt beside her. To light this shot, I place the softbox on camera right and the fill light three yards on camera left, zoomed to 85mm. The great thing about the flash guns these days is the zoom function. Some flashguns can zoom up to 200mm; this means the light is stronger coming out of the unit, and it can be thrown a long way.

Natalie is one of the classiest famous people I have ever met.

I could have been there all night, shooting away. It didn’t matter what the light outside looked like, or what light was available on location. There was a way to make light, and this is always, always a good thing.

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Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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